The legal process of transferring the property of a deceased person is referred to as probate. In Minnesota, the District Court is responsible for probate matters and the laws related to probate are found in Minn. Stat. § 524-532. When a loved one passes away, the last thing you want to think about are the legalities related to settling their estate. Unfortunately, particularly if the decedent nominated you to serve as their personal representative, soon after the death you will have to focus on the legal issues associated with probate including initiating the probate process. If you recently lost a loved one and have questions about how to proceed, contact an experienced Minnesota probate lawyer for guidance.
There first step in the process is for paperwork to be filed with the probate court to open a probate case. If there is a will, it is part of the paperwork that must be filed. There is a district court in each county in Minnesota which serves as the probate court. The paperwork must be filed with the probate court in the county in which the decedent resided at the time of their death.
Opening the probate case triggers notifications to beneficiaries named in the will, family members, and creditors. The court will review the will to make sure it is valid. The court will also consider the request by the person nominated in the will to serve as personal representative to be formally appointed. If there are no objections or reasons to disqualify them, the court will approve the appointment, empowering the personal representative to move forward and represent the estate in the probate process. If there is an objection to probate, experienced Minnesota estate administration lawyer for assistance.
The next step is taking control of estate assets, securing them, and appraising them. Only property that is classified as probate property is relevant to probate administration. Probate solely owned by the decedent such as personal property and bank accounts is probate property. Non-probate property such as proceeds from life insurance policies is transferred outside of the probate process.
Next, from the assets in the probate estate the personal representative must pay estate debt. Creditors have the opportunity to file claims against the estate. The personal representative is required to pay all substantiated debts from estate assets. Generally, creditors must alert the personal representative of debt within four months after the date of the notice to creditors was published. Minn. Stat. § 524.3-80.1 If the personal representative fails to pay a debt that is timely filed and the estate had the assets to do so, the personal representative may be held personally liable for the debt and required to pay it out of their personal funds.
Finally, the personal representative is responsible for distributing assets that remain to the decedent’s beneficiaries or heirs.
Disputes can develop during probate, adding another layer of stress to an already stressful process. When a dispute cannot be resolved by the parties, probate litigation may be required so that the court can resolve the issue. For example, a family member who received nothing in the will may believe that the will is fraudulent and initiate a will contest to challenge its validity. As an experienced probate attorney in Minnesota can explain, a beneficiary who believes that the personal representative is mismanaging estate assets may challenge the personal representative’s actions in court.
Absence of a Will
If your loved one did not leave a will, the personal representative will be required to distribute estate assets to the decedent’s heirs based on Minnesota’s laws of intestate succession. Minn. Stat. § 524.2-101 et seq. Under the law, who inherits depends on what relatives the decedent has. If the decedent has children or a surviving spouse, they would be the primary heirs and would inherit the entire estate. Otherwise, the estate would go to other blood relatives based on a statutory order of priority. Although not common, there are cases in which a decedent does not have any known close relatives. If someone comes forward to claim the estate, the court may require the person to prove right to inherit through a kinship hearing. If you have questions about proving kinship, contact an experienced probate attorney serving Minnesota.
Expedited Estate Settlement
In Minnesota, there are exceptions to the general rule that all estates must go through probate prior to asset distribution. These exceptions apply only to estates that are small and uncomplicated.
According to Minn. Stat. § 524.3-1201, if the assets in a decedent’s probate estate have a value of less than $75,000, any person who is entitled to assets can make a written request to the appropriate probate court requesting the immediate distribution of those assets without having to go through probate. The process is referred to as the Collection of Personal Property By Affidavit.
The second process for small estates allows the personal representative to complete the probate activities in an expedited fashion. The simplified process is available to estates with assets valued at less than what must be set aside for the surviving spouse and children and certain expenses. It is also available if the probate estate has a value of $150,000 or less or if the estate is not subject to creditor claims.