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What Happens If a Person Dies with No Will or Trust in Michigan?

By:  Matthew J. Abraham, Esq., Michigan Estate Planning Attorney

When families lose a loved one, the emotional stress and grief can make it difficult to focus on financial issues.  Unfortunately, surviving family members might need access to assets of a breadwinner’s estate to provide for their basic financial needs like the home mortgage, school tuition, utility bills and even basics like groceries.  When the assets of an estate are tied up in probate, the value of the estate can be diminished substantially, and access to money can be delayed for months or even years if the estate is subject to a contested probate proceeding.  These are just a few reasons that most people try to avoid the probate process.  While the probate of a will can raise significant issues, such as probate costs, delays in distributing residual assets and privacy violations, the situation can be far more problematic when an individual dies with no will or trust at all. 

If a person dies without a will or trust, the rules of intestate succession under Michigan law apply.  While the probate process must still occur, state law rather than a will determines the manner in which the assets in the estate will be passed to loved ones.  This blog post provides the general rules for intestate succession.

The surviving spouse has preferential status over all of the decedent’s other surviving children and relatives.  If there are no surviving parents or decedents of the person who passes away, the surviving spouse inherits the entire estate.  The surviving spouse is the sole recipient of the assets of the estate even if the decedent has surviving siblings or other relatives.  When there are no descendants or parents of the decedent, the surviving spouse receives the entire estate.  The surviving spouse also receives preferential shares of the estate over surviving parents and children/descendants of the decedent.  This is known as the Spousal Election and many people are not even aware this exists and yet it carries significant implications for the surviving heirs of an estate.  This needs to be thoroughly addressed at the time an estate plan is discussed.

When there is no surviving spouse, the entire value of the residual estate will pass entirely to the following people in the order indicated:

  • Descendants of the decedent
  • If none, the parents of the decedent
  • Without surviving parents or descendants, siblings of the decedent and then nephews or nieces
  • Without any of the above surviving relatives, assets split equally between the maternal and paternal grandparents or their descendants (all to one side of the family if no relatives on the other side)

This is far from a comprehensive review of all intestate rules under Michigan law, so you should seek legal advice if you have specific questions about your situation.  Because the probate court is obligated to follow these statutory preferences in the absence of a will or a trust, it is important to prepare an estate plan to protect your family and loved ones.

Michigan Estate Planning Attorney Mathew J. Abraham and ABRAHAM | LAW have been providing effective legal representation to individuals and businesses for over twenty years.  If you have questions about estate planning or probate issues, you should call ABRAHAM | LAW at 810-750-0440 or submit an online request to schedule an initial consultation.

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