Generally, you have to wait until you obtain a death certificate until you can open a probate estate. However, there are certain circumstances where the death certificate is delayed due to an autopsy, criminal investigation or because there is not sufficient information known about the deceased person to complete a death certificate. In these circumstances, the Court may allow you to present alternative proof of death such as an obituary, news report or coroner’s letter. Once you have obtained a copy of the death certificate you can then file that document after the estate is open.
If the decedent left a will, you will need to file the original will and a copy of the death certificate. You will also need to file an application for informal probate, a testimony of heirs, and an acceptance of appointment by the proposed personal representative. Some probate courts also require you to file a Registrar’s Statement and Letters of Authority, while other probate courts prepare these documents for you. In addition to the documents, you will need to pay a filing fee of $175.00 and $12.00 for each certified Letter of Authority. The court will not return the original will after the close of the estate so you should make sure to make a copy of the will.
If the decedent did not leave a will, you will file the same documents as above. However, since there is no personal representative named in a will, the proposed personal representative may have to obtain renunciations from other heirs with equal or greater priority to be personal representative.
Informal probate is the most cost effective, and easiest, way to administer a probate estate. Informal probate allows the estate to be probated through an administrative process without any court involvement and no court hearings. The estate is opened by an application and can be opened the day that the application is filed, or within a few days. Informal probate is appropriate when there is an original will and there is no contest over the validity of the will. If the person died without a will, you can still proceed with informal probate if there is no dispute regarding the identity of the heirs.
Formal probate means that the estate must be opened by filing a petition for a hearing before the probate court and can mean continued involvement of the court. Once a petition has been filed, a hearing will be scheduled by the court anywhere from two weeks to a month after the paperwork is filed. Formal probate is necessary if the decedent left a will but the original will cannot be located. Formal probate is also necessary if there is a dispute over the validity of the will or where there are competing wills. When a decedent did not leave a will but there is a dispute over the identity of the heirs, for example, a child born outside of a marriage, formal probate is required to settle the identity of the heirs.
A testate estate means that the decedent (deceased person) left a will, which disposes of his or her property. An intestate estate means that the decedent did not leave a will and the probate court will determine the distribution of his or her property to heirs according to a priority statute.
You can open a probate estate in the probate court in the county in Michigan where your mother resided at the time of her death. If your mother died out of state but owned real property in Michigan, you can open probate in the county where the real property is located.