Probate has a bad reputation, but there’s nothing necessarily wrong with an estate going through “probate”. Probate courts have legal authority to deal with the person and property of individuals who can’t deal with it for themselves. So if you’re dead, the probate court can see to it that your bills get paid and your remaining assets get transferred to those who are legally entitled to them. Likewise, if you’re alive but incapacitated for some reason, the probate court can make decisions for your personal care and handle your finances.
To do this, the court can appoint an individual (a “fiduciary”) to actually make the decisions and carry out the job. If you’re dead, this fiduciary is called a “personal representative” – though you sometimes will hear them called an executor. If you’re alive but unable to manage your property, the court can appoint a fiduciary called a “conservator”. Likewise, if you’re unable to make medical or other personal care type decisions, you may be legally incapacitated and the court can appoint a fiduciary called a “guardian”. There are also special kinds of conservators and guardians for minors and for individuals who are developmentally disabled.
In Michigan, there is a probate court for each county. If the deceased or disabled person is a Michigan resident, then the probate court for his or her county of residence is where the probate proceeding takes place. If they were an out-of-state resident, then probate can happen wherever they have property in Michigan.
In my practice, we work with the probate court when necessary, usually by getting our clients appointed as one of these types of fiduciaries. Then we guide our client and assist them to carry out their legal duties for collecting assets, paying taxes, and accounting to the heirs or beneficiaries.