“Help! My mom died without a will or trust, and she does not have many assets. What can we do?” This is a call we receive regularly at my office. When someone dies without a will, they are intestate. Accordingly, to transfer any assets held in the deceased person’s name, probate court must be utilized. Please keep in mind that in Michigan certain assets pass without need for a probate estate. For example, if the total value of a decedent’s vehicles does not exceed $60,000 and there is no other property for which probate court administration is required, you can transfer title at the secretary of state to certain prioritized heirs, such as the spouse or descendants. You will need to give the Secretary of State office a Form TR-29, Certification from the Heir to a Vehicle, which is available online at www.michigan.gov/SOS or at the Secretary of State Branch office, and a certified copy of the death certificate.
Also, the decedent’s wearing apparel and cash of $500 or less may be transferred to a decedent’s spouse, child, or parent without court intervention. Property that is held jointly or is a transfer on death asset will transfer without the need for a probate court administration as well—these are traditionally bank accounts, IRAs, life insurance, but could be real property as well. A small estate consisting entirely of personal property may qualify for the “Transfer by Affidavit” procedure. 28 days or more after the decedent’s death, a person holding the decedent’s property must deliver it to the decedent’s successor when the successor presents the death certificate and a sworn statement. Note, the transfer by Affidavit is not a court procedure, but you may obtain the form, PC598, from the probate court.
Finally, Michigan has a Summary Proceeding for an Unsupervised Estate Administration, which allows that if the inventory value is less than the liens and encumbrances, administration costs and expenses, reasonable funeral and burial expenses, homestead allowance, family allowance, exempt property and reasonable and necessary medical and hospital expenses of the decedent’s last illness, a summary proceeding is possible. The personal representative may immediately disburse the estate to persons entitled to it, and then file a summary closing statement.
All these procedures are helpful in the event of a small estate. However, one of the best presents you can give any of your heirs, regardless of the size of your estate, is to plan for the transition so that your heirs are not left, while in the process of grieving, to try to figure out how assets can be managed. A short consultation with a lawyer, while a brief cost now, can save your family a lot of time, money and difficulty after the loss of a loved one.