What Happens If You Die Without a Will in Michigan?


Michigan is known as the Great Lakes State, and it's clear why; its unique shape is carved from four of the five great lakes: Superior, Michigan, Huron, and Erie. These lakes contribute to more than 3,000 miles of shoreline.

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In addition to being home to a vast amount of freshwater shoreline, Michigan is also home to more than 10 million people. Many of Michigan's residents were born in Michigan and will one day die in Michigan. If you are a resident of Michigan, this article is for you. Here we will discuss what happens if you die without a will in Michigan.

Michigan's Intestacy Laws Explained

A will is a legal document that directs a family on how to dispose of or redistribute a person's property after death. The decision to draft a will is personal. Every person has to decide if they need a will

There are many reasons a person may decide to write a will, and there are many reasons a person may not have a will. Some people never get around to writing a will. Other people make the personal choice not to write a will. 

Regardless of a person's reasoning, if a person dies without a will, they are said to have died "intestate." When a person dies intestate, the laws of the state where they reside will direct how to dispose of their property. These laws are called intestacy laws. If you die without a will in Michigan, then Michigan's intestacy laws will direct how to dispose of your property. 

Before we begin a discussion about Michigan's intestacy laws, you need to know some legal terms. The word "decedent" means the deceased person. "Descendant" means a person's children, grandchildren, etc., of all generations.

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How Does Probate Work in Michigan If There Is No Will?

Probate is the court process through which the property of a person who has died is distributed. The probate court is the court that has jurisdiction over the administration of the deceased person's estate. The interested party files for probate in the court located in the county where the deceased lived. In Michigan, an interested person may include any of the following: 

  • An heir
  • Devisee
  • The deceased’s child
  • The deceased’s spouse
  • A creditor
  • A beneficiary
  • Any other person that has a property right in or claim against the estate
  • A person that has priority for appointment as personal representative

Keep in mind that not all property is subject to probate. Three kinds of property may not need to go through probate:

  1. Jointly-owned property that goes to the surviving owner
  2. Property that goes to a named beneficiary
  3. Property transferred to a trust.

Additionally, not all estates will need to go through the probate process. If an estate is small, it may be possible to go through a simplified process to distribute the estate. At present, the small estate threshold is $24,000. This means that to be a small estate, the gross balance of the estate, after the payment of the funeral and burial expenses, must be less than $24,000.

The probate process starts with filing the appropriate paperwork with the probate court in the county where the deceased resided. You can contact a probate attorney if you have questions about the paperwork or the probate process. A probate attorney can assist you with filing paperwork and opening the estate.

Once you file the paperwork, the court will appoint a personal representative. The personal representative is "someone appointed by the court to control or manage property that belongs only to the decedent.” The personal representative has many responsibilities including the following:

  • Gather the estate's assets and determine what they are worth.
  • Provide an inventory of the estate within 91 days of being appointed.
  • Give notice to the decedent's creditors.  
  • Preserve the estate's assets and distribute them per Michigan's intestacy laws.
  • Keep careful records of all income and disbursements of funds. 
  • If necessary, file an annual account. An annual account is a yearly accounting of the estate including income and receipts, expenses, other disbursements, and estate property. If the estate is in supervised administration, the account is filed with the court. Otherwise, it is provided to the beneficiaries until their share of the estate is fully distributed. It is necessary to file this account every year that the estate is open.
  • If necessary, file a notice of continued administration if the estate is not settled within a year.
  • Ensure that all taxes on the estate are paid. 
  • Close the estate when appropriate.

You do not have to go through probate alone. If you are the personal representative for an estate, you can hire professionals to help with the process, including attorneys, accountants, or investment advisors. In many instances, the personal representative can use estate funds to pay for professional services to help with administering the estate.

Who Typically Inherits Assets in Michigan If There Isn't a Will?

A will is one way to leave property to your loved ones after death. However, your loved ones may still inherit your assets even if there isn't a will. In Michigan, determining who can inherit assets is based on:

  1. Whether the deceased was married
  2. If they left a surviving spouse
  3. Whether there are any children

Surviving spouse

Under Michigan law, the surviving spouse is entitled to one of the following:

  • The entire intestate estate if no descendant or parent of the deceased survives them.
  • The first $150,000 of the estate, plus one-half of any remaining balance, if all of the decedent's surviving children are children of both the spouse and the deceased, and spouse has no other surviving children. 
  • The first $150,000 of the estate, plus three-fourths of any remaining balance, if all of the children are pre-deceased, but there is one surviving parent.
  • The first $150,000 of the estate, plus one-half of any remaining balance, if all of the surviving children are from the deceased and the surviving spouse, and the surviving spouse has one or more other surviving children or grandchildren from a different partnership.
  • The first $150,000 of the estate, plus one-half of any remaining balance, if one or more, but not all, of the surviving children are not descendants of the surviving spouse.
  • The first $100,000 of the estate, plus one-half of any remaining balance, if none of the surviving children are descendants of the surviving spouse.

So what happens to the rest of the property if there is any left? Or what happens if there is no surviving spouse?

Heirs other than a surviving spouse

An heir is a person who is legally entitled to the property of the deceased. An heir can be a surviving spouse, but they can also be other family members. 

Under Michigan law, any part of the intestate estate that does not pass to the surviving spouse will pass in the following order to those who survive the deceased. If there is no surviving spouse, then the entire estate passes, in this order, to those who survive the deceased: 

  • The deceased's descendants by representation. "By representation" is one way of dividing property among generations. It means that each generation receives an equal share.
  • If there are no surviving descendants, the parents will receive equal shares if both survive, if there is only one parent, they get everything.
  • If there are no surviving descendants or parents, everything will go to the descendants of the deceased’s parents by representation. I.e., your siblings.
  • If there are no surviving descendants, parents, or siblings, but the deceased is survived by one or more grandparents or descendants of grandparents (i.e., your aunts and uncles), one-half of the estate passes to the decedent's paternal grandparents or grandparent, or to your aunts/uncles by representation. The other one-half passes to the decedent's maternal relatives in the same manner. If there are no surviving grandparents or aunts/uncles on either side, the entire estate passes to the decedent's relatives on the other side in the same manner.

If you feel a little overwhelmed after reading the above, that's okay. Families and familial relationships can be complex. If you are unsure who has a right to inherit certain assets, you should speak with a probate attorney. A probate attorney can answer your questions and help guide you through the probate process. 

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Frequently Asked Questions: Dying Without a Will in Michigan

It is normal to have questions after someone dies. While every estate is unique, there are some frequently asked questions that we can answer about dying without a will in Michigan. If you have additional questions, you should refer to the Cake website. It has resources to help adults of all ages with end-of-life planning. 

What happens when your parent dies without a will?

The loss of a parent can be a difficult experience. If a parent dies without a will, you may be wondering what happens next. As discussed earlier, if the estate goes through probate, the court will appoint a probate administrator. The distribution of the assets will depend on:

  1. The size of the estate
  2. Whether your parent was married
  3. How the descendants are related to your parent and their surviving spouse

Regardless of the relationship, you and your parent's other descendants will divide your shares of the estate by representation.

If you are unsure of how to proceed after the death of a parent, you should contact an experienced probate attorney. A probate attorney can answer your questions and help you with the probate process.

What are a surviving spouse's rights if there's no will?

As discussed in the earlier section, a surviving spouse's rights depend on whether there are descendants and how they are related to the surviving spouse and deceased. If there are no descendants or parents of the deceased, then the surviving spouse gets the entire estate. 

A surviving spouse is also entitled to a homestead- and family allowance. The amounts adjust annually, so check with your attorney to confirm the amount. 

Are there any probate exemptions if you die without a will in Michigan?

In Michigan, the deceased's spouse and/or children are entitled to an exempt property allowance of $16,000 (adjusted for 2020). The exempt property allowance includes the following: 

  • Household furniture
  • Automobiles
  • Furnishings
  • Appliances
  • Personal effects
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How long does probate take when there is no will?

The time probate takes depends on many factors, including the estate's size and the family's complexity. However, "[a]n estate cannot be closed in less than five months from filing.” This is because after the estate's creditors are notified, they have four months to file claims against the estate.

Who is considered next of kin in Michigan?

In general, next of kin refers to a person's closest living relative. In Michigan, the next of kin is equivalent to heirs or family members. This relationship determines how a deceased person's assets are distributed after death. 

What Do You Want To Happen When You Die?

Death can be a difficult topic to think about and discuss. However, now is the best time to start thinking about what you want to happen when you die. 

If you live in Michigan and don't have a will, ask yourself if you are happy to have the state decide how to distribute your property after your death. If your answer is no, it's time to start your end-of-life planning.

One of the first steps in your planning journey should be exploring the Cake website. Cake is an end-of-life planning website that helps adults of all ages do proactive planning. We are here to help you have the best end-of-life planning experience possible. Why not start today?

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