Minnesota Probate

The legal process of transferring the property of a deceased person is referred to as probate or estate administration. In Minnesota, the District Court serves as the probate court and is responsible for probate matters. If the decedent had a domicile (legal residence) in Minnesota, the probate case would be initiated in the District Court in the county where they are domiciled. Minn. Stat. § 524-201(a)(1). However, the decedent was not domiciled in Minnesota, the probate case would need to be filed in the county where the person owned property at the time of their death. Minn. Stat. § 524-201(a)(2)

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.

Administration Process

The first step in the process of settling the estate of a decedent is for paperwork to be filed with the District Court to open a probate case. If there is a will, it must be submitted as well. Opening the probate case triggers notifications to beneficiaries named in the will, family members, and creditors. They are considered interested parties.

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 as they have top priority for serving as personal representative. Minn. Stat. § 524-203. Once they are formally appointed by the court, they are empowered to move forward and represent the estate in the probate process.

The next step is taking control of estate assets, securing them, and inventorying them. An inventory of estate property must be filed with the court within 6 months of when the court appointed the personal representative or within 9 months of the decedent’s death, whichever is later. Minn. Stat. § 524.3-706

Note that only property that is classified as probate property is relevant to the administration process managed by the personal representative. Property 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, the personal representative must pay estate debt and expenses of administration. The personal representative is required to notify creditors that the estate administration process is underway so that they have the opportunity to file claims against the estate. All substantiated debts must be paid 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 claim that is timely filed and the estate had enough money to pay the claim, 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. If the decedent left a will, the assets must be distributed based on its terms. In the absence of a will, Minnesota’s law of intestate succession determines asset distribution. Note that the personal representative must first receive court approval before distributing assets.

Probate Disputes

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. 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. The statute spells out which of the decedent’s relatives are entitled to inherit. 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 that they have the right to inherit by proving kinship.

Expedited Estate Settlement

In Minnesota, there are exceptions to the general rule that all estates must go through a formal probate proceeding 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. 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 property is worth no more than $150,000 or if the estate is not subject to creditor claims.

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