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Understanding Intestate Succession: What Happens if Someone Dies Without a Will in Michigan?

Intestate Succession in Michigan

If someone passes away without a will in Michigan, many of their assets will become subject to our state’s rules of intestate succession. Broadly speaking, this means that the courts will step in and make determinations about how the decedent’s property will be distributed among their surviving family members. Anyone who stands to inherit under the statutes of intestate succession is known as an heir

Dying intestate can make an incredibly difficult period even more complex and time-consuming for your survivors, particularly if there needs to be a determination of heirs — which can add a significant degree of time and effort to the already long and costly process involved in administering an estate.

Just as importantly, if you do not set down your wishes in a will or guide the distribution of your property through other estate planning mechanisms, such as a trust, then your assets will be distributed following the strict guidelines set down by Michigan law. This means that your most treasured assets will pass completely outside of your control, and could end up going to some people you might have preferred to omit or disinherit. 

Michigan Intestacy Statutes: A Brief Overview

Intestacy laws guide how an estate should be settled in the absence of a will. Michigan’s Estates and Protected Individuals Code (EPIC) states that any part of a decedent’s estate not effectively disposed of by will passes by intestate succession to the decedent’s heirs. This might occur if the decedent dies without leaving any valid will, or if they omit certain items from their estate plan. 

Non-probate assets are not subject to intestate succession. Generally speaking, this category includes assets held in a trust; property co-owned as joint tenants or tenants by the entireties; and securities, financial accounts, retirement funds, and other assets with a designated “pay on death” or “transfer on death” beneficiary. 

Michigan law sets down a particular order of succession by which heirs stand to inherit when an individual who dies intestate — and how much each party might ultimately receive from the estate. Broadly speaking, Michigan law gives highest priority to the surviving spouse of the decedent, followed by their children and grandchildren, then parents and siblings, followed by more distant relatives.

Intestate Succession

If a decedent is survived solely by a spouse, with no descendants or surviving parents, then the spouse will receive the entire intestate estate. 

If a decedent is survived by a spouse and descendants who are also descendants of the surviving spouse, then the spouse receives a fixed share of the estate, plus half of the remaining balance of the intestate estate. As of 2020, the amount that a spouse will receive is the first $239,000 of the estate, with the decedents dividing the remaining share.*

*MCL Section 700.1210 states that  for decedents who die after December 31, 2000, the specific dollar amounts listed under Michigan’s intestacy statutes shall be multiplied by the cost-of-living adjustment factor for the calendar year in which the decedent dies. Michigan’s cost-of-living adjustment factor has been set to 1.593 for calendar year 2020. More information and a record of historical adjustments and dollar amounts can be found here. 

If the decedent is survived by a spouse and one or more parents, then then the surviving spouse receives the first $239,000* of the estate, plus three-quarters of any balance of the intestate estate. 

If the decedent is survived by a spouse and one or more descendants who are not descendants of the surviving spouse, then the surviving spouse will receive the first $239,000* of the estate plus half the balance of the remaining intestate estate. 

If none of the decedent’s surviving descendants are descendants of the surviving spouse, then the surviving spouse receives the first $159,000,* plus half of any remaining balance of the intestate estate. 

Next, any part of the intestate estate that does not pass to the decedent’s surviving spouse — or the entire intestate estate if there is no surviving spouse — passes in the following order to the following individuals who survive the decedent:

  • Descendants by representation (e.g., children and grandchildren of the decedent)
  • Surviving parent or parents 
  • Descendants of the decedent’s parents or of either of them by representation (e.g., siblings, nieces, and nephews of the decedent)
  • Paternal and maternal grandparents and their descendants (or to one side of the family if there is no surviving grandparent or descendant of a grandparent on the other side)

Finally, if there are no takers under any of the provisions mentioned above, the intestate estate passes to the state.

Other Key Considerations

In addition to these broad rules of succession, here are some important things to keep in mind about intestate inheritance in Michigan: 

  • When property is distributed “by representation,” this means that the property is divided into as many equal shares as there are surviving descendants in the nearest generation that contains one or more surviving descendants (plus deceased descendants in the same generation who left surviving descendants, if any). Each surviving descendant in the nearest generation is allocated one share. The remaining shares, if any, are combined and then divided in the same manner among the surviving descendants of the deceased descendants. 
  • Children of the deceased stand to inherit as long as they are legally recognized by the state — this includes adopted children, as well as children born out of wedlock. 
  • For the purposes of intestate succession, an individual must survive the decedent by at least 120 hours in order to inherit.
  • Under Michigan intestacy laws, a relative “of the half blood” (such as a half-sibling) inherits the same share he or she would inherit “if he or she were of the whole blood.”
  • Immigration status does not affect an heir’s inheritance. Under Michigan law, an individual is not disqualified to take as an heir because he or she (or an individual through whom he or she claims) is or has been an alien.
  • An individual who is related to the decedent through two lines of relationship is entitled to only a single share, based on the relationship that would entitle the individual to the larger share.
  • A debt owed to a decedent is charged only against the intestate share of the debtor, and not against anyone else’s share. If the debtor predeceases the decedent, the debt is not taken into account in computing the intestate share of the debtor’s descendants.
  • Property the decedent gave to an heir during his or her lifetime is only counted as an advancement against the heir’s intestate share if  the decedent or heir acknowledges in writing that the gift constitutes an advancement or should be taken into account in computing the division and distribution of the decedent’s intestate estate.

Michigan Intestacy: Stories and Examples

As you can see from the matters we’ve already discussed, intestate succession can be long, drawn-out, and quite complicated for everyone involved. This process is never easy, and it can become even more complex if the decedent has a large or complicated family tree, or if it is difficult to make contact with more distant heirs. 

To help illustrate the ins and outs of intestate succession, let’s explore some example scenarios — including a fairly straightforward intestacy case in which someone dies without a will, and one in which intestacy guidelines might run counter to a decedent’s wishes. 

By the Numbers

Sam and Alex have been married for some time. They have two grown kids, who have not yet married or had children of their own. Eventually, Sam passes away, without leaving a will. 

After taking an account of all of the solely owned property and assets that Sam left behind, the value of the intestate estate is somewhere around $320,000. In this case, Alex is entitled to receive a fixed amount from the estate — $239,000, as of 2020* — plus half of the remaining balance of the estate (which comes to $40,500). That brings Alex’s total to $279,500. The remaining amount of the estate (another $40,500) is then divided equally among Sam and Alex’s two children. 

Maintaining Control

A married couple, Felix and Sandra, stopped talking with their surviving siblings after a bitter probate court fight.

Felix and Sandra had a modest estate, and did not want for their siblings to receive any part of it. However, while Felix and Sandra understood the need to plan ahead, they kept making excuses and putting off writing their wills. Before they got around to it, Sandra passed away. Weakened by the grief from the loss of his wife, Felix passed away within the month.

With no living parents or children, their entire estate was distributed to the very people they did not want: their surviving siblings.

If you do not plan, the probate process will make important decisions for you. Felix and Sandra could have maintained control when they were gone and disinherited their siblings if they had created wills or trusts.

The Importance of Estate Planning

If you want to maintain control over your property and ensure that your wishes are followed, even when you’re gone, then it’s incredibly important to develop a comprehensive estate plan with an experienced Michigan probate attorney. 

If you become incapacitated, and even when you’re gone, estate planning keeps you in control. Estate planning is important for individuals at every stage of life. Whether you’re single, married, or cohabitating, estate planning is a powerful way to: 

  • Help ensure the distribution of your assets in a manner appropriate for your circumstances
  • Maximize the assets available to your beneficiaries when you have passed
  • Give yourself peace of mind, knowing you minimized the stress of your circumstances for your family
  • Assure your partner gets the assets and control you want them to have
  • Minimize or eliminate the cost of probate fees and taxes on your estate
  • Allow for immediate distribution of your assets
  • Avoid disagreements and conflicts among family after you’re gone

There are a variety of tools, including wills and trusts, that assure you keep control even when you are unable to speak on your own behalf. Which instruments are used depend on the specifics of your circumstances. 

An experienced probate attorney such as our own Dean E. Patrick can help you understand the unique variables of your situation, and empower you to take the appropriate steps to protect your assets and your loved ones. Mr. Patrick’s extensive knowledge of Michigan probate ensures you will get the legal help you need when it’s time to take care of your estate planning — including writing a will, establishing a trust, creating a durable power of attorney, or understanding the ins and outs of guardianship and conservatorship. 

You Don’t Have to Go Through It All Alone

Interested in learning more about Michigan’s unique laws of intestate succession? Curious about the estate planning mechanisms that can help put you in control? 

Your Michigan probate attorney Dean E. Patrick is here to help. Mr. Patrick is a licensed Michigan lawyer specializing in probate law. He has helped hundreds with their estate planning needs, giving him the necessary knowledge to provide unparalleled legal advice and assistance that can make your life a little easier.

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. Contact Dean E. Patrick at his Southfield, Michigan office at (833) 469-4897 or click here to arrange your initial consultation online.

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