By: Macie Tuiasosopo Gaines, Esq.
Probate can be stressful and sometimes traumatic if it is unfamiliar territory. Many do not find out what Probate Court is until they need it. More often than not, people are forced to navigate this foreign court while simultaneously mourning because they do not have extra money for a probate attorney or funeral expenses. One good thing about Probate Court is it can be administrative in nature. For example, parties are required to use forms to administer estates. These are available on the State Court Administrative Office’s website. 
- Small Estate Procedure
In 2022, if the estate has less than $25,000 after payment of funeral and burial expenses, you can open a Small Estate if you are an heir or a person who paid the funeral bill. You will need a death certificate, funeral cost receipts, information and values of the real estate, automobile, stock or any assets you seek to transfer to the remaining heirs. You will fill out a “Petition for Assignment” and “Protected Personal Identifying Information” form from the website referenced above. Once approved, the Court will then issue an Order to assign the assets to the individuals listed on your Petition. You can then present that Order to a bank to close accounts, the Secretary of State to transfer a vehicle, etc. There is no formal hearing or additional filings necessary.
- Automobile Only Procedure
If the Decedent only leaves a vehicle (and nothing else) then the Decedent’s heirs can go to the Secretary of State and obtain a title by application if the value does not exceed $60,000. The Secretary of State has a form called “Certification from Heir to a Vehicle” available at any office or on the website.  This will accomplish the transfer without traditional probate proceedings so long as (1) there is no pending probate proceeding; (2) no probate proceeding will start in the future; (3) the car is worth less than $60,000; and (4) you are an heir of the Decedent.
- Paycheck Only Procedure
If the only assets in the decedent’s estate are wages or fringe benefits, or both, payable by the decedent’s employer, the assets may be transferred without probate and without having a fiduciary appointed. The only catch is that the plan has to designate a payee. This is something to consider to make your loved one’s process easier when you pass away.
- Clothes or Cash Less than $500
If your loved one left cash less than $500 or clothing that is at a hospital, nursing home or correctional facility, you can obtain the items without traditional probate procedures if you are a spouse child or parent. You can provide identification and sign an affidavit to attest to the relationship under oath.
This is meant to serve only as a guide. Have no fear, there are alternatives here. If your loved one’s estate exceeds these values, your local Probate Court is always a good place to start. If you find yourself in need of probate representation, reach out to experienced probate lawyers in your area.
Macie Tuiasosopo Gaines is a member of Wolverine Bar Association and a managing member at Gaines & Gaines PLC, an Estate Planning and Probate law firm. She earned her J.D. from the University of Detroit-Mercy Law School. In her practice, she guides individuals on Estate Planning & Probate, and assists clients with Estate & Trust Litigation and Family Law issues.