Family Member Priorities for Inheritances


A will isn’t just part of a parent’s estate plan: it’s an attorney’s paradise.

Sure, it’s someone’s stated intention for his assets, but it’s also a great opportunity for dysfunctional families to air their grievances one last time. If you don’t hand your will to an attorney or an advisor, it gives siblings, spouses and other heirs an opportunity to accuse each other of tampering and duplicity. Even if the will is in safe hands, it has to head to probate court where it has to get the approval of all of the family members named in it.

If there is no surviving spouse, the decedent’s children or the children of any deceased children inherit everything. But if the decedent left neither a surviving spouse nor descendants, the inheritance moves down the list, in this order:

  • Decedent’s parents.
  • Decedent’s siblings.
  • Decedent’s nieces and nephews.
  • Decedent’s grandparents.
  • Decedent’s aunts, uncles and cousins.
  • The next in line to inherit cannot inherit if anyone higher on the list is still living.

Who Gets What as Intestate Heirs?
The question of which relative inherits the real property from an intestate estate depends on what relatives are still alive when the decedent dies. Sometimes relatives share the inheritance:

​Only surviving spouse​: In Michigan, if a decedent leaves only a surviving spouse, they are the sole heir and inherit everything.
​​​Surviving spouse but no living parents or descendants​: Spouse inherits everything.

​Surviving spouse and descendants​: A surviving spouse receives $150,000 and half the balance of the estate if the spouse and the decedent had any children together; the children receive the other half of the estate. But if the decedent had children in another relationship, the spouse inherits only the first $100,000 and half the remainder of the estate, and the rest is shared equally by all surviving children.

​Surviving spouse but no descendants​: If a decedent leaves a spouse and at least one parent but no descendants, the spouse takes the first $150,000 of the estate, then 75 percent of the rest. The parent or parents take the remaining 25 percent.

​​​Decedent leaves no living relatives​: When someone dies without any living relatives and no valid will, the estate goes to the state.

Once it is determined which heirs will inherit the real property, the personal representative must get the court’s permission to transfer title. When the court gives approval, the personal representative signs a fiduciary deed. There is no need to remove the name of the decedent from the deed. When the heir takes the deed to be recorded, the recorder will issue a new deed in the heir’s name.