American statesman Benjamin Franklin once mused, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Although these enduring words can apply to many situations in life, they are particularly relevant to the estate administration and probate process. Personal representatives, or executors, may have the best intentions at heart, but an honest mistake can have unintended and damaging consequences.
Being named as the executor of an estate requires trust. The person who creates an estate plan puts a lot of faith and confidence in this individual to distribute assets within the bounds of the prepared documents and state law.
Making the decision about who will be in charge of administering an estate can be tricky. Not only is it important to select an executor (or executors) who can be trusted, but it's also critical to make sure the designation is valid and the named individuals are up to the job.
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.
It is quite understandable if Michigan residents have a lot of questions about the probate process. After all, anyone familiar with previous posts here knows that topics can range from the details of trusts to powers of attorney to long-term planning. With so many factors to consider during the planning stage, there is every reason for an estate planner to think about what will occur when the actual estate administration process begins.
Most of our Michigan readers probably know that estate plans are very specific to each individual's situation. For instance, a Michigan resident of even modest means will need a will to designate property distribution and appoint guardians for minor children. However, someone with substantial assets may need more than a will. An estate plan for a wealthy person could include a number of different trusts, designed with separate and specific goals in mind. Every person's estate plan will differ depending on who they want to receive their assets and by what means they would like to achieve their goals. A recent article, however, focused on one type of person in particular - business owners.
When many people have an estate plan drafted they name charities as beneficiaries. This can happen for any number of reasons, but in many situations this is a popular option for people who do not have any close family or friends as potential heirs to the estate in question. What some of our Michigan readers may not realize, however, if that if any type of probate litigation arises due to questions surrounding bequests to charities a state's Attorney General may have grounds to get involved.
If our Michigan readers have a will, they are off to a good start with their estate plans. A simple will covers many basic estate planning needs, with many people simply leaving everything to their spouse and vice versa. Couples with minor children have an extra step to take, naming another person or couple to care for their children in the unfortunate event of the spouses' simultaneous death. Many of the steps taken in drafting a will go a long ways toward expediting the probate process, but are there other steps that can help? According to a recent article, there is a sort of "checklist" individuals and couples should look to when beginning to lay out their estate plan.
Michigan has a great reputation as being a place to go to enjoy the outdoors. Many people from other states will purchase summer homes on one of the lakes to enjoy with their families, or to rent out to others when they aren't in personal use. A summer home is a big purchase for a family, but it is often worth the extra effort and money it takes to maintain a separate house that is sometimes hours away from where a family actually lives. And, when kids get older and start families of their own, the summer home can actually become a focal point for large family get-togethers or a vacation spot for what was one family that has now become several. But does owning a summer home present unique questions from a probate standpoint? According to one recent article, the answer to that question is a resounding "yes."
Although the move to increase people's knowledge of the importance of estate planning seems to have picked up across the country in recent years, many people are probably still confused about the probate process. This is easily understandable. When a person says "probate," some people, even perhaps some of our Michigan readers, will say "what's that?" Conscious of the mystery that surrounds the needs and necessities included in estate planning and probate, the author of one recent article decided to approach the issue in a uniquely simple format: a Top-10 list.