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Intestate Estates- When Your Loved One Passes Away Without a Will, What Happens?

Author: Sarah Meinhart, estate planning attorney at Pear, Sperling, Eggan & Daniels, P.C.

Just as “there’s no such thing as a free lunch,” in death, no one dies without an estate plan.   

The State of Michigan, via the Estate and Protected Individual Code, directs how one’s probate estate will ultimately be distributed.  Assets owned by the decedent require an “intestate” probate estate, which is a probate estate opened for an individual who didn’t have anything in writing regarding their assets. Whether it be real estate, a boat or car, a bank account, bitcoin, Great-Grandmother’s sapphire ring, or financial investments, you’ll need the Court to appoint a Personal Representative to transfer assets to the proper beneficiaries of the estate.

How do I locate the beneficiaries? 

It’s not uncommon to have only the last known address of your second cousin once removed.  That can make it difficult, but to open an estate, you must notify all the interested parties about the pending appointment of yourself or a professional as Personal Representative. Social Media, holiday card lists, and the decedent’s address book are good places to start. An attorney’s office can do a more thorough research and notify potential beneficiaries.  As a last resort, a Personal Investigator can attempt to locate the individuals, otherwise, you must publish notice of a hearing in the Legal News and provide an affidavit proving the research you undertook to locate heirs. 

I was appointed as Personal Representative for my loved one, what’s next? 

After sending proper notices regarding attorney fees and your duties as Personal Representative, the next steps are identifying the assets owned by the individual and valuing them for the Inventory. Searching through mail and old papers for deeds and financials, locating passwords for online accounts or digital assets and valuing them can all be part of the process.  Some assets, such as a firearm or pharmaceuticals, will need to be secured and disposed of. The home should be secured, winterized if necessary, and insured as a vacant home if appropriate. Vehicles need to be secured and insured. Jewelry and other values should be appraised. Direct deposits and withdrawals need to be canceled.  A Notice to Creditors must also be published.  

An intestate estate may have beneficiaries receiving different percentage shares of the estate, based on lineage and distance of relationship. Valuation gives each asset a numerical worth for division at the end of the probate process. You may need an assessor for real estate, a business evaluation for an LLC or S Corp, or an appraiser for valuable artwork. 

Filing the Inventory, notifying known creditors, and liquidating assets may take a few months.  After the creditor’s rights period ends, a proposed distribution should be directed to all the beneficiaries.  Assets with sentimental value – such as photo albums – may be presented to closer family members while the Personal Representative decides how to distribute other personal items. Finally, larger assets and/or funds are distributed.  Make sure to secure a receipt from each beneficiary to file with the court. 

Filing a final account and having distributions approved end the process.  

Sound confusing? 

Call PSED Law to hire a professional personal representative, or seek representation if a loved one passes away with a will directing how their estate shall be distributed. 

PSED Law also provide estate planning services to ensure that your estate is administered according to your wishes.

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