In Michigan, when someone passes away, their affairs must be settled. Settling affairs refers to making sure any bills the decedent left behind are paid and that their property is passed on to those entitled to receive it. While typically family and friends would gladly pitch in to help, Michigan law requires a more official process. The personal representative, also known as an executive if there is a will, is the person responsible for caring for the decedent’s estate and settling their affairs. If there is not a will, the personal representative is referred to as an administrator.
The administration process must be initiated in the Probate Court that has jurisdiction over the decedent’s estate. Typically, that is the court in the county in which the decedent was domiciled at the time of the their death. For example, if the decedent was a resident of Alcona County, the Probate Court in Harrisville would have jurisdiction.
Personal Representative Appointment in Michigan
In Michigan, there are rules related to who has the legal right to serve as personal representative. The person with top priority would be the person the decedent nominated in their will. Mich. Comp. Laws § 700.3203. Next in line would be the decedent’s surviving spouse as long as they are a devisee, followed by any other devisee, the decedent’s spouse who is not a devisee, and all other heirs.
In order to obtain the legal authority to manage the estate, the personal seeking the job must first petition the court and must be formally appointed by the court. This is the case even if the testator nominated their choice for personal representative (executor) in their will. The court will only grant a petition to be appointed personal representative if the petitioner is qualified.
Duties and Responsibilities of a Michigan Personal Representative
The personal representative is responsible for caring for the tasks required to settle the decedent’s estate so that it can be closed. Note that the Probate Court has jurisdiction over estate matters. This means that the personal representative must get permission from the court for certain actions and is answerable to the court. In fact, a personal representative can be removed for failure to follow an order of the court.
- Inventory the assets. A big part of the estate administration process depends on understanding the value of the assets in the estate. Among the first responsibilities of the personal representative is to identify the assets that are part of the estate, appraise them, and create an inventory. Michigan law requires that the personal representative complete the inventory within 91 days of their appointment. Mich. Comp. Laws § 700.3706. The personal representative is also responsible for managing the estate through the administration process. This means that they must secure it and take steps to make sure that its value does not diminish. For example, if a car is part of the estate, the personal representative should make sure it is stored in a secure garage. If a house is part of the estate, the personal representative should make sure that homeowner’s is maintained and that the property is has locks and perhaps an alarm.
- Pay estate debts. It is not unusual for a decedent to have unpaid debt at the time of their death. Most debts are not forgiven when the debtor dies. Creditors are considered interested in parties in the estate matter and receive notification of the estate proceeding. The personal representative is required to manage the claims process and pay valid debt. They are also required to pay expenses of administration. Expenses may include court fees, professional fees, and even their own commission. Note that if the estate is short on assets and can’t pay all debt and expenses, the personal representative must look to Michigan law to determine the order of priority for paying debt.
- Asset distribution and closing of estate. Note that debt payment and expense payment take precedence over asset distribution. Assets can only be distributed once debts and expenses have been paid or accounted for. If there is no money left in the estate once debts and expenses have been accounted for, then it is possible that beneficiaries will receive nothing. When the personal representative determines that the estate is ready for asset distribution, they must petition the court and request approval. Upon approval, the personal representative will distribution assets to beneficiaries based on the terms of the will. If there is no will, then asset distribution is based on intestate succession rules. Mich. Comp. Laws § 700.2101. Typically this means that the decedent’s surviving spouse and children will receive the decedent’s assets.
A common misconception is that unless it is a corporate personal representative, the personal representative is an unpaid position. That is not the case. Under Michigan law, personal representatives (executors) are entitled tor received reasonable compensation for their work. Mich. Comp. Laws § 700.3719. Reasonable compensation is not defined by the statute.