At the most basic level, the inventory is the list of the assets of the probate estate. It is a tool with two main purposes. It gives notice to the interested persons of the items that are part of the estate (and, if not listed, what is not part of the probate estate). The inventory also provides the probate court with the information necessary to calculate the inventory fee.
Within 91 days of the appointment of the personal representative, the information necessary for the computation of the inventory fee must be submitted to the court. See MCL 700.3706 and MCR 5.307.
Note that not all inventories must be filed with the court. In unsupervised administration, it is permissible to submit the inventory for review by the court. The inventory fee will be determined and the inventory will be returned without filing. An inventory that has been submitted but not filed must be sent to “all presumptive distributees and to all other interested persons who request it.” MCL 700.3706(2) The proof of service (PC 564) should be kept and, as appropriate, filed with the court.
The amount of the inventory fee is set forth in MCL 600.871. The inventory fee must be paid before the final account is filed or one year from the commencement of the estate, whichever occurs first. Especially with illiquid estates (like where you can’t get the house sold), this timeline can pose a problem. Wayne County Probate Court is dealing with this problem by having the personal representative sign an Inventory Fee Acknowledgement and Extension to Pay form (WCPC 380). A number of probate courts throughout the state include inventory fee calculators on their websites. Simply enter the amount of the inventory and the fee is calculated.
Form PC 577 should be filled out and submitted to the court in order for the personal representative’s obligation to be satisfied. If you represent the initial personal representative, the inventory includes the value of both real and personal property at the time of the decedent’s death. Subsequent personal representatives will need to file an inventory as well. These inventories will be valued as of the date of the subsequent personal representative’s qualification to serve.
Preparation of the inventory may require having appraisals done, contacting investment companies or banks, looking up blue book prices for cars, and/or having the personal representative go through the decedent’s personal belongings and report anything of high value. The Instructions for Form PC 577 provide list of items that should be submitted to substantiate an asset’s value.
It is important to make sure that all the inventory items are listed with enough detail. With bank accounts, the account number as well as the address of each financial institution must be listed. If the value of the property is determined by an appraisal, make sure the appraiser’s name and address is included, as well as a legal description of the real property or a detailed description of any personal property.
The value of stocks for inventory purposes is the average high and low value on the day of death, multiplied by the number of shares. There are several web sites that can help you find this information.
Real property is included on the inventory list as long as it is not held as joint owners or entireties property. Make sure that with all real property the commonly known name is listed and that the legal description and tax ID are included. Even though you should note any encumbrances on the property, you cannot reduce the value on the inventory according to Michigan Court of Appeals decision Estate of Wolfe-Haddad v. Oakland County, 725 NW2d 80 (2006) . The value of real property for the inventory is determined by either doubling the state equalized value (SEV) value or by an appraisal. The SEV should be from a recent property tax bill. Though an appraisal is more expensive, with the declining market it can be a lot more accurate.
Personal property generally has little value to the estate. It should be included on the inventory but the amount attributed to it should be nominal. Some practitioners do not include the tangible property on the inventory unless it has significant value. If there is truly something of value in the inventory, it should be appraised.
ACCOUNTING AND TAX CONSIDERATIONS
According to MCL 700.3703(4), the personal representative must give an annual account of all the receipts and disbursements until the estate is fully distributed. This account must be served on all the interested persons in both supervised and unsupervised estates and must be filed with the court in supervised estates.
In supervised estates, the format of the accounting must comply with the format requirements of MCR 5.310(C)(2)(c). Because you never know when you’re going to need the account to be approved by the courts, even in an unsupervised estate, it is always good to follow the format rules regardless of the type of estate. Account of Fiduciary forms (PC 583 or 584) help you comply with these rules.
The top of the Account form identifies the probate court, the number of the account (1st Annual, Final, Interim), the case number and the case caption. These details should be completed with care. The account period runs from the date the Letters of Authority were issued and can be for no more than one year per account.
After filling in all the basic information about the estate and the personal representative, you must first enter the beginning balance. On a first accounting, this will be the inventory amount. If it is a second or subsequent accounting, the beginning balance will be listed as the assets remaining at the end of the first or immediately previous accounting.
After figuring out the beginning balance, it is necessary to account for any income in the accounting period in Schedule A. Both the source and the amount received have to be included. If the name of the source makes it unclear as to what the nature of the income was, it is usually good practice to put a general description. The income listed in Schedule A does not include any newly found assets. Such discovered assets must be included in an amended inventory.
Next, you must account for all of the expenses during the accounting period in Schedule B. Expenses include any administrative costs, any creditors that were paid, attorney’s fees that were paid, expenses of the personal representative that were approved and paid, and any distributions to the beneficiaries. Be sure to include the name of the creditor or individual and the amount that was paid. This section does not include any losses from assets listed in the inventory that were sold off.
Transparency in how the funds were spent is key. Written support for the disbursements is the best way to get your account accepted by the court and the interested persons. The court will require a summary of legal, accounting and fiduciary fees. The bills for these services should include what services were performed, by whom, how much time was expended for each task and the billing rate for each task.
The next section, Schedule C, is where you account for any gains and losses in the sale of assets. For example, if a stock was liquidated during the accounting period the value at the time of death (from the inventory) and the value that it was liquidated for must be entered. A total gain or loss for that asset is then calculated. After all the assets are entered, the net gain or loss is calculated. If there is a net gain, it is entered in Schedule A. If it is a net loss, it is entered in Schedule B. If no assets are sold or need to be accounted for, it is acceptable to use the Short Form, PC 583, rather than the Long Form PC 584.
In Schedule D, all the assets that remain in the estate are accounted for. For example, if there is a house or car that has not been sold yet, it should be listed. Also any bank accounts and the value at the time of accounting must be listed. The description and the value (with the possible exception of bank accounts), should be the inventoried value, not the market value at the time of accounting. Attorney fees and fiduciary fees incurred during the accounting period, whether paid or not, must also be recorded on the form. A written description of the time spent and services performed must be attached. If an attorney is acting as the personal representative it is important for them to separate their time between fiduciary responsibilities and legal services.