The Problems of Not Having an Estate Plan

Estate plan file in a filing cabinet

Not having an estate plan means that your family and loved ones may encounter problems when you die — and also during your lifetime. Some of those problems may not be easily resolved, causing tension in family relationships and leading to outcomes inconsistent with your intentions.

A complete estate plan, which includes a will and/or living trust, addresses the problems that can arise after your death. An estate plan does even more — it avoids problems both after your death and during your lifetime.

Who Gets Your Property If You Die Without a Will?

If you die without a Will (referred to as dying intestate) Michigan laws of intestate succession determine who gets your property. Those laws can result in unexpected consequences that are entirely contrary to your wishes. However, if you make a Will or Living Trust, you decide who gets your property and how your property is distributed.

Probate Assets and Non-Probate Assets

If you die without a Will, any property and assets you own solely in your name are probate assets, subject to probate court administration and distribution under Michigan laws of intestate succession. Assets that are jointly owned, have a designated beneficiary or held in a living trust are not subject to probate administration and distribution under the laws of intestate succession.

However, if you have only a Will, the property distributed under your Will is required to go through probate administration. It is often possible to completely avoid probate administration if you create an estate plan with assistance from an experienced estate planning lawyer. That is just one of the significant differences between having just a Will as opposed to an estate plan.

Property distribution is not the only problem that arises if you do not have an estate plan which can include naming the persons to manage and distribute your property and designating persons to care for minor children as guardians and conservators.

An Estate Plan Also Protects You During Your Lifetime

Even if you have a Will, your family may still face difficult problems during your lifetime if you are incapacitated and unable to make decisions about your finances or health care. If you become incapacitated from a serious accident or illness, someone must be able to make financial and health care decisions on your behalf. Under Michigan law, no one can assume those responsibilities in the absences of a valid Durable Power of Attorney for Property and Financial Matters along with a valid Patient Advocate Designation, sometimes referred to as a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. If you become incapacitated and do not have these important documents in place, a family member or loved one may have to ask the probate court to appoint a guardian and conservator for the legal authority to act on your behalf.

You can avoid the problems of not having an estate plan by talking with a knowledgeable estate planning attorney and creating your own personalized estate plan. In the absence of an estate plan, problems can result in outcomes you do not want affecting family relationships that took a lifetime to build.

Note that it is never a good idea to use forms or an online service to make a do-it-yourself (DIY) estate plan. The best solution is to take the time to have a well-crafted estate plan based on your particular needs and goals.

Schedule a Free Consultation with an Experienced Estate Planning Attorney

At Ager Law Office, Bill Ager helps individuals and families with all aspects of estate planning, including Wills, Living Trusts, Durable Powers of Attorney for Property and Financial Matters, Patient Advocate Designations and Enhanced Life Estate Deeds (Lady Bird deeds). From his Ann Arbor office, Bill Ager serves clients throughout Washtenaw County. To learn more about creating an estate plan specifically tailored to your needs, or for updating your existing plan, call (734) 649-0784, send an email to, use our online contact form, or read more blogs here.

Categories: Estate Planning