Estate administration is a legal process that is required to wrap up the estate of a decedent. In Michigan, the Probate Court has jurisdiction over the estate administration process. There is a Probate Court in each of the 83 counties in Michigan. An administration process is required regardless of whether the decedent left a will. Other than the will having to be submitted to the court and probated and the will guiding asset distribution, the legal process for wrapping up an estate is essentially the same whether or not there is a will.
Note that in Michigan there are two types of administration process: informal and formal. Mich. Comp. Laws § 700.3301 and § 700.3401. Formal probate is a longer, more costly process that requires closer supervision by the Probate Court. If proceeding is contested, formal probate would be required.
Personal Representative in Michigan
While the Probate Court has jurisdiction over estate and probate matters, the personal representative is responsible for the day-to-day activities of caring for the decedent’s property and settling estate matters. If the decedent left a will, typically the decedent would have nominated the person who they wanted to serve as a personal representative, also known as the executor. In the absence of a will, the next-of-kin or other interested party has the right to petition the court to be appointed personal representative. The court will grant the petition as long as the petitioner is qualified and no one who as a greater right to serve as personal representative has also petitioned the court. Even if the decedent left a will, generally the Probate Court must first approve their appointment before they have the legal right to act as the personal representative. Mich. Comp. Laws § 700.3601
Responsibilities of a Michigan Personal Representative
There are several steps required to settle the estate of a decedent. The job of the personal representative is to make sure that all of the steps are completed and legal requirements are met. Because the Probate Court has jurisdiction over the estate administration process, the personal representative is answerable to the Probate Court and must seek approval from the court on certain matters along the way.
- Care for estate assets. Because one of the primary purposes of the estate administration is to transfer assets in the decedent’s estate to the appropriate people, the personal representative is required to determine which assets are part of the decedent’s probate estate and the value of those assets. Determining the value is also important for understanding whether there is enough money in the estate to pay its debts and expenses.
- Paying estate debts, expenses, and taxes. In addition to making sure that estate assets are transferred to the appropriate people, the other major priority of the estate administration process is to make sure that the decedent’s debts are paid and that expenses related to the administration process are paid. The personal representative is not required to pay the estate’s debts and expenses out of their own personal assets. They are paid out of estate assets. In cases where the estate does not have enough assets to pay all debt, including claims filed against the estate, as well as expenses, then the personal representative is required to follow the statutory order of priority. The lower priority debt will go unpaid.
- Distribute estate assets. The distribution of assets signals the end of the administration process. The personal representative is not permitted to distribute assets until they receive perform from the Probate Court judge to do so. The judge will not grant permission until the personal representative confirms that debts and expenses have been paid. Then, assets are distributed according to the terms of the will or according to Michigan’s law of intestate succession. Mich. Comp. Laws § 700.2101
Probate Disputes in Michigan
The duties and responsibilities of the personal representative go beyond the general steps of caring for estate assets, paying estate debt and expenses, and distributing estate assets. The personal representative must also handle problems and complication that may develop during the process, including probate disputes.
Probate disputes are disagreements that can lead to litigation during the administration process. While resolving disputes is necessary to ensure that the estate is settled properly, litigation is sure to cause delays in the process and add expense to the process. Some of the more common types of probate disputes are related to will contests, breach of fiduciary duty allegations, disputed creditor claims, and objections to the account filed by the personal representative.