A Will is a public document informing a public court how distribution of a decedents assets should pass and to where.
What happens if there is no will?
In Michigan, if there is (1) no will, (2) an invalid will, or (3) a partial will, then the Michigan rules of intestate succession apply. Under intestate (no will) succession essentially the states default rules determine who, receives what money, how much, and when. Generally, the decedents descendants inherit one-half of whatever remains from an estate after a surviving spouse inherits $150,000 or $100,000 (depending) plus one-half of the remaining. If there are no decedents, then the parents of the decedent inherit one-quarter of the balance of the estate after the surviving spouse gets $150,000 plus three-quarters of the balance.
It is clear there are numerous exceptions and specific situations that may trigger a different out-come. Further, there are various other considerations that may influence the inheritance such as: cost of living, waivers of shares, disqualified heirs, slayer statutes, adopted children, step children, foster children, multi-jurisdictional estates, posthumous children, foreign-living descendents, 120-hour rule, and multi-generational families. Finally if there are no familial relations to transfer the estate to, the balance of the estate will escheat to the state.
Many of these complications and risks can be avoided with careful estate planning. Whether you choose a will or a trust planning ahead will make certain that your family and friends get exactly what you want them to get, and no one is left out in the cold.
Requirements of a basic will
Each of the following, on this non-exclusive list, can be expanded with paragraphs of exceptions and nuances, but generally:
(1) The testator (drafter of the will) must be at least 18-years old.
(2) The testator must be of sound mind and sufficient mental capacity.
(3) The testator must intend for the will to be a will (it may be otherwise proven a joke).
(4) The testator and two witnesses must sign the will in a specific manner.
(5) The witnesses must each be of proven competence.
(6) Out of state wills may be admissible in probate court if it meets certain criteria.
(7) The will must not be revoked.
(8) Finally, The testator must be dead.
Following those simple steps it is quite easy to create a will, the hardest part is ensuring that your will does what you want it to do. As life teaches us, those things that are easy to do, are the hardest to do right—and—after you pass, there will be no one to truly explain what you want done with your life’s works.
What happens if you have more children, or adopt?
What about dower?
How do the courts handle small estates after all expenses paid?
What if my will is not clear and my neighbor demands a share of my estate?
What if my parent was under the pressure of an untrustworthy character when they signed their will?
What happens if you acquire more property after you write your will?
How do you transfer specific property to an heir?
What happens if your spouse divorces you and you forget to update your will?
Where do insurance proceeds go?
What happens if you amend your will?
Who controls my business?
What happens if nefarious circumstances surround your death?
Finally, trusts are no longer tools only for the ultra-wealthy, they are now for all people who want privacy and control of their estate—and—for their family to be protected and cared for as they see fit. They are generally more costly and complicated than a will, but you will know exactly what will happen to your estate when you pass. A trust is a relationship demanding a duty of loyalty and care of the trustee, who holds legal title to specific property, to manage, invest, safeguard, and administer the estate. They may last a long time or a very short time.
For more information on estate planning of both trusts and wills contact an experienced licensed attorney.