In Michigan, the term probate generally refers to the administration of the estate of a person who has died. The term generally encompasses the estate administration regardless of whether the deceased person had a will--and thus made his or her wishes regarding assets and property known--or did not have a will. However, having a will simplifies the probate process because assets and property previously owned by the deceased person will be distributed according to the will provisions as long as the will is deemed valid.
Once a person dies, the probate court becomes involved in the estate administration process in one of two ways. A petition can file a petition to admit a will to probate or a person can petition the probate court to handle the estate administration of a person who died without a will. Probate becomes unnecessary if the deceased person owned no property or assets in his or her name alone because no questions will exist regarding future ownership of any property.
Once a deceased person's estate enters probate, there are different forms of the process available depending on the amount of the deceased person's property. When a person has less than $17,000 in value of property, the estate administration can go through a shortened version of the probate process. This shortened version will result in an order from the probate court that turns the deceased's property over to whoever paid the funeral-related expenses. Any amounts remaining are then distributed to the surviving spouses, or heirs if there is no spouse.
For estates with values exceeding $17,000, there are still options for how the probate process can be conducted. There are two sets of probate rules--informal and formal--and either can be chosen. The informal rules simplify the process because a petition is not required and the process is not required to proceed before the court for many of the steps in the probate process. In contrast, the formal rules of probate allow the probate court to supervise specific steps of probate. Although probate is a public proceeding, not all information related to the deceased person's estate must be made public. In some cases, the personal representative may choose to keep the value and nature of the estate less public by not filing a full inventory with the probate court.
Source: MichiganLegalAid.org, "Do You Really Want To Avoid Probate?," accessed on Dec. 1, 2014