Probate is a judicial process by which assets are distribution to deceased person's heirs and beneficiaries. Probate proceedings are necessary when a person dies
with property titled solely in his or her name. In that case, probate is the only method to transfer the property to the person's beneficiaries.
Probate has gotten a poor reputation in recent years. Countless books, articles, and seminars describe the horrors of probate, and how to avoid
it. However, the cost and delay associated with probate is usually exaggerated.
You will need to gather the following documents and information to start probate:
- Last will and testament of the decedent
- Certified death certificate
- Name, address, phone, and social security number of personal representative
- Name and address of decedent's heirs
- Name and address of all beneficiaries named in the will
- Deeds to real estate owned by the decedent
- Statements for financial accounts owned by the decedent
- Vehicle titles
- Other records of ownership for assets owned by the decedent (stocks, bonds, annuities, insurance, etc.)
- Known creditors of the decedent
In general terms, a personal representative has the following duties in an informal probate proceeding (other duties may apply in each case):
- Apply to open probate, and be appointed as personal representative
- Notify all interested parties of the court proceedings
- Inventory estate assets
- Publish notice to creditors
- File tax returns as needed
- Evaluate and pay claims
- Prepare a final account
- Distribute assets to heirs or beneficiaries
- Apply to close administration with the court
The cost of probate is not as high as most people believe. It consists of four fees -- filing, publicaton, administrative, and
legal. The fees are determined as follows:
- The filing fee is $150 and is paid to the probate court at the start of the proceedings.
- The publication fee is about $75; it is paid to a local newspaper to publish notice of the probate proceedings.
- The administration (or "inventory") fee is set by Michigan law, and it is based on the value of property being handled in the probate proceeding. For example,
the fee for a $100,000 estate is $362.50, and the fee for a $500,000 estate is $862.50. The administrative fee is paid to the probate court after the inventory is filed.
- Legal fees are paid to an attorney who represents the estate. Attorney fees must be paid by the hour or based upon a reasonable flat fee. Attorney
fees for informal probate are typically between $1,500 and $2,500. Percentage fees are not permitted. Some people complete informal probate without hiring an
The time to complete probate is also misunderstood. It takes at least five months to complete the probate process. However, four months of that
time are allowed for creditors to make claims against the estate. In many cases, a portion of the assets are distributed to the heirs while the probate proceedings are still pending.