Many people pass away without preparing a Will or Trust. When a person dies in Michigan without a Will or Trust, and that person has assets that do not pass to joint owners or beneficiaries through beneficiary designations, some form of probate will be necessary. Most often, the type and value of these assets determines the exact form of probate that will be necessary. The probate process can be as simple and straightforward as signing one or two forms, and could be completed without ever having to go in to a courtroom. Other times, probate does require some level of court involvement, and may require an extensive process if disputes arise.
In Michigan any part of a person's estate not effectively disposed of by a Will, Trust or beneficiary designation, passes by what is known as "intestate succession" to the deceased person's heirs. Determining who is deemed to be an "heir" of a deceased person requires a bit of investigation into that person's family tree.
Most people assume that if a deceased person has a surviving spouse, the surviving spouse is entitled to all of the deceased person's assets. However, that is not always the case. A surviving spouse is only entitled to receive the entire estate if the the deceased person had no descendants or surviving parents. If the deceased person had surviving descendants and/or parents, the surviving spouse may have to split some of the estate with the descendants and/or parents of the deceased.
If the deceased is not survived by a spouse, but has descendants, the descendants receive the entire estate. If there are no surviving descendants, things get more complicated. For instance, parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins of the deceased person may be entitled to receive assets from the estate depending on the circumstances.
What's important to remember from all of this is that Michigan law outlines what happens with your assets if you do not prepare your own plan. Creating your own estate plan (possibly including a Will and maybe a Trust) can ensure that your assets pass to the people you choose, and can make sure that your loved ones have clear direction in the event of your death or incapacity.
If you would like to learn more about estate planning, contact our office today to schedule a consultation!