FREQUENTLY ASKED  QUESTIONS

PROBATE FAQ:

What is Probate?

Probate is a legal process that helps one transfer his or her estate in an orderly and supervised manner.  This takes place after a person passes away.  Probate includes proving the validity of a will and any codicils, identifying what is included in a decedent’s estate, paying valid debts and taxes, and distributing the property to the beneficiaries according to the will.  In the event someone died without a will, the probate court will appoint a personal representative to supervise the distribution of the estate according to statute.

 

 

Do I need an Attorney for Probate Matters?

Probate can be a complicated process that takes at minimum 5 months.  Between filling paperwork to open an estate, navigating the inventory of what is and is not a probate asset, and determining who is a creditor, most appointed personal representatives need at least some direction, even for an uncontested estate.  An attorney can ensure you are protected throughout the process, ease stress through their knowledge of the process, and solve problems before they arise.  The loss of a friend or family member is already emotionally difficult situation, one through which easing the burden of the legality of the procedure with an attorney can reduce pressure and family tensions.

 

 

How Does the Process Work with Your Firm?

It all begins with an initial consultation.  Being prepared for the meeting will help us get right to work.  Bring any necessary documents, including wills, codicils, and death certificates, and any questions you may have about the process.  Our goal is to make sure you are comfortable with the process before moving forward.  If you decide to retain our firm, a contract will be drawn up outlining the scope of the attorney’s work and fees involved for attorney and office staff work.  Throughout the following months, you will be kept informed of the process and any questions that may arise will be addressed in a timely manner.

There is no charge for the initial consultation.  The initial consultation is to meet with an attorney and to learn about the general process of probate.

 

 

How Long Does the Process Take?

Most estates need at least 6 months to complete the process.  Some estates can take up to 9 months and beyond, depending on the complexity.  Estates with unique assets such as patents, real estate, and businesses can take over a year to properly administer.  Small estates can be administered with a shortened process.

 

 

Is it Possible to Avoid Probate?

The only way to completely avoid probate is to pass away without any assets held solely in the decedent’s name at the time of death.  Jointly held property is one example of an asset that would not need to be probated.  Probate can be avoided altogether for privacy reasons with the use of proper estate planning, gifting, joint tenancy, and payable on death accounts.

ESTATE PLANNING FAQ:

What is Estate Planning?

Estate planning is a process by which you work with an attorney to create a set of documents to protect and designate the assets which make up your estate.  These documents protect you and your loved ones in the case of incapacitation or death.

 

 

Why do I Need an Estate Plan?

Everyone already has an estate plan, whether they have something in writing or not.  If someone passes away without a will or trust, their estate will be distributed by the laws of the State of Michigan through the Probate Court.  An estate plan makes your wishes known for how you want your assets handled and distributed. If you become incapacitated and have nothing in writing, you may need to have a guardian or conservator appointed by the court.  Probate estate planning keeps this a private matter.

 

 

What is Included in an Estate Plan?

An estate plan encompasses a range of documents and designations, including Wills, Testamentary Trusts, Trusts, Patient Advocate Designations, and Financial Powers of Attorney.  When properly drafted, these documents can be utilized to minimize estate taxes, give direction to your advocate regarding medical care when you cannot communicate, protect your assets, provide for your family, plan for a disabled person, retain privacy, and create a legacy.

 

 

Can I Change an Existing Estate Plan?

An estate planning attorney knows our circumstances are always changing and you need documents to grow with you. Previously created “revocable” documents can be modified or reinstated as your situation demands.

 

 

Why do I need an Attorney to Draft an Estate Plan?

One of the duties of the Washtenaw County Public Administrator title that Ms. Meinhart holds is to probate estates of persons who pass away without any sort of legal documents.  In Michigan, the code probate attorneys follow is state specific, meaning a one size fits all form document probably doesn’t address how the law is drafted and interpreted in Michigan.  From experience, she can tell you that all too often when someone passes away without a proper estate plan, it causes unnecessary stress and frustration for friends and family of the deceased.

TRUST ADMINISTRATION FAQ:

What is Trust Administration?

Trust Administration is the process by which a Trustee manages and distributes assets through a private Trust document.  A trustee’s duties are very similar to the Personal Representative in a Probate Estate, being that they may be in control of burial/cremation, real estate, pay creditors, file taxes, and arranging for disposition of assets, but a trustee may also be nominated for a continuing trust for a special needs or minor child.  A trustee has a duty to follow state law and carries a fiduciary duty to the beneficiaries of the estate.

 

 

How Does the Trust Administration Process Work with Your Firm?

It all begins with an initial consultation.  Being prepared for the meeting will help us get right to work.  Bring any necessary documents, including Trust, Pour-Over Will, Trust Amendments, and death certificates, and any questions you may have about the process.  Our goal is to make sure you are comfortable with the process before moving forward.  If you decide to retain our firm, a contract will be drawn up outlining the scope of the attorney’s work and fees involved for attorney and office staff work.  Throughout the following months, your will be kept informed of the process and any questions that may arise will be addressed in a timely manner.

 

There is no charge for the initial consultation.  The initial consultation is to meet with an attorney and to learn about the general process of trust administration.