Many people are hesitant about estate planning. Considering the end of one’s life is challenging and uncomfortable. However, many heads of households understand that these plans are essential to taking care of their family after they are gone.

Unfortunately, many Michigan residents end up dying without a will in place, or dying “intestate.” When this happens, it is up to the state probate court to determine how to divide assets. How does that work?

The basics of intestate succession

When an individual drafts a will, they outline in writing how they wish to divide their assets upon their death. These documents have always been key to estate planning, allowing people to honor and support their families under the protection of the law. Even without a will, a state court attempts to do what is right by the individual and their family, but must also satisfy creditors.

Courts will designate an administrator for the estate who will identify and appraise the estate’s assets, pay debts and distribute the remaining assets among the decedent’s heirs. Michigan intestate succession follows a complex series of rules to distribute assets as equitably as possible:

  • If married: The decedent’s surviving spouse receives preference over all other heirs. In Michigan, spouses receive the first share, an amount of the estate determined annually by cost-of-living expenses. After this share and paying debts, the decedent’s surviving parents receive one-quarter of the estate while the rest goes to the spouse. If the decedent has any surviving descendants, they may also receive a share if the surviving spouse does not share their parentage.
  • If not married: Without a spouse, the administrator splits the estate among the descendants. If there are no surviving descendants, the assets go to the parents. From there, the administrator must locate any surviving blood relatives, splitting assets as evenly as possible. If no blood relatives remain, the state absorbs the assets.

Seek legal counsel for help

When an estate enters probate court, many families seek assistance from a local attorney familiar with estate planning and family law. A lawyer can help an administrator appraise assets or locate estranged family members.