If you are currently facing the legal aftermath following the passing of a loved one, you are sure to have questions. Whether you are an heir, a beneficiary, or have been named as a personal representative, it’s important to understand the ins and outs of the process that the deceased’s estate succumbs to in the Michigan courts — including what it takes to close or reopen a decedent estate.
Broadly speaking, the process of estate administration involves filing the deceased’s will, if there is one, with the courts. After this, a personal representative will be appointed to oversee the handling and distribution of the estate, including:
- Gathering the assets of the estate and determining their value
- Paying the decedent’s debts and final expenses from the estate
- Distributing any remaining assets to the appropriate parties, in line with the decedent’s wishes and all relevant laws
In Michigan, there are a few different ways for estate administration to proceed. “Formal” probate proceedings are those that occur in front of a judge, with notice served to interested persons; “informal” proceedings mean that the probating of a will or the appointment of a personal representative are conducted by the probate register, without notice to interested persons.
Generally speaking, formal proceedings are desirable in situations where the estate administration process will be confusing, unclear, or contentious — particularly if there is a conflict among interested parties. Informal proceedings are used in situations where the probate process is expected to be somewhat simpler or more straightforward. Informal proceedings typically take less time to complete, and generally afford the personal representative more consultationdom to make decisions on behalf of the estate without having to receive approval from the courts.
Estate administration may also be “supervised,” in some cases. Supervised administration refers to a single, comprehensive formal proceeding to secure complete administration and settlement of the decedent’s estate under the court’s continuing authority — extending until the entry of an order approving estate distribution and discharging the personal representative, or another order terminating the proceeding.
Once the core responsibilities of the personal representative have been completed, and any legal issues and complications have been resolved, the estate can be closed. If previously unknown assets are discovered or an unforeseen new circumstance arises down the line, the estate may be reopened by the personal representative, or another interested person.
Closing a Decedent Estate in Michigan
In Michigan, there are a few specific processes that can be used to close a decedent’s estate, depending on the unique circumstances of the situation — such as whether the administration of the estate was supervised or unsupervised by the courts, or if the estate was testate or intestate (that is, whether or not the deceased left a valid will, or if he or she left the distribution of their assets up to Michigan’s rules for intestate succession).
Broadly speaking, the two primary ways to close a decedent’s estate are through a petition or a sworn statement.
Petition for Complete Estate Settlement
If an estate is being administered as a supervised estate, it must be closed by a petition for an order of complete estate settlement. An unsupervised estate may also be closed by petition, whether it was originally opened formally or informally.
A petition for estate settlement may include an adjudication of testacy, meaning that the petitioner is requesting the court to determine testacy, if it has not previously done so.
Either a personal representative or an interested person may petition for an order of complete estate settlement. The personal representative may petition at any time, though the petition may only be accepted after the window for presenting a claim has expired. An interested person may petition after one year from the original personal representative’s appointment.
This petition may compel the court to consider the final account; to compel or approve the personal representative’s accounting and distribution of the estate; to construe a will (or determine heirs, in the case of intestacy); and to adjudicate the estate’s final settlement and distribution. After providing notice to all interested persons and holding a hearing, the court may enter an order to determine the persons entitled to distribution of the estate; approve settlement; direct or approve estate distribution; and discharge the personal representative from further claim or demands.
A personal representative may also close an estate through a sworn statement in unsupervised proceedings, unless prohibited by court order. This statement can be filed beginning five months after the date of the general personal representative’s original appointment, to allow time for presentation of claims.
In order to close the estate, this sworn statement must state that the personal representative (or a previous personal representative) has:
- Determined that notice was published and that the time limited for presentation of creditors’ claims has expired
- Fully administered the decedent’s estate by distributing the estate property to the persons entitled, and paying or settling all claims; administration and estate expenses; and taxes (such as inheritance and estate taxes). If a claim remains undischarged, the sworn statement should detail any arrangements that have been made to accommodate outstanding liabilities
- Sent a copy of the statement to all estate distributees and to all creditors or other claimants of whom the personal representative is aware
- Furnished a full account, in writing, of the personal representative’s administration to the distributees whose interests are affected by the administration — including the amount paid out of the estate in fiduciary fees, attorney’s fees, and other professional fees
A sworn statement can also be used to close a small estate administered through summary administration, any time after disbursement and distribution of the estate. This statement must state that:
- The value of the entire estate, less liens and encumbrances, did not exceed administration costs and expenses, reasonable funeral and burial expenses, homestead allowance, family allowance, exempt property, and reasonable, necessary medical and hospital expenses, to the best knowledge of the personal representative
- The personal representative has fully administered the estate by disbursing and distributing it to the persons entitled
- The personal representative has sent a copy of the closing statement to all estate distributees and to all creditors or other claimants of whom the personal representative is aware, and has furnished a full account in writing of the estate administration to the distributees whose interests are affected
If an objection to the sworn statement is not filed within 28 days after the filing date, the register will issue a certificate of completion, stating that the personal representative appears to have fully administered the estate in question. However, it’s important to understand that this does not necessarily preclude further actions and proceedings against estate distributees or the personal representative, though actions must be taken with an appropriate window of time.
If you have any questions about closing an estate or attempting to recover from a personal representative or distributee — particularly on the grounds of fraud, misrepresentation, or inadequate disclosure — it is important to consult with an experienced probate litigation attorney, who can help you understand all of your options and take the appropriate steps based on your circumstances.
Reopening a Closed Estate
Michigan law makes allowances for “subsequent administration” — that is to say, the reopening of a previously closed estate.
Broadly speaking, an estate may be reopened after the personal representative has been discharged, or if one year has passed since a closing statement was filed. An estate may be reopened if new estate property is discovered after settlement, or if there is “other good cause” to reopen the previously administered estate — for example, if it is discovered that the estate was improperly closed or administration was left incomplete, for one reason or another.
Any interested person, including the prior personal representative, may seek to reopen a previously closed estate. There are two methods by which an interested person can seek to have an estate reopened: by petition, or by application. Generally speaking, a petition will require a court hearing, while an application will not. If the estate was administratively closed as a supervised estate, the case can only be reopened by a petition requesting supervised administration.
The court may appoint the same personal representative or a successor to administer the reopened estate. Generally speaking, the personal representative has the same duties for a reopened estate as they would for any other estate — determining if the decedent had a will that was not offered for probate in the previous administration; gathering estate assets, determining their value, and filing an inventory; determining if there are taxes that must be paid; preserving and distributing estate assets to the appropriate parties; keeping a close record of income and disbursements from the estate; and closing the estate through the appropriate methods.
It is also worth noting that any previously barred claims cannot be asserted in a subsequent administration.
Have Any More Questions About Guiding an Estate Through the Michigan Probate Courts?
Seeking assistance and support as you navigate through the Michigan probate courts? Our probate and estate attorney Dean E. Patrick is ready to stand with you.
Mr. Patrick has years of experience as a practicing attorney and is ready to aggressively fight for you — with the skills, experience, and dedication that your legal matter deserves.
At every step of the way, Mr. Patrick can provide reliable professional advice tailored to the specifics of your situation, whether you are a personal representative, an heir, a creditor, a named beneficiary, or a person who knows the deceased was taken advantage of before their death.
The Patrick & Associates, PLLC. is available 24/7. Whatever your situation, Mr. Patrick is keen on hearing your circumstance and even keener in finding a solution to a desired outcome.
Interested in getting the conversation started? Contact Dean E. Patrick at his Southfield, Michigan office at (833) 469-4897 or click here to arrange your initial consultation.
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