A Last Will and Testament, commonly referred to as a will, is a legal document in which a person makes important decisions about what happens when they pass away. A will typically distributes the property of the estate, designates a person to administer the estate, appoints guardians for minor children, and more. But what happens if someone dies without a will in the state of Minnesota?
If someone dies without a will, Minnesota law makes all those determinations. In some situations, dying without a will also can lead to probate litigation involving the estate.
A person who dies without a will is described as dying intestate. The state statutes that govern distribution of the property in the person’s estate are referred to as the laws of intestate succession.
Some of an intestate decedent’s property may transfer automatically, even in the absence of a will. Jointly owned property with a right of survivorship and property with a designated beneficiary (like a life insurance policy or retirement account) are examples. The laws of intestate succession determine distribution of property solely owned by the decedent that does not transfer automatically.
Generally, the laws distribute the estate to the decedent’s surviving spouse and heirs in a priority order based on the closeness of the relationship. The following summary is a broad statement of the heirship provisions. In some circumstances, application of the laws may require complex legal analysis.
If a decedent has a surviving spouse, regardless of whether there are children of the marriage, the spouse typically receives the entire estate. However, if the decedent had children with someone other than the surviving spouse (such as children from a previous marriage), the surviving spouse receives the first $225,000 of the estate and shares the rest with the decedent’s other children.
If the decedent does not have a surviving spouse but does have surviving children, the children share the estate. If there are no living children, the decedent’s parents inherit the estate. If neither parent is living, the deceased person’s siblings receive the estate. In the absence of living parents or siblings, relatives more distant inherit the estate in a priority order.
If the decedent was not married but had children, the children inherit the estate. If there are no children, the estate is distributed the same as for a married person without a spouse and children, first to the deceased person’s parents, then to siblings if there are no surviving parents, and then to more distant relatives in a priority order.
In most cases, an intestate decedent will have at least one surviving relative eligible to receive the estate under the laws of intestate succession. In the rare situation where there are no relatives, the State of Minnesota receives the property in the estate.
When a person dies without a will, the court appoints the personal representative for the estate. Specific persons are eligible to serve in a priority order under state law. If a dispute arises over appointment of the personal representative, the court resolves the disagreement in a court proceeding.
There also are many other ways that litigation over an intestate estate can arise — including family disputes over matters relating to the estate. Court involvement may be necessary to resolve questions relating to documents left by the decedent or actions taken by the decedent prior to death. Issues concerning the relationship of specific persons, such as whether someone is a true descendant of the decedent, may also need to be resolved by the court. Other questions may arise during the estate administration and probate process as well.
If the deceased person is survived by minor children, guardianship and conservatorship proceedings may be necessary to determine who will have legal responsibility for the children. Family disagreement about care of the children or control of their finances can lead to contested proceedings about whom the court should appoint.
In addition, claims against the estate by creditors or others, such as business partners, also can lead to court actions involving an intestate estate. While resolving claims is the responsibility of the personal representative, litigation may result if the claim cannot be resolved without court involvement.
There are other ways that court involvement may be necessary when a person dies without a will. Litigation is particularly likely if the property and assets in an intestate estate are substantial.
If a member of your family passed away intestate, a probate lawyer can assist your family in completing the estate administration and probate process for the estate. However, if disputes arise relating to matters involving the estate, you should consult with a lawyer who focuses specifically on estate and probate litigation.
The Minnesota laws involving intestate estates are extremely complex. In interpreting those laws, the probate courts have specific rules and policies that must be followed. Representation by an experienced, knowledgeable estate litigation attorney is essential in accurately assessing your options for resolving disputes and potential litigation involving an intestate estate.
Probate and estate litigation is a primary focus of my practice at the Dave Burns Law Office. I represent personal representatives, heirs, and others with an interest in an intestate estate regarding potential court actions involving the estate.
If you would like to discuss a situation involving an intestate estate, I invite you to contact me at (612) 677-8351 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. I welcome inquiries from clients and referring attorneys throughout the State of Minnesota. I am available to meet with clients in both Minneapolis and St. Paul.
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The Dave Burns Law Office hopes you find this article helpful. But please do not rely on it as legal advice. The law changes regularly and the outcome of any legal matter depends on its unique circumstances. View full disclaimer