What Exactly IS Probate?
Ah, that forever-fretted term, Probate! Does it give you the heebie-jeebies? It really shouldn’t. In short, Probate is the process used to transfer assets of someone who is deceased to their heirs or other designated persons, charities, etc.
During your lifetime, you are free to transfer your assets as you choose simply by gifting or selling personal property, signing a deed to a house, or signing a title to a car over to the person buying it.
But who has the authority to make these transactions after you die? Your Personal Representative. How do they get authority? The Probate Court judge gives it to them. How does the Probate court give it to them? By issuing Letters of Authority. When can you get these “Letters of Authority”? When you open a probate estate.
When a probate estate is open, the person nominated as the personal representative will receive the “Letters of Authority” that they will use as evidence of their authority to sign on behalf of the decedent. They can then, and only then, sign over probate assets according to the terms of the decedent’s Last Will and Testament, or according to Intestate Succession. Intestate Succession determines what happens when someone dies without a valid will. Yup, you have a will, even if you didn’t know it. The State of Michigan drafted it and it’s called Intestate Succession – discussed in a later blog.
So don’t fret, the probate process is most often not a complete nightmare. But it IS complex and riddled with many small laws that the average citizen would not know about. Failure to probate an estate properly can be grounds for fines or other court-ordered punishments. If you are faced with a potential need for probate, it is very important that you at the very minimum speak with an attorney about the right steps to take.