Firstly, if you are reading this article and seeking information because you have recently lost someone, please allow us to say that we recognize your pain, and understand your desire to honor your dearly departed by ensuring that their estate is maintained and distributed in a way that is fair, orderly and legal.
Secondly, the unfortunate truth is that if they passed without a will, things could possibly get complicated, but the more information you are armed with, the smoother things are likely to go.
Now, here are a few next steps to think about:
1. Assess the question of who becomes the Personal Representative
A personal representative (PR) is simply a person authorized by a probate court to act on behalf of the deceased’s estate. If a valid will exists and a personal representative is identified in that will, that person automatically has the highest appointment priority. Without a will, under Michigan law, the surviving spouse or their nominee has first priority, followed by the other heirs of the deceased or their nominee. If none of these persons is willing or able to act as the personal representative, the state or county public administrator may be appointed. Where there is no will, internal understanding on who will act as the personal representative is important because it provides clarity on who may take preliminary steps in relation to the estate, including making funeral arrangements and securing assets.
2. Obtain a list of properties and the manner in which they are held
It is impossible to administer assets if you do not know whether they exist or how they are owned. Therefore, while memories are fresh and documents are available, it is important to compile a comprehensive inventory of the assets of the deceased as this will greatly aid the smooth administration of the estate down the road.
3. Keep careful records of all funeral and estate related expenses incurred.
Funeral expenses are generally reimbursed from the estate of the deceased. However, the personal representative must render a fully balanced account of every cent that leaves the estate. Thus, for funeral expenses to be fully reimbursed from estate assets, the family must endeavor to keep careful and complete records of all funeral or burial expenses.
4. Apply or Petition to be appointed personal representative
Hopefully, at this point the person with the highest priority or consensus backing to be appointed as personal representative has been identified and is willing to serve. If there is conflict at this stage, it might be best to see an attorney for advice. An application or petition can thereafter be made to the probate court for appointment. Once this appointment is secured, the personal representative has the responsibility to ascertain, secure, and manage the assets of the deceased. She is to follow the law at every turn, keep prudent accounts and ultimately distribute estate assets as legally required.
Although these steps may initially seem daunting, they are completely doable and our attorneys at the TGQ law firm stand poised and ready to assist your family in arriving at the best possible outcome. Feel free to contact us today.