Probate, also called estate administration is the legal process enabling the transfer of property after someone dies. Depending on the circumstances, a probate may involve:
1. Proving the validity of a Will;
2. Court appointment of someone to serve as agent for the deceased person – referred to as an administrator, personal representative, executor, or executrix;
3. Determining who is entitled to receive property from the estate;
4. Paying debts and final expenses; and
5. Distributing whatever property is left over.
In Minnesota, probate procedures vary depending on where the probate takes place, whether the deceased person (“decedent”) left a valid will, who is to receive property, and the composition of property owned by the decedent.
If a valid will exists, a person nominated in the will may initiate the probate by filing an application/petition and supporting documentation with the probate court. Depending on the circumstances, the court may then require a hearing, notice of which must be provided to all interested parties. Once the nominated person is appointed as representative of the decedent’s estate, and issued Letters Testamentary from the court, that person may collect property; pay off debts and final expenses; and eventually distribute whatever property is left.
If the decedent did not leave a will, courts will apply the Minnesota intestacy laws to decide who has priority to administer the estate, as well as who receives the deceased person’s property. Typically, a surviving spouse and children will have priority. In some instances, however, creditors may have a superior right with regard to a particular asset.
Complications commonly occur if the terms of a will or a related document are unclear, if a minor is to receive property, or if there is a dispute among family members. Issues may also arise when multiple people and/or creditors believe they are entitled to the same property. In these instances, a probate court may require a higher degree of supervision over the administration.