The loss of a loved one can be an extremely stressful and emotionally turbulent time.  Initially, the grieving family has to make several decisions regarding final arrangements.  Then, family members are then left to determine how their loved one left their estate.  When there is a will or trust, it is far easier for the family to ensure their loved one’s final wishes are honored.  When the loved one dies without a will or trust, the family must grapple with challenges concerning the estate and how it will be administered.

Your “estate plan” (which includes your will or trust)sets forth how your estate will be distributed in the event of your death.  It also indicates who will be in charge of administering your estate and, if you have minor children, who you want to be their guardians.  In Michigan, if a person dies without a will or trust, “intestate” law dictates how their estate will be distributed.


Probate is the legal process that occurs to either prove a will or distribute and settle a person’s estate when they die without a will.  Even when there is a will, probate can be a lengthy and costly process during which the estate will not be available to the beneficiaries for an extended period.  This is further complicated when the person dies without a will.

In the event a person dies intestate, the distribution through probate will go as follows:

With a Spouse

  • The spouse of the person who died receives all of the estate unless there are descendants or parents.
  • If there are descendants, the spouse will receive the first $224,000.00 of the estate.
  • Then, the spouse will then receive one half of whatever remains of the estate after he or she gets the first $224,000.00. The descendants will divide the remaining half.
  • If the deceased person had children that are not those of the surviving spouse, the spouse would get $150,000.00 plus half of the estate. The remaining half will be divided between the deceased spouse’s children.
  • If there are no descendants, but there is a parent, the parent or parents will get one-quarter of the estate leaving the spouse with three-quarters of the estate.

No Spouse

  • If the person dies without a spouse, then all of their estate will go to their children and be divided equally.
  • If a child is deceased or there are no children, the grandchildren will divide the estate (although this becomes complicated because Michigan law provides for a division “by representation” as opposed to “per stirpes”, and that discussion is beyond the scope of this blog).
  • If there are no children or grandchildren, the estate will go to the person’s parents.
  • If there are no parents, then the estate will be distributed equally between the person’s siblings, and then nephews or nieces.
  • If none of these beneficiaries exist, then the estate will be equally divided between their maternal and paternal grandparents and their descendants.

Planning for your estate will ensure that your estate is divided according to your wishes and will help your family avoid conflict while distributing your assets.  Our office has experienced attorneys who understand and can help you examine your options.  Please contact us if we may be of assistance.

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