When a person dies, they are called a decedent. A decedent leaves property behind. That property needs to be passed on to those who will inherit it. If a person has a small estate, then a shortened process, called assignment of property, can be used instead of the probate administration process.
Read this article to learn about how to use the assignment of property process. You can use our Do-It-Yourself Settling a Small Estate tool to create the forms you will need for this process. Read the article An Overview of Small Estate Processes to learn more about the other ways a small estate can be distributed.
What is In an Estate?
The property a decedent leaves behind that can be distributed through the assignment process could include:
Real estate (houses and other buildings, land and the things attached to it)
Personal property (furniture, cars, and other things not attached to land)
Bank accounts and cash
Stocks and bonds
Debts owed to the person
Some of the property is not part of the estate, which means it cannot be distributed through the assignment process. The estate does not usually include:
Jointly owned property,
Retirement accounts, or
Trusts that are not established by a will
Jointly Owned Property
Jointly owned property is property owned by more than one person. It is generally not included in an estate. Examples of jointly owned personal property are if you and the decedent are both listed on the title of a car or if you have joint bank accounts. When the decedent died, you automatically have full ownership of that property, so it is not part of the estate. You may want to take a copy of the decedent’s death certificate to the bank or Secretary of State (SOS) to remove the decedent’s name from the account or car title.
However, sometimes joint ownership is more complex. If you own real property with the decedent, or if you own any type of property with the decedent and someone else, ownership can be hard to understand after a death. Read the article Jointly Owned Property to learn more about this, or use the Guide to Legal Help to find a lawyer or legal services in your area.
In order to use the assignment process, a decedent’s estate must be small. Whether an estate is small depends on the value of the property in it. The dollar limit can change each year. If a person dies in 2023, an estate must be valued at $27,000 or less to be small. If a person died in 2022, an estate must be valued at $25,000 or less. If a person died in 2021 or 2020, an estate must be valued at $24,000 or less. If a person dies in 2019 or 2018, an estate must be valued at $23,000 or less. If a person died in 2014 – 2017 an estate must be valued at $22,000 or less.
Assignment of Property
Assignment of property is the small estate process you must use if the decedent had real property. However, even if there was no real property, you may choose to use assignment of property if an estate is small. This is the only small estate process where a Probate Judge reviews and approves the division of property.
To use this process, you must know all the property and the heirs the decedent had, and have information about the funeral or burial expenses. You must also be an heir or the person who paid the funeral bill.
You must list all real property and personal property with the value of each. You can estimate real property’s market value by doubling its State Equalized Value (SEV). You can find the SEV on property tax bills or assessments for the property. You can also find it on most county or municipality websites.
The value of the property in the estate is its market value. Any liens or loans on property will not be deducted when determining if the estate falls into the small estates amount. There is a separate calculation to determine the fees that the court will charge to file the petition. This is called the inventory fee. You are allowed to deduct the value of the mortgage or other liens on real property when you determine the inventory value. You are not allowed to make any deductions from the value of personal property.
To estimate the value of personal property, think about how much you would ask for it at a yard sale or if you were selling it online.
Who Will Inherit?
After funeral and burial expenses have been paid, the court will order any remaining property to be divided among the heirs. The inheritance formula determines which heirs inherit property, and how much of the property each person will get. If there is a surviving spouse, that person inherits all the property.
If there is no surviving spouse, any property will be given or paid to direct descendants of the decedent, starting with the decedent’s children. If all of the decedent’s children are still alive, they will split the property equally. If a child died before the decedent, that person’s children will split the share equally. If the decedent had a grandchild who should inherit, but they died before the decedent, the grandchild's children will split the shares equally. If inheriting children or grandchildren die before the decedent with no living children of their own, the line of inheritance stops there. Their share will be divided between the remaining descendants.
If there are no living descendants of the decedent, the property will be split between the decedent’s parents equally. If only one parent is still living, that parent inherits all the property. If both parents died before the decedent, the property will go to their descendants, starting with the decedent’s siblings. The same rules of representation mentioned above apply.
If an inheriting sibling died before the decedent, that person’s child(ren) will split their share of the property equally. The same is true if an inheriting niece or nephew died before the decedent. If inheriting siblings, nieces, or nephews die before the decedent with no living children of their own, the line of inheritance stops there. Their share will be divided between the remaining heirs.
If no descendants of the decedent’s parents are living, the property is divided among the decedent’s grandparents. Half of the property will go to the decedent’s paternal grandparents, and the other half will go to the maternal grandparents. If only one maternal or paternal grandparent is living, they will take the full half of the property. If both grandparents on one side died before the decedent, their half of the property goes to their descendants, starting with the decedent’s aunts and uncles. The same rules of representation mentioned above apply.
If an inheriting aunt or uncle died before the decedent did, that person’s children will split the share of the property equally. The same is true if an inheriting cousin died before the decedent. If inheriting aunts, uncles, or cousins die before the decedent with no living children of their own, the line of inheritance stops there. Their share will be divided between the remaining heirs.
There are other rules too, including special rules if an heir dies after the decedent does. You can use our Do-It-Yourself Settling a Small Estate tool to help you figure out who will inherit and what share each heir will receive. You may also want to talk to a lawyer if you have questions about this. You can use the Guide to Legal Help to find legal services in your area.
Survivorship and the 120-Hour Rule
Survivorship affects inheritance rights of heirs and devisees. In Michigan, a person must live more than 120 hours after a decedent dies for that person’s survivorship rights to take effect. Generally, anyone who dies during the first 120 hours after a decedent’s death is considered to have predeceased (died before) the decedent and they lose their interest in the decedent’s property. The 120-hour rule is not followed if:
A will, deed, title, or trust addresses simultaneous deaths or deaths in a common disaster;
A will, deed, title, or trust states a person is not required to survive for a certain amount of time or it specifies a different survival period;
The rule would affect interests protected by Michigan law; or
The rule would cause a failure or duplication in distributing property.
Notice to Decedent’s Creditors
This process does not include any notice to creditors. If a creditor tries to collect a debt within 63 days of when the order is issued by the court, the person who got the property will have to pay the debt, up to the amount or value of the property the person got. This does not apply if the decedent’s spouse or minor children got the property. For example, if the decedent’s brother got $1,000, a creditor the decedent owed $500 could get the $500 from him. If the decedent had owed the creditor $1,500, the brother wouldn’t have to pay more than $1,000 to the creditor. If the decedent’s spouse or minor child got the property, they would not have to pay the creditor anything.
To start this process, file a Petition for Assignment with the probate court in the county where the decedent lived. If the decedent lived outside Michigan, file the Petition for Assignment in the county where the decedent had real property. You can use our Do-It-Yourself Settling a Small Estate tool to create this petition.
After you complete the form, print two copies. Date and sign both copies. The Do-It-Yourself Settling a Small Estate tool will prepare a Testimony to Identify Heirs, but not all courts require it. Not all courts require a certified copy of the death certificate. You might want to check the probate court’s website or call and ask before you go to court to file the documents. You can find contact information for the court on the right side of this page if you have selected a county.
You will need to file the following documents with the probate court:
Both copies of the petition
The Testimony to Identify Heirs (if your court requires it)
A copy of the death certificate
Proof that the funeral and burial expenses have been paid or a bill showing the amount owed
There is a $25 filing fee. There is also an inventory fee. It is based on the value of property in the estate. If the property in the estate has no value, the inventory fee is $5. For example, if the decedent had a house that was worth less than the amount of the mortgage, the value of the estate could be zero. You can use the inventory fee calculator on the Michigan One Court of Justice website to see how much the inventory fee will be.
The petition is reviewed by a probate court judge. If everything is correct when you file the Petition and Order, the judge will sign it. You may be able to get your certified copy of the Order Assigning Assets on the day you file it. You need the Order Assigning Assets to distribute the property in the estate.
There is a fee to get a certified copy of the Order Assigning Assets. The fee to get a certified copy varies, but it is usually $15 to $20. You need a certified copy of the order to transfer the property in the estate. You may want to get more than one certified copy when you file the petition. Some courts charge less for extra certified copies if you get them at the same time.
The court will order the funeral and burial expenses be paid or reimbursed to whoever paid them. This means all paid and unpaid funeral expenses will be deducted from the value of the estate when determining if it is a small estate. If there is no cash available, something may have to be sold to pay those expenses.
Distributing the Property
Once the judge has signed the Order Assigning Assets, you will be able to distribute the property in the estate to the heirs. The Do-It-Yourself Settling a Small Estate tool will tell you the shares each person is entitled to, but some things (like cars) cannot easily be divided. Decide how to divide the existing property so everyone gets the share they deserve.
Transferring Money from Bank or Credit Union Accounts
If the decedent had bank or credit union accounts that were not jointly owned with another person, take the certified copy of the order to the bank to close the account. The bank should release the money to the heir or heirs by writing a check or money order.
Transferring a Vehicle
If the decedent had a vehicle, the surviving spouse or heir must complete a Certification from the Heir to a Vehicle. If you use our Do-It-Yourself Settling a Small Estate tool, you will get a completed certification form for each vehicle you are transferring.
Take it to the Office of the SOS with a copy of the death certificate. If you have a copy of the vehicle title, take that, too.
Transferring Real Property
If the decedent had real property, you will need to record a certified copy of the order to transfer the property. Take the order to the register of deeds for the county where the property is. Check the county’s website or call the local register of deeds office to find out how much the filing fee is.
You should not have to pay a transfer tax. Transfer tax is based on how much is paid for the property. Nothing was paid for this property when it transferred because the decedent died.
When the property is transferred, its value may “uncap.” The amount property tax can increase in a year is limited while the property is owned by the same person. When the property is transferred to another person, the property tax will be adjusted to the property’s current market value. You can learn more about property taxes on the State of Michigan’s Treasury Department website.
If the property was the decedent’s principal residence, it probably had a Homestead Tax Exemption attached to it. Under Michigan law, if you own your home you do not have to pay certain taxes on it.
If the person inheriting the property will be living there, they need to fill out a Principal Residence Exemption Affidavit. If whoever is getting the property is not going to live there but plans to continue owning it, they need to fill out a Request to Rescind a Principal Residence Exemption.
One of these forms must be filed with the city or township where the property is located within 90 days after the decedent’s death. If it is not filed, additional taxes and fees will be charged.
You may not have to file the Request to Rescind a Principal Residence Exemption for up to three years if the property is listed for sale during that time. If you are selling real estate in this situation, you may want to talk to a real estate agent or a lawyer.
If you have a low income, you may qualify for free legal services. Whether you have a low income or not, you can use the Guide to Legal Help to find lawyers in your area. If you are not able to get free legal services but can’t afford high legal fees, consider hiring a lawyer for part of your case instead of the whole thing. This is called limited scope representation. To learn more, read Limited Scope Representation (LSR): A More Affordable Way to Hire a Lawyer. To find a limited scope lawyer, follow this link to the State Bar of Michigan lawyer directory. This link lists lawyers who offer limited scope representation. You can narrow the results to lawyers in your area by typing in your county, city, or zip code at the top of the page. You can also narrow the results by topic by entering the kind of lawyer you need (divorce, estate, etc.) at the top of the page.