What Happens If You Die Without a Will – Muskegon Lawyer Answers

Jul 18, 2023 | Estate Planning

When a person passes away without a will, that person is said to have died “intestate.” Intestate succession refers to the legal process that determines the distribution of a deceased person’s assets when they have not left a valid will or estate plan. In the absence of explicit instructions, the state’s intestate succession laws come into effect to govern the division and allocation of the decedent’s property. Each jurisdiction has its own set of laws that outline the rules for intestate succession.

To further explain the answer to your question, “What Happens if You Die Without a Will?”, let our knowledgeable Muskegon lawyer discuss the intricacies of Michigan intestate succession laws and the importance of having a will. 

Intestate Succession Laws in Michigan

In Michigan, when someone dies intestate, the probate process is initiated to oversee the settlement of the decedent’s estate and ensure that assets are distributed according to intestate succession laws of the state. 

The Muskegon probate court appoints a personal representative, also known as an executor, to administer the estate. The personal representative is typically a close family member or another interested party who is responsible for handling the decedent’s affairs and distribution of assets.

During the probate process, the court identifies and gathers the decedent’s assets, pays any outstanding debts, taxes, and administrative expenses, and then distributes the remaining assets to the rightful heirs.

However, not all assets are subject to the probate process. Certain assets are passed directly to designated beneficiaries or co-owners outside of probate. These assets are referred to as non-probate assets, which include:

    • Jointly Owned Property. If the property is owned jointly with another person, the property is passed directly to the surviving joint owner(s) upon the decedent’s death.
    • Assets with Named Beneficiaries. Assets such as life insurance policies, retirement accounts, or transfer-on-death (TOD) accounts are distributed directly to the named beneficiaries, bypassing probate.
    • Assets in Trusts. If the decedent had created a Michigan living trust and transferred assets into the trust during their lifetime, those assets are governed by the terms of the trust and distributed according to the trust agreement. 

Infographic image of non-probate assets

While the probate process can be navigated without an attorney, seeking legal assistance from a probate lawyer can be highly beneficial, especially when dealing with complex estates or family dynamics. 

Distribution of Assets – Do You Need a Muskegon Attorney

In Michigan, the distribution of assets in intestate succession is primarily determined by the relationship of the deceased individual to their surviving family members. The laws prioritize the spouse and children of the decedent, as well as other close relatives, in a specific order of priority.

A competent Muskegon lawyer can provide valuable guidance, assist with asset valuation, handle any legal challenges or disputes that may arise, and help ensure a fair and efficient distribution of assets according to Michigan intestate succession laws.

Distribution to a Surviving Spouse

Under Michigan law, the highest priority for inheritance is given to the surviving spouse. The surviving spouse is entitled to a significant portion of the estate, depending on the specific circumstances. The distribution of assets for the surviving spouse typically follows these guidelines:

        • If the decedent has no surviving descendants or parents, the surviving spouse generally inherits the entire intestate estate.
        • If the decedent is survived by a spouse and one or more descendants who are also descendants of the surviving spouse, the surviving spouse is entitled to the first $239,000 of the estate, which is known as the “statutory share.” After that, the remaining balance of the estate is divided between the surviving spouse and the descendants. The spouse receives 50% of the remaining estate, and the descendants share the other half equally.
        • If none of the decedent’s surviving descendants are descendants of the surviving spouse, the surviving spouse receives the first $159,000 plus 50% of the remaining estate.
        • If the decedent has no surviving descendants but a parent or parents survive, the surviving spouse is entitled to the first $239,000 of the estate. In addition to the statutory share, the spouse also receives 75% of the remaining estate, while the parent(s) of the decedent receive 25%.

The statutory share amounts are based on the 2020 cost-of-living adjustments to specific dollar amounts. According to MCL Section 700.1210, which applies to decedents who passed away after December 31, 2000, the dollar amounts specified in Michigan intestacy statutes are subject to adjustment based on the cost-of-living adjustment factor for the calendar year in which the decedent dies. 

Distribution to Relatives Other than Spouse

When there is no surviving spouse, or the spouse does not receive the entire estate, the intestate estate is distributed among the surviving relatives in the following order:

        1. Children, grandchildren, or other descendants
        2. Decedent’s parents
        3. Descendants of the decedent’s parents, which includes siblings, nieces, nephews, and other relatives
        4. Paternal and maternal grandparents or their descendants

If a decedent passes away without a surviving spouse, children, parents, siblings, or any other eligible relatives, the intestate estate undergoes a process known as escheatment. Escheatment refers to the transfer of property or assets to the state when no rightful heirs or beneficiaries can be identified.

Escheatment serves as a last resort to ensure that the assets do not remain unclaimed and without any rightful ownership. While efforts may be made to locate potential heirs or beneficiaries, including public notices or searches, if no eligible claimants come forward, the state assumes ownership of the assets.

Importance of Creating a Will

Creating a will is of utmost importance if you want to have control over the distribution of your assets, provide for your loved ones, and minimize the potential for family disputes and legal complications. Having a will is specifically beneficial in the following aspects:

Ensuring Your Assets Are Distributed According to Your Wishes

Creating a will provides you with the opportunity to clearly outline how you want your assets to be distributed among your beneficiaries. You can specify who will inherit specific property, funds, or sentimental belongings. 

Naming Guardians for Minor Children

For parents with minor children, creating a will is crucial for designating guardians who will care for and raise their children in the event of their untimely passing. By naming guardians in your will, you can choose individuals you trust to provide your children a loving and supportive environment.

Minimizing Family Disputes and Legal Challenges

The absence of a will can lead to disagreements and disputes among family members regarding the distribution of assets. In such cases, the decision-making authority may fall to the court, causing additional stress, emotional strain, and potential division among loved ones. Creating a will can help minimize the likelihood of family conflicts, ensuring a smoother transition of assets and reducing the potential for legal challenges.

Make This Easy With a Muskegon Lawyer Families Trust

Creating a will is critical in securing your legacy. Having a will guarantees that your wishes are followed and your loved ones are provided for, providing you with peace of mind. Here at Bowen Law, our team of experienced Muskegon lawyers understands the importance of having a well-crafted will that accurately reflects your intentions. With our expertise, we will guide you through the complexities of estate planning and help you navigate legal requirements. Contact us today at (231) 726-4484 or here to schedule a consultation.



The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice. All information, content, and materials available on this site are for general informational purposes only.

Only your individual attorney can provide assurances that the information contained herein – and your interpretation of it – is applicable or appropriate to your particular situation.

If you have legal questions, please contact us at: (231) 726-4484

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The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice. All information, content, and materials available on this site are for general informational purposes only.

Only your individual attorney can provide assurances that the information contained herein – and your interpretation of it – is applicable or appropriate to your particular situation.

If you have legal questions, please contact us at:
(231) 726-4484

Muskegon Business Law Attorneys of David T. Bowen, P.C. pursue cases of Business Law, Real Estate, and Estate Planning in Muskegon Michigan

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