What happens in Probate Court…

What happens in Probate Court…

…does not always stay in Probate Court

In Michigan, Probate Courts serve the primary purpose of protecting those who are incapable of speaking for themselves due to death, incapacity, or being under 18.  This protection does not extend to protecting the privacy of these individuals, however.

Kent County Probate Lawyer Shawn Eyestone
Kent County Probate Court

The Probate Court is an open forum, and many of the Probate Court records are public, such as the health and mental condition of someone in Guardianship or Conservatorship proceedings, the contents of a Will in decedent’s estate proceedings, and, for all proceedings, the amount of assets of the decedent or incapacitated individual and the amount and types of expenses incurred under the Probate Court’s supervision.  For many, maintaining privacy is a key component of maintaining the dignity of an incapacitated person or protecting beneficiaries, heirs, or minor children from unscrupulous influences.  Oftentimes, a qualified proper estate planning or the employment of a qualified probate attorney can help avoid or <><>minimize these negative aspects of Probate Court.

What Does the Probate Court Do?

For incapacitated people and orphans, Probate Courts in Michigan appoint “fiduciaries” to look after the “estate’s” assets and ensure that these people receive appropriate care.  These fiduciaries are called “Guardians” who look after the health and well being of the incapacitated or minor individual and “Conservators” who look after the assets of these

Muskegon County Probate Lawyer Shawn Eyestone
Muskegon County Probate Court

people.  A Guardian or Conservator can be a relative or friend chosen in advance by the individual through a will or other legal document or it can be an independent person appointed by the Probate Court.  The independent fiduciaries are paid fees, which are taken from the funds under the court’s supervision and must also file annual accountings, which are available for public inspection.  These fiduciaries continue to work with the Probate Court for as long as the incapacity exists or until the minor reaches the age of 18.  During this time, the fiduciary will file annual accountings and will charge the incapacitated individual or minor fees for managing the probate estate.

For decedent’s estates, a person may either nominate fiduciaries in their will or they may rely on the Probate Court and the Michigan Estate’s and Protected Individual’s code to select the fiduciaries for him or her.  As noted above, independent fiduciaries selected by the Probate Court will charge fees for their services, which are deducted from the assets or income of the decedent’s estate.

What Does Probate Court Cost?

The biggest cost of Probate Court is often time.  A surviving spouse or child who needs access to the estate’s funds or someone who quickly needs to make medical decisions for an incapacitated person are unable to do so until the Probate Court has time to make a ruling, either by a hearing before the Probate judge or by way of affidavits to the Probate Register.  In either case, there is a delay associated with the process, which often translates to increased costs, both monetary and emotional.

The next most significant cost is legal fees, which can range from $1,500 for an uncontested and unsupervised Probate Estate up to hundreds of thousands of dollars for contested matters.  Nearly everyone believes that their children or other heirs will work things out among themselves, but the tragedy of losing seems to bring out the worst in a lot of people.  Without proper planning in place, there is nothing to prevent a a child or heir whose memory differs from what was written down in a hastily executed do it yourself will or if there is no will at all.

Finally, the Probate Court needs to get paid, too.  The initial fees and out of pocket expenses for opening a Probate Court matter are roughly $250.  There is an additional “inventory fee” which must be paid based on the Gross Value of the Estate (i.e., no deductions for debts).  For an estate of $500,000, these inventory fees currently would be about $863.  In addition to those fees, any time a petition is filed with the court, another $20 fee needs to be paid, and more fees are required for certified copies of the documents needed for moving assets or making health care decisions.

Probate as a Process Not a Problem

If you have been named as personal representative or executor of a will in Michigan, we would be honored to help you get through the process quickly and make the best out of a difficult situation. We schedule interviews with personal representatives promptly and work with them to get the probate case opened and letters of authority issued as soon as possible. We know there may be unforeseen issues in the process — usually things that are out of your control such as selling the home — that may add delays, but we do not use these delays as a way to add to your legal fees.

In most cases, we help you through the probate process for a fixed fee, so you will know up front what costs to expect. We provide the legal support you need throughout the process. Learn more about the assistance an experienced probate lawyer can provide by scheduling your free initial consultation. We can be reached online or by calling toll free 800-667-5291.

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