Have you been appointed as a personal representative in someone’s will. If so, you may be asking yourself what does a personal representative do? A personal representative is a person appointed by the probate court to administer the estate of another person. Sometimes this position is referred to as an executor. A person’s estate refers to all the money and property owned by the person at their death.

How to Open a Probate in Michigan

Generally, the personal representative’s first step is to open an estate with the Probate Court. The process in Michigan is similar to those in other states. With a few exceptions, a probate begins with the appointment of a personal representative who is responsible for winding up the decedent’s (the person who has died) affairs. In Michigan, this can be done “informally” or “formally” depending on the facts of the case. Informal probate, as the name suggests, is much simpler. A formal probate is more complicated and requires a court hearing. A probate attorney can generally advise the best way to open the estate based on the facts of the case.

Personal Representative’s Responsibilities in Michigan

Once the estate is opened, the personal representative is required to settle or administer the estate. Below is a list of some of the personal representative’s responsibilities:

Gather and Manage Estate Assets. The personal representative must gather and control all assets which belonged to the decedent at the time of his or her death.

Provide Notice to Heirs. After being appointed, the personal representative must mail notice of his or her appointment to the heirs and devisees of estate.

Notice to Creditors. The personal representative must also notify all of the deceased person’s creditors that he or she has passed away. Typically, the personal representative must publish a notice to creditors in a local newspaper. In addition, notice of the death must be mailed to all known creditors of the estate. The gives the creditors an opportunity to submit their claims to the estate.

Determine Statutory Allowances. It is the personal representative’s obligation to determine whether any statutory allowances must be paid. In Michigan, statutory allowances include a homestead allowance, exempt property allowance, and a family allowance.

Inventory Assets. The personal representative must prepare an inventory or list of the decedent’s assets and their values. The inventory must also be delivered to the court and the heirs. In Michigan, the probate court charges the estate an inventory fee based on the value of the estate. Your lawyer can assist in calculating this fee.

Pay the Decedents Debts and Expenses of the Estate. The personal representative must determine which claims and expenses of the estate are valid under Michigan Law. If there are not enough estate assets to pay all debts and expenses, you must determine which debts and expenses should be paid first according to Michigan law. The rules regarding creditor claims are highly technical. Thus, you should consult with a Michigan probate attorney prior to paying creditor claims.

Estate Taxes. The personal representative of the estate must also ensure that all taxes are paid and that all tax returns for the decedent and the estate are prepared and filed. This applies to both state and federal taxes.

Distribute Remaining Assets. After payment of all debts and expenses of the estate, the remainder of the estate may be distributed to the heirs. The heirs may vary depending on whether the decedent died with or without a will. If there are not enough assets in the estate to make the gifts as set forth in the Will, it is the personal representative’s responsibility to determine how the distributions should be made under Michigan law. A probate attorney should assist in this process, as the rules governing distributions can be complicated.

Close the Estate. Finally, the personal representative must close the estate. There are several methods available to the personal representative to close the estate. The simplest method is to file a Sworn Statement. This process is relatively simple, but does not provide the personal representative with any protections. Generally, the safest way is to file a Petition for Order for Complete Estate Settlement. This asks the court to formally review the estate and approve the personal representative’s work.

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You Can Avoid Probate With an Estate Plan

Probate Court is not a fun place. It is costly and very time consuming. It also places a tremendous burden on loved ones who are already grieving from their loss. The good news is that probate can be avoided. You can prevent your family from going to probate court by having an estate plan. A properly drafted estate plan has many benefits, including avoiding probate and mitigating estate taxes. It also ensures your life’s savings and assets are safe from your heirs’ creditors or unsavory family members. Lastly, it allows you to arrange for someone to take care of your medical and financial affairs in the event you should ever become incapacitated.

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About the Author: Aaron R. Shahan is an attorney at Atlas Law, PLC. Aaron dedicates his practice to virtually all aspects of estate planning, elder law and probate.