In Minnesota estate administration is a legal process during which the affairs of a deceased person are settled. It is commonly referred to as “probate.” The process is overseen by the District Court which in Minnesota serves as the probate court and has jurisdiction over matters related to wills and estates. If there is a will, the first step in the administration process is for the court to determine whether the will is valid and admit to probate. The court will also appoint a personal representative who is responsible for managing the estate administration process. MN Stat § 524.3-103. Ultimately, the decedent’s assets will be distributed to the decedent’s beneficiaries and heirs.
Appointing the Personal Representative in Minnesota
The estate administration process is initiated by the filing of a petition with the District Court asking the court the admit the decedent’s will to probate and to appoint the personal representative. Typically the decedent nominates in their will the person who they want to serve as their personal representative. In the absence of a will, the surviving spouse, adult child, or other next of kin is generally the person who would petition the court to be appointed personal representative. However, the person petition would have to otherwise be qualified to serve as personal representative. MN Stat § 524.3-203.
As long as there are no objections and the petitioner is eligible, the court will approve the petition and issue the petitioner “letters” as legal proof of their appointment as personal representative. The personal representative would then have the legal authority to represent the estate and enter transactions on behalf of the estate.
Identifying Estate Assets in Minnesota
One of the first tasks of the personal representative is to identify estate assets and secure them. Only “probate property” is the subject of court supervised administration. Examples of probate property include:
- Real estate- that was solely owned by the decedent or owned with another person as tenants in common
- Bank accounts- solely owned by the decedent
- Brokerage and investment accounts- solely owned by the decedent and that did not have
- Vehicles and boats
- Property which is NOT probate property includes:
- Joint tenant assets- Real estate and other assets owned with others as joint tenants with survivorship rights
- POD or TOD accounts- Financial accounts that have “payable-on-death” (POD) or “transfer-on-death” (TOD) designations
- Accounts with beneficiary designations- Life insurance, 401(k)s, IRS, and other retirement accounts in which beneficiaries other than the decedent’s estate are designated
- Property held in trust
While with some assets the personal representative may take physical possession, with others that might not be necessary. For example, while the personal representative may not necessarily move into the decedent’s residence, they may need make sure that the property is properly insured, that taxes are paid, and that mortgage payments are made.
The personal representatives must also determine the value of estate assets as of the decedent’s date of death. If necessary, the law allows the personal representative to employ professional appraisers and pay them a reasonable fee.
Paying Estate Debts, Expenses, and Taxes in Minnesota
One of the major goals of estate administration is to pay the decedent’s debt. To start the process of paying the debt, the decedent’s creditors must be identified and notified of the decedent’s death and that the administration process is underway. Creditors must file their claims during the specified claims period. The personal representative will use estate funds to pay the decedent’s debts. During estate administration the personal representative must also use estate assets to pay expenses related to administration such as court fees and fees charged by attorneys, appraisers, and other professionals, as well as pay outstanding federal, state, and local taxes.
Distributing Estate Assets in Minnesota
Once debt, expenses, and taxes have taken care of, it is time for asset distribution. The personal representative must petition the court for permission to distribute the remaining assets to the beneficiaries named in the will. If the decedent did not leave a valid will, the assets would go to the decedent’s next of kin as defined by Minnesota’s law of intestate succession. Minn. Stat. § 524.2-101.
Types of Administration in Minnesota
Note that in Minnesota there are different types of administration or probate processes including formal probate, informal probate, small estate procedures, and summary proceedings. The size of the estate and the type of assets in the estate determine the type of administration that would be appropriate.