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. The law spells out how a person’s property must be distributed when that person dies. In Michigan, the probate courts are in charge of making sure a decedent’s estate is distributed correctly. This is called probate administration. There are different types of probate administration: formal and informal. To learn about these proceedings, read An Overview of Informal Probate and An Overview of Formal Probate.
With both formal and informal probate, the administration can be supervised or unsupervised. Supervised administration involves more steps and limits the power of the personal representative, if one is appointed.
An interested party can ask for supervision at any time and for any part of the proceedings. You can also ask to end supervision at any time. Regardless of the type of administration, there are three main steps when dealing with a decedent’s estate: opening, administering, and closing the estate. This article describes some of the differences between supervised and unsupervised administration.
Opening the Estate
The first step in the probate process is to open the estate. You or another interested party does this by filing a petition with the probate court. You can ask for supervised or unsupervised administration in the petition.
Supervised probate administration requires a probate judge to oversee activities of the decedent’s estate. Any interested party can ask for supervision. An interested party is any person who has an interest in, property right in, or claim against the estate. It can include the decedent’s:
At the beginning of the estate administration, you can use the Petition for Probate and/or Appointment of Personal Representative to ask for supervision, formal probate, and to appoint a personal representative.
If estate administration has already started and a will has been found valid, you can ask for supervision by filing a Petition for Supervised Administration after Previous Adjudication.
When Is Supervision Granted?
When deciding whether to grant supervised administration, a judge will first look to the decedent’s will. The will can do any of the following:
Ask for supervised administration
Ask for unsupervised administration
Not mention supervision
Regardless of what the will says, a judge will look at the circumstances to decide whether supervision is needed. Even if the will asks for supervision, the judge can find the need for supervision has changed. The same can be said if the will calls for unsupervised administration. Usually, if there is an interested party who may need protecting (like a devisee or heir with a disability) the judge will order supervision.
A probate judge will not oversee unsupervised probate administration. You can have unsupervised administration with either formal or informal probate. You can use the Petition for Probate and/or Appointment of Personal Representative to open the estate without supervision.
You, another interested party, or the estate’s personal representative can ask to end supervision at any time during the administration. A judge will grant the request and allow unsupervised administration if there is no reason for supervision.
Administering the Estate
Unsupervised and supervised administration follow many of the same steps. There are more steps for supervised administration, including longer notice periods. Many of the extra steps have to do with the supervision process, like asking to begin or end supervision.
For all estates being administered, a personal representative may be appointed to distribute property. The personal representative must sign and file an Acceptance of Appointment before getting the authority to act on behalf of the estate. However, when an estate’s administration is supervised, the personal representative cannot distribute property without a court order. If a personal representative needs to distribute property during supervised administration, they can ask the court for permission to do so. If the judge approves it, they will sign an order for (partial) distribution.
Notice for different actions must be given throughout the administration of an estate, regardless of whether it is supervised. There are specific timelines for notices depending on certain circumstances. You may want to talk to a lawyer to help you with this process.
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.
At the initial hearing, the probate judge will determine the decedent’s domicile (legal residence), the decedent’s heirs, and whether there is a valid will. The length and number of hearings largely depend on whether your petition is contested. An interested party can contest (object to) the will being probated or the legitimacy of the will. Contesting or defending a will makes the estate complicated. You may want to talk to a lawyer if you are in this situation. Use the Guide to Legal Help to find lawyers and legal services in your area.
If your petition is not contested, or if the judge decides to go ahead with formal probate, the judge will enter an Order of Formal Proceedings.
The personal representative has to handle paperwork and payments. An inventory of the estate must be made and given to all interested parties. Then, the following tax documents must be prepared and filed:
Decedent’s final income tax returns (IRS Form 1040)
Application for federal employer identification number (IRS Form SS-4) for the estate
Notice Concerning Fiduciary Relationship (IRS Form 56)
The estate’s income tax returns (IRS Form 1041) and Michigan Treasury Department Form MI-1041
Federal and Michigan estate tax returns (IRS Form 706) and Michigan Treasury Department Form MI-706 (if required)
The following expenses must be paid:
Funeral and burial expenses
Debts and taxes with priority under federal law
Medical expenses of last illness
Debts and taxes with priority under Michigan law
Other claims that are properly presented and allowed
Closing the Estate
Before an estate can be closed, the following must happen regardless of whether the administration is supervised:
The estate must be open for at least five months
Required notice to creditors must be published at least four months before closing
The inventory fee must be paid
Any estate/inheritance taxes must be paid (proof of payment required)
When an estate is under supervised administration, it must be closed with a Petition for Complete Estate Settlement.
Final distributions are generally made after the order is entered. The personal representative should submit proof of final distributions to the court, such as receipts. In some counties, the personal representatives must file an Order of Discharge. Contact your county’s probate court to find out if you need to file this order. Use Courts and Agencies to find the probate court’s contact information in your county.
When an estate is under unsupervised administration, it can be closed with a Petition for Complete Estate Settlement.
Or you can use the Sworn Statement to Close Unsupervised Administration to close the estate. But you will also need to file a Certificate of Completion. If the estate is small, you can use the Sworn Closing Statement, Summary Proceeding — Small Estates along with the certificate. Whether an estate is small depends on the value of the property in it. The dollar limit can change each year. If a person died in 2023, their estate must be valued at $27,000 or less to be small. To learn more, visit Small Estates: Transferring Property When Someone Dies.