Must I go to probate? Maybe not. Not all property in which the decedent has an interest requires probate. Assuming no probate estate is opened and there is no plan to open a probate estate, there are types of property which can pass to a new owner on death without going through the probate process.
Here are 10 assets that avoid probate
These assets avoid probate and can pass to a new owner on death without going through probate:
1. Husband and Wife – Tenants by Entireties Ownership
Real estate owned by a married couple (called tenants by entireties ownership) will pass automatically, by operation of law, to the surviving spouse without going through probate. A certified death certificate can be recorded with the county register of deeds to remove the deceased individual from title. Unfortunately, upon the second to die, probate will be necessary. And again unfortunately, a married person that took title to the property in their individual name without their spouse will require probate.
2. Joint Tenancy Ownership
Property owned by the decedent and another person as joint tenants (with right of survivorship) will pass automatically, by operation of law, to the surviving joint owner without going through probate. A certified death certificate can be recorded with the county register of deeds to remove the deceased individual from title to real estate.
3. Life Insurance and Beneficiary Accounts
Beneficiary designated assets (for example, life insurance, pension benefits, and IRAs) are payable on death, without probate, to the designated beneficiary selected by the decedent. If no beneficiary is designated, some contracts or plans automatically designate a beneficiary. And, if there is no beneficiary at all, the asset is subject to probate. A certified death certificate can be presented to provide evidence of the death of the primary account holder.
4. Trust Assets
Properties owned and titled in a trust do not need to go through the probate process. Rather, these trust assets are distributed pursuant to the terms of the trust.
5. Unpaid Wages
An employer in Michigan may pay the wages due a deceased employee to the employee’s spouse, children, parents, or siblings, in that order, unless the employee previously filed a request to the contrary with the employer. See MCL 408.480.
6. Cash up to $500 and Wearing Apparel
A hospital, convalescent or nursing home, morgue, or law enforcement agency holding $500.00 or less and wearing apparel of a decedent may deliver the money and wearing apparel to an individual furnishing identification and a sworn statement that the individual is the decedent’s spouse, child, or parent and that there is no application or petition pending for administration of the decedent’s estate. The hospital, home, morgue, or law enforcement agency making the delivery is released to the same extent as if delivery were made to a legally qualified personal representative of the decedent’s estate and is not required to see to the property’s disposition. The individual to whom delivery is made is answerable for the property to a person with a prior right and accountable to a personal representative of the decedent’s estate appointed after the delivery. See MCL 700.3981
7. Cars and Motor Vehicle Transfers
When a vehicle owner dies and the estate is not probated, the surviving spouse, or, if no spouse, the next closest kin may transfer the vehicle into their name through a specific process with the Secretary of State. MCL 257.236 is the Michigan statute that governs the process. If the combined value of one or more of the decedent’s motor vehicles does not exceed $60,000 and there are no probate proceedings for the decedent’s estate, registration of title may be transferred by the Michigan Secretary of State to the surviving spouse or next of kin upon submitting a death certificate, an affidavit of kinship, the vehicle’s certificate of title, and certain other Michigan Secretary of State documents. See Secretary of State Form Used: TR-29, Certification from the Heir to a Vehicle
8. Boats and Watercraft Transfers
If the combined value of all of the decedent’s boat and watercraft does not exceed $100,000, and there are no probate proceedings for the decedent’s estate, registration of title may be transferred by the Michigan Secretary of State to the surviving spouse or next of kin upon submitting a death certificate, an affidavit of kinship, and the certificate of title for the watercraft. See MCL 324.80312
9. Income Tax Refund Claims
These may be collected without probate by filing IRS or Michigan Form 1310 with a certified death certificate.
10. Small Accounts – Transfer by Affidavit
In 2023, personal property with a value not exceeding $27,000 may be transferred to a decedent’s successor by presenting a death certificate and an affidavit stating who is entitled to the property. If this is the full extent of monies of the decedent, these are assets that avoid probate.
This can be done 28 days after a decedent’s date of death. Liens or debts of the decedent (other than funeral and burial expenses) are not subtracted in making the calculation. MCL 700.3983. See Affidavit of Decedent’s successor for delivery of certain assets owned by decedent