Many people go their entire lives without ever having to be involved in the probate process. Nowadays people are living longer, which often has the unintended result of many people using up all of their assets prior to death, with nothing much of value to pass on to their heirs. And, as anyone familiar with previous posts here knows by now, there are still many people who don't have an estate plan, even though they probably should. All of these factors, combined with the relatively infrequent contact most people have with a probate court, can result in a bit of mystery surrounding probate, and especially probate administration.
For a Michigan resident who gets pulled into probate litigation, either as an heir, a named beneficiary or even as an executor, the initial shock can be a lot to take in. The lucky ones are usually provided with a framework for the distribution of assets by following the terms of a valid will - a will that no one is contesting. As long as the will is part of a comprehensives estate plan that doesn't catch anyone off guard, usually the probate process can go rather smoothly. Unfortunately, there are just as many probate cases where there is no valid will. So, what happens then?
When a Michigan resident dies without a valid will, state intestacy laws will govern how the deceased person's estate is to be divided. The estate is made up of the personal property and financial assets the deceased person left behind, although some assets, like life insurance policy payouts and retirement accounts, usually have named beneficiaries who receive these assets outside of the probate process. Everything else, however, will be divided according to state law.
Having a will is just one step of the estate planning process. Communicating with the people who will be affected by the plan, like named beneficiaries and the person chosen as the executor, can take some of the mystery out of estate administration and leave everyone involved much better off.
Source: The Journal, "Steps to estate administration," Deborah Miller, Jan. 5, 2014