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General considerations for Minnesota probate

Gregory A. Lang

Probate is the court-supervised process of distributing a person's assets on death. Probate laws vary from state to state, but they generally require an examination of estate assets and payment of debts before distributions to heirs or beneficiaries. Minnesota's probate laws apply to the estates of Minnesota residents as well as to real property within the state of Minnesota, regardless of the state of residency of the property owner.

Not all property is subject to probate. For example, an interest in property owned by two people as joint tenants with rights of survivorship passes automatically on the death of one to the other. Jointly held or payable-on-death accounts, life insurance and pension accounts with designated beneficiaries and assets held in trust may likewise pass to a new owner without going through probate.

Additionally, if the total value of the decedent's estate is less than $50,000, Minnesota law allows for heirs to collect property without probate by filing an Affidavit for Collection of Personal Property. The distribution of assets may not begin until 30 days have passed since the death of the decedent. This option is not available for an estate that holds real property, regardless of the total value of the estate.

If the decedent left a will, the personal representative named therein begins the probate process by filing a petition or an application with the court in the county of residence of the decedent. Proceedings usually begin within three years of the death of the decedent, and those proceedings may be formal or informal. The personal representative has the freedom in informal proceedings to perform a number of estate administration tasks without the supervision of the court.

An estate planning attorney may be able to help the personal representative decide whether formal proceedings are necessary in a particular case. An attorney may also assist with the administration of an estate or with the drafting of an application for informal probate or a petition for formal probate.

Source: The Office of the Minnesota Attorney General, "Probate", October 07, 2014

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