Provided by the Probate & Estate Planning Section of the State Bar of Michigan
What is Probate & Estate Administration?
Probate is the court process by which the property of a person who has died (decedent or deceased) is distributed. Estate administration after a person's death involves:
- Gathering the assets of the estate
- Paying debts & final expenses
- Distributing remaining assets
A lawyer can assist in every aspect of estate administration.
What Assets are Owned by the Deceased?
There are several types of assets in which the deceased may have owned an interest:
- Solely owned assets
- Jointly owned assets
- Assets held in trust
- Business interests
- Life insurance proceeds
- Retirement accounts
- Open contracts
If the deceased designated a beneficiary to receive an asset upon the deceased's death, it is known as a non-probate asset. It may not require any type of estate administration or court filings. These assets pay directly to the named beneficiary and are not transferred under the deceased's will. They include:
- 401(k) plans
- Life insurance policies
Bank accounts owned jointly with rights of survivorship do not require estate administration (as long as there is a surviving co-owner). If the deceased owned an interest in a business, the governing documents of the business may provide for the transfer of the deceased's interest without court involvement. In addition, any assets held by the deceased in a trust will likely avoid probate court involvement.
Why do I Need a Lawyer's Help?
Using a lawyer experienced in probate and estate administration will make the entire process efficient and cost-effective, even when no formal proceedings are required. A lawyer will help you avoid mistakes in administration and make sure you are not held personally liable for the decedent's debts. Also, the legal fees are paid from the estate. Using a lawyer is especially important if it is unclear who should receive the decedent's assets or if there is conflict among the heirs or beneficiaries.