Problems That Can Arise During Probate and Lead to Litigation

Probate text on black notepad and gavel on white cover background.

When a loved one passes away, their estate may be subject to probate — regardless of whether they had a will. Probate proceedings can be long and complicated, even without litigation. However, when disputes occur, the process can be even lengthier and more complex. Although every probate case is different, there are some common challenges that often arise and certain issues that frequently lead to litigation. If you are going through the probate process, it’s important to be aware of the types of problems that may need to be resolved in litigation so you can be prepared for any challenges you might encounter.

Will Contests

An individual who believes their loved one’s will does not reflect their wishes may be entitled to challenge the will in probate court. In some cases, an individual who believes they were wrongly disinherited might also try to contest the will. But it’s essential to understand that simply being unhappy with one’s inheritance does not provide legal grounds for the court to put the will aside. Under Minnesota law, there are four main reasons a will can be contested: undue influence, lack of testamentary capacity, fraud, and improper execution.

Additionally, a will may be challenged if the document contained ambiguous language or unclear provisions that could be interpreted in more than one way. If a named beneficiary or person who would have inherited under Minnesota’s intestate laws wishes to contest the will, they have one year to do so from the date the decedent passed away.

An Executor’s Breach of Fiduciary Duty

An executor or personal representative has a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of the estate and the decedent’s beneficiaries. Failure to do so can result in them being held liable to the beneficiaries. For instance, the beneficiaries of an estate may commence litigation in the event the executor acts in their own self-interests, commits misconduct, or is negligent.

In Minnesota, cause for removal of a personal representative exists when it is in the estate’s best interests, or it can be established that a personal representative intentionally misrepresented material facts to obtain the appointment. They can also be removed as a result of mismanaging the estate or because they failed to perform any of the duties required of them. To begin the removal process, a petition must be filed with the probate court.

Inheritance Disputes

An inheritance dispute is a situation in which the decedent’s beneficiaries disagree over how the estate should be divided. These situations can take place if there is no will or other estate planning documents to guide how the assets are to be distributed. If a person passes away without a will in Minnesota, the state’s intestacy laws determine what happens to the property.

Regardless of whether a will was drafted, inheritance disputes can arise if circumstances have changed since the document was executed, a subsequent will was found, or the decedent expressed different wishes before their passing. In addition, perceived inequity can occur among siblings and other beneficiaries — even if the decedent divided their estate equally. For example, a beneficiary who provided care and support to the decedent prior to their passing may believe they should be entitled to a larger portion of the estate.

Creditor Claims

When there are not enough funds available to pay all creditors of the estate, disputes can occur. Under Minnesota statute, claims must be paid in a specific priority order. A personal representative may disallow creditor claims with a lower priority if there are insufficient funds in the estate. In the event a creditor disagrees with the disallowance, the creditor can contest it within two months by submitting a petition for allowance or filing an action against the personal representative.

Ancillary Probate Issues

The probate process can become more complicated if a decedent owned property in a state they did not reside in at the time of their passing. In such cases, an ancillary probate proceeding may be needed to distribute property in the jurisdiction other than the one where the original probate case was opened. In other words, if the decedent owned property in Minnesota but was living elsewhere at the time of their death, two probate proceedings may be necessary before the beneficiaries can obtain their inheritances.

A will does not avoid the need for ancillary probate. Property that may need to go through ancillary probate proceedings in Minnesota can include real property such as houses, vacation homes, land, or commercial buildings owned in the decedent’s name alone. Personal property exceeding $75,000 in Minnesota must also be probated. Unless the assets are placed in a trust, the property is subject to a joint tenancy with right of survivorship, or there is a transfer-on-death deed in place, probate is usually required. Just as with regular probate, litigation may arise during ancillary proceedings if certain conflicts occur.

Contact an Experienced Probate and Estate Litigation Attorney

If your loved one’s estate is going through probate and a dispute occurs, a skillful probate and estate litigation attorney can help protect your rights and guide you through the legal process. At Dave Burns Law Office, I provide trusted counsel for Minnesota probate issues. If you would like to discuss a probate litigation matter, I welcome you to contact me at (612) 677-8351 or by emailing I assist clients throughout the Twin Cities metro area and am available to meet with clients in both Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Categories: Probate

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