Michigan Probate for Out-of-State Families
Losing a loved one is always hard, and having to settle their estate while you are still grieving can make things even more difficult. It’s challenging enough when you live near your family member’s last residence and can deal with estate matters and probate court in person. Having to deal with Michigan probate from another state adds a layer of complexity for which many families are unprepared.
Out-of-state probate is increasingly common, for a number of reasons. First, we live in an increasingly mobile society. It’s not unusual for families to raise their children in one state, only for all of those children to “fly the nest” and land in other states for work or to be near a spouse’s family. On the flip side, aging parents may decide they don’t want to live in snowy Michigan year-round, and might become “snow birds” living in the South for the colder months, keeping real property in both states. Another frequent scenario involves an aging parent who moves out of Michigan to be near an adult child in a different state, but who keeps either a primary residence or vacation property in Michigan.
In all of those situations, a family member could be faced with the need to open a Michigan probate estate while they themselves are outside the state. Even residents of neighboring states may find it more difficult or less desirable to travel to Michigan because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Family members further away may find it cost-prohibitive to come to Michigan, perhaps repeatedly, to settle an estate. What should you do if you have to probate an estate in Michigan?
Domiciliary Probate and Ancillary Probate in Michigan
Depending on your situation, you may need to file either a domiciliary probate case in Michigan or an ancillary probate case. If your deceased loved one had their domicile (lived primarily) in Michigan, the domiciliary probate case will need to be opened in the county in which your deceased family member last resided. If your loved one had no real property elsewhere, this will be the only probate matter you need to file.
However, if your family member lived in Michigan and had real estate holdings in their sole name elsewhere, or lived elsewhere and had real estate in Michigan, ancillary probate will be necessary. Ancillary probate is also sometimes called “foreign probate.” Because real property must be probated in the state in which it is located, the estate of a deceased person (decedent) who owned property in multiple states or countries may need to simultaneously go through both domiciliary probate and one or more ancillary probate proceedings. (If the property was held in a trust, or jointly with another person who had rights of survivorship, the property will not have to go through ancillary probate.)
If you have to start a Michigan domiciliary or ancillary probate proceeding from outside the state, you will almost certainly need the help of an experienced Michigan probate attorney.
How to File Probate in Michigan from Outside the State
If you live outside of Michigan and need to serve as an executor of a Michigan estate, you may wonder if you are even allowed to do so under Michigan law. Fortunately, the answer is “yes,” even though some states bar out-of-state residents from administering a decedent’s estate. As mentioned above, you will want to partner with a probate attorney in Michigan who can take care of the details that require a physical presence in the state or access to local courts.
How do you choose an attorney to help you, especially if you don’t have the luxury of interviewing attorneys in person? Here are some guidelines:
- Choose an attorney for whom probate work is a primary part of their practice. You need them to be familiar with Michigan probate law so they can spot potential issues before a problem arises. An experienced Michigan probate attorney will understand how to deal with situations such as inheritance where there is no will.
- Choose an attorney who is familiar with the workings of the probate court in the county in which you need to file.
- If there is the slightest concern that a dispute among family members could arise, work with an attorney who is experienced not only in estate administration, but probate litigation in case they need to argue on your behalf.
- Ask the attorney how many Michigan probate cases they handle on behalf of out-of-state personal representatives, and what their process is for working together with an executor or administrator who is outside Michigan.
- Choose an attorney who is responsive. You are counting on your Michigan probate attorney to keep you informed. You want to work with someone who answers your calls promptly, stays on top of the case, and gives you regular updates. If it takes a long time to hear back from an attorney before you have hired them, imagine how long it might take when the attorney no longer feels the need to earn your business.
Your attorney can handle a lot of the “nuts and bolts” of Michigan probate for you, but as executor or administrator of the estate, you still have responsibilities and duties. Your attorney should tell you what they are doing, what information they need from you, and what to expect next. They should provide you with copies of everything they file with the probate court. In short, your probate attorney should be someone you trust to act on your behalf and do everything possible to help you fulfill your duties with a minimum of stress.
If you are an out-of-state executor and need the help of a Michigan probate attorney, or if you simply have questions about Michigan probate that were not answered in this blog post, please contact our law office to schedule a consultation. We regularly work with clients outside of Michigan and do everything in our power to lift a burden from our clients’ shoulders at a difficult time.