Do I need a death certificate to open an estate in Michigan?

Death Certificate

Given the unprecedented number of COVID- related deaths in Michigan, families are having to wait weeks for a loved one's death certificate to be executed and returned. Even in ordinary times, death certificates are often delayed when an autopsy is planned or when there is a death investigation. Not only is the death of a loved one tragic, but family members may have the added concern about the delay in opening an estate. Often a family member may need to open an estate quickly in order to access funds in a bank account, pay a mortgage or other bills related to the decedent or to obtain insurance benefits.

Fortunately, in Michigan, you do not have to have a death certificate to open an estate. If no death certificate is available, the Probate Court will allow you to provide alternative documentation of the decedent’s death. This following documentation can be used as an alternative notice of death:

  • Obituary
  • Funeral notice
  • Memorial information
  • Probate notice or legal notice of publication in a newspaper
  • Newspaper or printed online article about accident or crime related death
  • Medical records
  • Letter from a funeral home or medical examiner’s office

The Probate Court needs to make a finding that venue is appropriate. In other words, the Probate Court needs information showing that the person was domiciled in the county in which you are opening an estate. Accordingly, try to make sure that the alternative documentation shows both the date of death and the place of residence of the deceased person. Alternatively, you could provide a copy of the person’s driver’s license or a utility bill to show the home address.

You should attach the alternative document to the Application or Petition for Probate. A short letter indicating why the death certificate is unavailable is also helpful to explain why the alternative documentation is necessary. Once you have filed to open the estate, you can file the death certificate with the Court at a later date.

Please do not hesitate to contact our office at (734) 669 3838 if you have any other questions about opening a probate estate in Michigan. Our office is able to conduct meetings remotely and accommodate the filing of documents during this time.

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