What is Probate?

Probate is a legal process in which a decedent’s estate is properly distributed to heir and designated beneficiaries and any debt owed to creditors is paid off. For the most part, probate property is something that’s distributed according to the decedent’s last will and testament, if there is one, or according to state law if no will exists. The length of the process itself depends on if there’s any dispute over the will or testament.

Why would there be dispute over the will or testament?

To first understand why there would be a dispute, let’s understand what a will or last testament is. A will or last testament is a written legal document that directs the court to distribute all assets that are part of the estate to their designated beneficiaries. This means if grandpa writes down that he wants Billy to receive his property and furnishings, while Suzie receives the money, the court must follow the orders.

With that said, let’s say Suzie doesn’t agree with what the will or testament says. Suzie believes that the will or testament could have been forged and tampered with and that’s why she doesn’t get any of the furnishings, like grandpa’s favorite chair. She can present her case to probate court, disputing the validity of the will or testament.

You may think this isn’t something that commonly happens – but believe it or not, everyone could find themselves in probate court one day. It affects movie stars, athletes, artists and yes, even yourself.

What is the probate process?

First, someone is appointed to be the administrator of the estate. In a will, the administrator is usually named. That person is called an executor. If there isn’t a will or executor named in the decedent’s will, the probate court will appoint someone of their choice.

Assuming there is a will, it will be brought to probate court, so that the validity of the document is proved. Much like how states differ over how assets in estates are distributed should there be no will, states differ on what needs to be followed for meeting the requirements of a valid will. This means having the proper signatures, witnesses or notaries to vouch for the will’s validity.

Once the will has been validated, the decedent’s estate is identified and inventoried. Until the probate process is complete though, the assets which are part of the estate cannot be sold or distributed. With the estate being inventoried and identified, properties are also appraised. Furthermore, any debts or taxes that were owed by the decedent are paid off.

Finally, the assets that are remaining are distributed according to decedent’s wishes if there is a will.

What happens if there is no will or last testament?

Sometimes an individual who passes away didn’t write a will or last testament. Because of this, the distribution of assets in the estate fall under the guidance of the state statutes. For the most part, state statutes have laid out the groundwork as to who is prioritized in the distribution of the assets in the estate, but some state statutes differ from others.

Where do I file Probate?

Each county has a probate court in which probate can be filed. However, there are some specifics. For example, the county you file probate at depends on where the decedent was leaving before he or she passed away. Wayne County Probate Court would be where you file probate if someone dies in that county. However, if someone from Livingston County were to pass away in Oakland County, they would not have their probate filed in Oakland County, it would have to be filed in Livingston County, because that is where the individual was living, despite passing away in a different county.

How long does this take?

That depends on the case. The American Bar Association has said the average time is around six to nine months. With that said, that’s the average, not a definitive answer. The truth of the matter is that it could take less than six months to go through the complete process, but it could also last for many years. It all depends on the parties, their relationships and willingness to cooperate.

Who can help people with Probate?

For 25 years, The Probate Pro has been practicing and providing probate related legal services. Our team of attorneys are equipped with the knowledge that is our law and will use it, along with creativity and compassion, to fight for our clients. With offices in Michigan, Florida, Ohio and Illinois, The Probate Pro has earned a reputation of being a premier probate law firm. If you or someone you know may be in need of probate related services, give us a call at 1-(833)PROBATE.


The Wayne County Probate Court can be found here:

Wayne County Probate Court
2 Woodward Ave., Detroit, MI 48226
(313) 224-5706