Do I have to Probate a Will in Minnesota?Minnesota Probate Law | Is probate necessary?

We talk a lot about strategies that can be employed to avoid or minimize the hassle of probate. After all, ensuring that a family spends as little time and money as possible in probate court is better for everyone involved. Though those who spend time and effort planning can avoid probate, what about those who haven’t devoted the same kind of energy to the issue? In an ordinary case of a spouse dying and leaving everything to his or her partner, what happens then? Do I have to probate a Will in Minnesota?  To find out, keep reading.

Let’s set the scene. An ordinary couple, both older. They have some bank accounts, a house, cars and some personal property. They aren’t wealthy, but they aren’t destitute either. They spent some energy planning – they both had wills written – but that was years ago and they weren’t terribly detailed, simply leaving everything to the other spouse. If the wife passes away, from a probate perspective, what happens next?

Do I have to probate a Will in Minnesota?

First, does a will mean that probate can be avoided? Unfortunately not. Though the will can be enormously helpful in speeding up the probate process, it does not prevent it from happening. The court will likely want to validate the will, ensure that it is legally enforceable and that it was properly executed. Though it is a crucial estate planning tool, it isn’t powerful enough, on it’s own, to escape the need for probate.

Next, let’s talk about the goal of probate. Probate is designed to ensure that your financial obligations are dealt with appropriately and your remaining assets are distributed to heirs in accordance with your desires. So does that mean that probate must happen in each and every case? No it does not. Probate is only required in those instances where ownership of an asset needs to change.

In our example, what happens next depends on what the wife owned and/or owed. If she has a number of debts, probate will almost definitely be required to ensure that the woman’s estate pays creditors as required. The same is true if the woman has a number of assets in her name. Even if her will leaves everything to her husband, the probate process can still be required to effectuate these transfers.

Debts and Assets

What if, instead of having debts and assets, the woman has virtually nothing in her name? Let’s pretend that the couple was married for decades, but the woman was content to let her husband manage financial matters. He put the cars in his name and the banks accounts too. In that case, probate may not be required as there is no property that must change ownership. The items are already in the husband’s name and thus there is no requirement that he begin the probate process.

Minnesota Real Estate

One potential snag in the plan of probate avoidance is the marital residence. If, by chance, the husband purchased it prior to marriage and it is thus separate property, there may still be no problem. If, on the other hand, the two bought the house during the course of their marriage using joint funds, then it is possible his wife has formed an ownership interest in the property, especially if the couple lives in a community property state. In that case, probate may be required if the husband ever wants to sell or refinance the house.

Minnesota Small Estate and Probate

Another bit of good news is that in Minnesota, there is a small estates limit written into the law making it easier and quicker for those without many assets to move through the probate process. Rather than submit to a formal probate court hearing, you can simply fill out a form and wait a certain amount of time before distributing assets. The goal is to speed things along and prevent wasting money on court fees. The law says that the affidavit can be used if the probate estate is less than $75,000.

Minnesota Probate Attorneys & Lawyers

An experienced Minnesota estate-planning lawyer can help walk you through the probate process, answering questions along the way. For more information on estate planning in Minnesota, along with a variety of other topics, contact Joseph M. Flanders of Flanders Law Firm at (612) 424-0398.

Minnesota Insolvent Estate LawWhat happens when an estate runs out of money?

When most people think of an executor’s job they imagine presiding over the distribution of a number of assets, money, personal items, even real estate. Though this is certainly true in some cases, it does not fully capture an executor’s role. He or she does not only distribute money to heirs, but must also distribute money to pay debts of the estate.

The hope is that there are enough assets to cover any liabilities, leaving something left over for family and friends, but sometimes that isn’t the case.

What happens then? To learn more about what happens when there simply isn’t enough money to go around, keep reading.

First, let’s back up as it’s worth mentioning that one of the primary duties of an executor is to pay the debts incurred by the person who passed away. Though the person is no longer around to pay the bills, his or her estate becomes legally responsible for debts entered into during the decedent’s lifetime.

What are some common examples? If the person owes money for housing, either a mortgage or rent, those payments will need to be made. The same is true if the decedent owed money for child support or alimony. These obligations do not disappear after death. Credit cards, medical bills, auto loans and many other debts must also be paid.

Things to keep in mind

Though executors are obligated to pay debts of the estate, it is important to remember that the estate is only responsible for paying legitimate debts that were created prior to the decedent passing away. If the debt arose after the person’s death it is possible that it will not be held legally enforceable against the estate. Promised charitable donations may also not be found enforceable, as these are sometimes seen as moral, rather than legal obligations.

Something else to keep in mind is that some obligations don’t need to be paid off as the debts are attached to certain items of property. For instance, auto loans follow the vehicle and it’s common for the person who inherits the property to inherit any debt associated with it.

What if the estate is running low on funds?

Unfortunately, in some cases debt has a way of piling up. When that happens, the executor may come to understand that there isn’t enough money to cover all of the estate’s debts. What do you do at that point? Pay bills randomly? Pay those that are screaming the loudest? No. If your estate lacks sufficient resources then you need to seek expert advice as there are specific rules in each state that govern the order of priority for paying creditors.

When is an estate insolvent?

An estate officially becomes insolvent when the estate has more claims (or liabilities) than it has assets to pay them. If that’s the case, then the executor needs to declare the estate officially insolvent. Be sure to work with a local probate attorney to assist with this process as it can be quite complex. If there are revocable living trusts, it is possible that they could be used to pay liabilities, though this will depend on the particular facts of your case.

In Minnesota, the law says that if an estate is insolvent that the following priority will be applied to creditors. First, any liabilities which arise after the death of decedent, such as funeral expenses, attorney fees and estate administration costs must be paid. Second, any federal taxes that are owed must be paid. Third, medical or nursing home expenses for the person’s most recent illness are owed. Fourth, medical or nursing home expenses related to the decedent’s last year of life are owed. Fifth, debts and taxes with preference under Minnesota law as well as state taxes must be paid. After that, all other claims are paid depending on how much money remains.

Minnesota Probate Lawyers

An experienced Minnesota probate lawyer can help walk you through the probate process, answering questions along the way. For more information on estate planning in Minnesota, along with a variety of other topics, contact Joseph M. Flanders of Flanders Law Firm at (612) 424-0398.


Source: Insolvent Estates – Who Gets Paid What When an Estate’s Debts Are More Than Its Assets?” by Deirdre R. Wheatley-Liss, published