Almost every state has a guideline as to when a Will should be filed with the Probate Court -- mostly having to do with encouraging an orderly transfer of property and assets from the deceased to his or her designated heirs in a timely fashion. To be sure for the State of Michigan, I recommend you confer with an Estate Planning attorney (see Avvo.Com under 'Find-A-Lawyer'). Good Luck!
Michigan law requires that a person having custody (possession) of a will of a decedent is to file the will with the probate court in which the decedent resided "with reasonable promptness after the death of the testator" (the maker) of the will. A person who willfully fails to do so may be found guilty of contempt and subject to penalty for contempt. The reason for this is that a will, once proven to be authentic, is the basis on which the estate of the decedent is distributed. You are correct that before the beneficiaries under the will can get their inheritance, the decedent's bills are supposed to be paid. The person appointed by the court to be the personal representative of the estate is required to publish a claims notice to allow creditors to file claims against the estate. A four month period running from the date of publication is allowed for claims. During that period the personal representative is required to identify the assets of the decedent's estate and to file an inventory of assets with the court.
Hope this helps with your understanding of the beginning of the process to administer a decedent's estate. For more specific and comprenensive explanations, you should see an attorney who is experience in estate planning and estate settlement.
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Filing the will alone does not open a probate estate, nor does it begin the claims period for debts of the decedent. It simply files the will with the court. To give notice to creditors, you must file a Petition or Application to open a probate estate and then publish notice. If you would like assistance with this process, please feel free to contact me.
Attorneys Lawrence and Paquette have provided you with the law, in Michigan. I believe the main reason this is required is to prevent an interested party from 1) hiding or disposing of a Will, and 2) it preserves the Will, in case future probate is necessary. We recently had a client that discovered that her husband, who had been dead for more than 10 years, had some stock in an out of state company. Had she complied with the requirement, the Will would be on file. Sadly, she disposed of the Will, many years ago. While it did not change the disposition of assets in her case, it theoretically *could* have. It is best to file the Will, if there is one.
*** LEGAL DISCLAIMER I am licensed to practice law in the State of Michigan and have offices in Wayne and Ingham Counties. My practice is focused in the areas of estate planning and probate administration. I am ethically required to state that the above answer does not create an attorney/client relationship. These responses should be considered general legal education and are intended to provide general information about the question asked. Frequently, the question does not include important facts that, if known, could significantly change the answer. Information provided on this site should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed attorney that practices in your state. The law changes frequently and varies from state to state. If I refer to your state's laws, you should not rely on what I say; I just did a quick Internet search and found something that looked relevant that I hoped you would find helpful. You should verify and confirm any information provided with an attorney licensed in your state.