Upon death of an individual, we provide complex legal administrative services including:
- Assisting with the handling of a trust or probate estate.
- Collection of assets, payment of claims and ultimate payout of assets.
- Determination and/or appraisal of assets for purposes of distribution to beneficiaries.
- Review and consideration of income and estate tax consequences and recommendations to minimize these taxes.
- Preparation and filing of the decedent’s final income tax returns, the income tax returns of the estate and/or trust and the federal estate tax return, if necessary.
- Many lawyers consult with an outside source, unfamiliar with your situation. Todd Courser & Associates, PLLC has diverse tax experience, with experience dealing with all aspects of Estate Returns.
The Probate Process
If a person dies without a will he is said to have died “intestate.” In Michigan, the probate code provides legal direction as to how the assets of such a decedent are to be distributed. Application may be made to the probate court by an interested party to be named the Personal Representative (or “Executor”) of the decedent’s estate. If a decedent left a valid will, the probate court will give priority to the person nominated in the will as Personal Representative. However, other interested parties may petition the court to be named Personal Representative. In all cases, the appointed Personal Representative must meet statutory and fiduciary requirements in the administration of the decedent’s estate.
In general terms, the assets that are subject to probate and that are under the administration of the Personal Representative are those assets that the decedent owned in his name alone at death. (Inclusion of assets held jointly with another at death will depend on the type of joint ownership). The Personal Representative is, among other things, tasked with the job of protecting the decedent’s assets, inventorying the assets, and reporting them to the probate court. Most importantly, the Personal Representative must pay all valid claims and taxes of the estate effect the transfer of assets to the heirs and beneficiaries of the deceased. Michigan probate code has filing requirements for each of these steps for the probate process.
On top of the emotional stress that a family experiences when it loses a loved one, there is often the added stress of not knowing how to manage the assets (or estate) of the decedent. Questions such as the following are common:
- My loved one left no will. Who are the heirs?
- My loved one had a trust. How is that different than a will?
- Who is entitled to see the will/trust?
- Who is responsible for managing my loved one’s estate and assets and how does this person get legal access to the assets?
- What are the tax filing requirements for a decedent’s estate and or trust?
- Someone has made a claim to one of my loved one’s assets. How do I know if it is a legitimate claim?
- Who is responsible for my loved one’s home and vehicles before they are distributed to the beneficiaries?
- How do I handle creditors of my loved one’s estate?
Todd A. Courser can help answer these types of questions. Additionally, a probate attorney can usher the person responsible for managing the decedent’s estate, the Personal Representative (or “Executor”), through the probate process. Sometimes, a probate attorney acts as the Personal Representative himself, removing the burden of estate administration from the family of the decedent. If there are competing claims to a decedent’s assets, a probate attorney can also represent an interested party or heir in court proceedings.
We Can Help
Probate proceedings can be complicated, and you can be held personally liable by beneficiaries, creditors, or the IRS if you do something wrong. These mistakes may be avoided when you hire a probate attorney. Personal Representatives are entitled under Michigan probate code to hire legal counsel to assist them in meeting their duties when necessary. Of course not all estates are complicated but questions arise in the administration of even the most basic estates. We would be pleased to work on your behalf, answering your questions and managing the probate process, so that you can experience a peaceful resolution to any complications that arise.
As with wills, sometimes questions or litigation arises concerning the interpretation of the meaning of the language of a trust. Sometimes the trustee of a trust just needs guidance concerning his responsibilities in administering the terms of a trust. This is particularly important in the administration of special needs trusts since the preservation of public benefits is often at stake. Other times, a trustee desires to hire an attorney to help him carry out his trustee duties. We can assist in all of these areas of need. Additionally, our firm has acted as trustee for clients who desire to have a neutral party serve as trustee or who have no family member who is able and willing to serve.
Sometimes probate court appointment of a guardian or conservator is necessary for those who are unable to make financial and medical decisions for themselves. Some examples of such situations include:
- An incapacitated individual who did not name someone to act on their behalf before they were incapacitated (through a Power of Attorney or Designation of Patient Advocate)
- A developmentally disabled child who is no longer a minor
Our firm can assist in petitioning for guardianship and /or conservatorship. Guardians and Conservators often volunteer out of altruistic sprit and concern for a loved one but they may know nothing of the legal duties and reporting requirements of their position. We are happy to lessen the burden of Guardians and Conservators by answering their questions, coaching them concerning their legal duties, preparing required accounting reports, and if required, representing them in probate court.