Many Michigan residents have comprehensive estate plans that include retirement plans, life insurance policies, trusts, and their will. This last document helps estate administrators distribute a person’s estate to the heirs after they die.

When a person passes without a will, dividing the estate becomes more complicated. What happens when someone dies without a will?

Probate courts and intestate succession

When a person dies, their assets enter probate court. If the decedent had a will, they might name an executor of their estate. People usually choose a trusted family member, personal attorney or another familiar with the decedent’s property and assets.

Without a will, the probate court assigns an estate administrator who must catalog the entire estate and prepare property and assets for distribution. The administrator, sometimes called the “executor,” must perform the following tasks:

  • Inventory and appraisal: The administrator must locate and inventory the decedent’s property and assets, then provide the probate court an itemized list with valuations. Executors do not have to include any assets that pass to a joint owner or beneficiary.
  • Asset collection: Administrators must also collect all the assets. Other entities may claim possession, requiring separate lawsuits to reclaim rightful property.
  • Pay creditors: Creditors will send claims against the decedent’s estate. The administrator must satisfy any outstanding debts before moving on to asset distribution. Debts given priority include the administrator’s costs, funeral expenses and taxes.
  • Distribute assets: After paying creditors, the executor can distribute the remainder of the estate to its heirs. Michigan law directs intestate succession along a pre-determined line of heirs. Administrators may face legal consequences for not following intestate succession, so many secure a lawyer to help navigate succession accurately.

Legal counsel can help

Estate administrators face a challenging task, especially when working with an estate without a will. Administrators can find answers to their questions with a local lawyer familiar with Michigan’s intestate succession and probate laws.