The probate court is not a comfortable setting for handling an estate. Not only are the emotions and stress high from losing someone dear, the process can either be long and arduous, quick and painless, or avoided altogether. With that said, many people often wonder just how long the probate process will take, from beginning to end.
Realistically, the probate process generally takes less than a year — but It’s important to understand that everyone’s journey through the Michigan probate courts will be unique.
“How Long Does Probate Take in Michigan?”
Though there are always certain “benchmarks” that must be hit during estate administration — such as appointing a personal representative, notifying creditors and settling claims to the estate, distributing estate property, and closing the estate — the process is not necessarily always cut-and-dry.
Just as no two people lived the exact same lives, no two estates will ever face the exact same administration process in the courts.
The length and complexity of probate will come down to many variables, some of which can be hard to predict and control — from the dynamics of the decedent’s family, to the amount of debt that they’re leaving behind, to the estate planning steps they took to simplify or avoid probate ahead of time.
Ultimately, consulting with an experienced and knowledgeable probate and estates attorney may be the best way to gain an understanding of the ins and outs of the process that a decedent’s estate will succumb to in the courts. An attorney can help you get a fuller sense of the probate process, and understand the key benchmarks and timelines to consider — while also addressing concerns such as estate planning and the potential for probate litigation, based on the specifics of your family’s situation.
Based on the circumstances, completing all of the steps involved in settling an estate may take as little as a few months, or could stretch on for more than a year. The amount of time it may take to complete the probate process will depend on a variety of factors, including (but not limited to):
The size and value of the decedent’s estate
The amount of time it takes to administer an estate may depend in large part on what’s actually included in the estate. For example, it may take longer to inventory and gather estate assets that are particularly complex, such as specialized antiques or rare valuables that need to be appraised by an expert. Similarly, if the decedent owned real estate in multiple states, ancillary probate may be required, which can take time and careful management to complete.
On the flip side, the estate administration process may be expedited if your loved one left behind a qualifying small estate, eligible for Michigan’s simplified probate procedures. It is important to consult with an attorney to determine whether or not a small estate might qualify to be distributed by court order or summary administrative proceedings.
Meanwhile, it’s important to remember that there are several types of estate administration used in Michigan, including formal, informal, and supervised administration. The length and complexity of probate may be affected by how much court oversight will be required.
The extent and quality of the decedent’s estate planning
Estate planning is about taking steps to prepare for what will happen to your most important assets, in the event that you become incapacitated or pass away. Estate planning may involve taking advantage of any number of tools and mechanisms, many of which — including trusts, beneficiary designations, and joint ownership — can help an individual to streamline or even avoid probate.
As a result, the amount and quality of estate planning that a person takes on when they have the chance may impact how long the probate process will take in the future. For example, for individuals who pass away without a will, the contents of their estate will be subject to Michigan’s laws of intestate succession — essentially meaning that the state will create a will for them. Not only does this mean that one’s assets may not be distributed in line with one’s wishes, but it can also cause the probate process to drag on, particularly if there needs to be a determination of heirs.
Even if an individual did take some estate planning steps, there may be gaps that can cause the probate process to take longer. Did they fail to account for any important assets? Did they leave room for questions, disputes, or contests to arise? Did they leave unclear or inaccurate paperwork? As an example, it is quite common to see situations where a father tells a son that he is supposed to get “X” amount of the estate — even if his will splits everything evenly.
The actions of the personal representative and other fiduciaries
The personal representative is the individual (or group) tasked with guiding the decedent’s estate through probate — including filing the will, collecting and inventorying assets, managing claims against the estate, paying taxes and fees, and ultimately distributing estate assets to the proper beneficiaries.
The probate process may take longer if the decedent did not select a personal representative, meaning that one will have to be appointed. Once a personal representative has accepted the position, they must execute their duties responsibly, effectively, and faithfully. If a personal representative is not responsible about filing paperwork and meeting deadlines, this could cause the estate administration process to drag on.
Probate may also need to extend for longer if the PR (or another fiduciary, such as a trustee or conservator) commits a breach of fiduciary duty — from failing to take proper accounting of the estate, to actively stealing or mismanaging estate property. In such cases, litigation may be required to compel the fiduciary to perform their duties; to remove the fiduciary from their role; or to redress any wrongdoings.
Contests, disputes, and other issues requiring litigation
In Michigan, any interested party — including, but not limited to, an heir, a devisee named in the will, a spouse, or a child of the decedent — may challenge the validity of a will on grounds such as undue influence, fraud, incapacity, improper execution, or forgery.
Disputes to a will may also arise if there are multiple, conflicting wills; missing documents; or notable omissions (such as the decedent’s spouse or one of their children).
The validity of a trust can be similarly challenged, particularly if certain legal formalities are left incomplete or in question. An interested party may pursue litigation in order to terminate, modify, or reform a trust, or dispute the actions of a trustee.
Litigation may also be necessary if there is a contested guardianship or conservatorship associated with the estate.
The number and complexity of claims against the estate
Many people tend to think about estate administration as being all about distributing the decedent’s assets. While transferring the estate assets to the decedent’s beneficiaries is certainly an important part of the process, it is also important to remember that probate is also the time to receive and settle claims against the estate.
In Michigan, there is a set window of time during which the personal representative must reach out to known creditors, and publish notice for unknown creditors to come forward with claims. This notice must include certain relevant information, including the name of the deceased, the name of the personal representative, and the amount of time that creditors have to present their claims before they are barred. Typically, this period for notifying creditors and receiving claims lasts for roughly four months.
In Michigan, claims against an estate are generally handled in a set order of priority, with estate administration and funeral costs taking the highest position. A fiduciary representing the estate may allow, settle, or disallow a claim. Claims can be contested, particularly if a creditor wishes to dispute the disallowance of a claim, or if a fiduciary must challenge an unreasonable, illegitimate, or inappropriate claim.
Probate Can Be Complicated. You Don’t Need to Go Through This Difficult Time Alone.
Curious about how long the probate process may take for yourself or a loved one? Interested in learning more about the actions you can take to simplify, streamline, or avoid probate in Michigan?
As you deal with these important questions, it’s helpful to have an experienced and professional advocate on your side, one who can patiently help you understand the ins and outs of the probate process in your area.
Whether you are a personal representative, an heir, a creditor, a named beneficiary, an omitted child, or a widow/widower, an experienced probate and estate attorney can help address your questions and navigate the process from beginning to end, so that you can secure the best possible outcome for your situation.
If you’re based in Michigan, Attorney Dean Patrick can help you gain a better understanding of probate and all that goes into it — including wills, trusts, guardianship, conservatorship, and more.
Mr. Patrick is knowledgeable on all aspects of probate, with years of experience as a practicing attorney. Whenever you’re ready to get started, Dean Patrick is here to listen and learn more about your circumstances, and start finding a solution to your desired outcome. If you have any probate-related issue that has interrupted your life, we will work hard to accomplish your goals – providing your matter with the expertise, empathy, intellect, and professionalism it deserves at every step of the way.
Ready to keep the conversation going? The Law Office of Dean E. Patrick, PLLC. is conveniently located in Southfield, Michigan, close to both Wayne and Oakland Counties. You may click here to arrange your initial consultation or call us at (833) 469-4897 today to learn more.
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