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What is probate and how does it work?

Probate is a word that refers to the process of estate administration after a person's death. The administration of the estate is carried out by someone named as the personal representative of the decedent. The representative may have been named in the decedent's will or a probate court may appoint an interested person as the estate administrator and personal representative.

Probate is only required in certain situations: when a person dies and property remains in the decedent's name and when the decedent has rights to receive property. Certain types of property automatically pass to a new owner without having to go through the probate process. These include property owned with another person as joint tenant with right of survivorship, certain properties with specific beneficiary designations (such as life insurance or pension benefits), properties owned by a revocable trust, as well as other specific types of property.

Essentially, probate involves three steps, which are carried out by the personal representative/estate administrator. The first step involves collecting, securing, sorting and valuing the property owned by the decedent at the time of his or her death. The second step relates to settling of accounts: the estate administrator must pay charges, which may include funeral expenses, medical expenses, debts owed to creditors, taxes, other expenses related to the administration of the estate, and family allowances.

Finally, the third step is distributing the remaining property and assets to the decedent's beneficiaries. If the decedent had a will, this distribution will proceed in accordance with the terms of the will. If there was no, will, the laws of intestate succession in Michigan will dictate which beneficiaries receive which property.

Source: State Bar of Michigan, "Probate Administration of a Decedent's Estate," accessed Sept. 20, 2014

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