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Intestate Probate: Understanding the Probate Process When There’s No Will

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What is Intestate Probate?

Creating an estate plan outlining how you want your assets distributed to your heirs upon your passing is vital at any age. However, some people avoid estate planning because it can feel uncomfortable or unnecessary to contemplate their mortality, especially when they are young and healthy. If someone passes away without a valid will, any probate assets in their estate must go through intestate probate proceedings. During these proceedings, the court will use Minnesota’s intestate succession laws to determine which of the decedent’s close family members will inherit their property. If your loved one has died without leaving a will and you believe you may be an heir to their estate, it’s crucial to speak with an experienced Minnesota probate attorney to understand your rights and legal options. 

Which Assets Are Exempt From Intestate Probate in Minnesota?

Probate is the process of settling a decedent’s debts and transferring the remaining assets to their heirs. However, some assets are inherently designed to be distributed to a designated person without the need for probate. A probate attorney can examine your case’s circumstances and determine which of your loved one’s items may be exempt from probate, such as:

  • Life insurance policies with a named beneficiary
  • Joint tenant property
  • Joint bank accounts and payable-on-death accounts
  • Pensions and retirement plans with a designated beneficiary.

Who Will Inherit A Minnesota Estate if There is No Will?

Minnesota intestate succession laws dictate how the decedent’s probate assets will be distributed if they passed away without a will or if some property was not included in the will’s terms. The Minnesota State Attorney General’s Office provides a Table of Heirship as a visual aid for individuals attempting to determine the heirs of an estate. In most cases, if the decedent was survived by a spouse, most or all of the estate will pass to them. If there is no living spouse, the court will continue down through the succession table until they find a living heir. The order of succession in Minnesota is as follows: spouse and/or children, decedent’s parents, brothers/sisters, nieces/nephews, grand nieces/nephews, maternal and paternal grandparents, aunts/uncles, cousins.

However, every family situation is unique, and intestate heirship determination can often become complex and confusing. It is recommended to consult a skilled probate lawyer to understand precisely how the estate will be divided, particularly if there are complicating circumstances, such as:

  • Biological children, adopted children, stepchildren, and foster children from multiple marriages or relationships for the decedent or their spouse.
  • Lack of close relatives.
  • Relatives who predeceased the individual.
  • Difficulty locating or identifying relatives.

What Happens if No Family Members Can Be Identified?

Minnesota’s intestate succession laws have provisions to allow even remotely related individuals, such as second cousins of the decedent, to inherit the estate if no other relatives exist. This extensive succession list makes it extremely rare for the court to be unable to find any relatives during the probate process. However, if the court cannot find any living relatives, the estate will escheat into the state’s coffers.

What Should You Know About Intestate Probate?

During intestate probate, the court must identify and notify all relatives with the right to be included in the process. This step may take significant time, depending on the family situation of the decedent. The Minnesota probate process takes an average of 12-18 months and can cost upwards of three percent of the estate’s value. During probate, the family may be in limbo as they wait for the court to make their rulings, and they could face financial challenges as their loved one’s assets are frozen and inaccessible.

Intestate probate proceedings transfer assets to the individuals the law believes would be the most likely recipients of a decedent’s will if it existed, like a spouse or close relatives. However, the generic succession laws could potentially result in outcomes that may seem unfair to your relatives or go against your preferences. Intestate probate also does not account for topics that can be covered by a will or other estate planning documents, including appointing guardians for minor children, making bequests to charities, and utilizing tax planning strategies to ensure your heirs do not lose a large portion of your hard-earned assets to taxes.

While you cannot change the situation if your loved one passes away without making a will, you can take steps to ensure you have a carefully crafted estate plan of your own in place. By making a will, you can make the probate process simpler, faster, and less costly for your loved ones. Drafting a will can also provide peace of mind for you and your family because you will get to outline exactly how your assets will be distributed if anything happens to you.

How Can A Probate Lawyer Assist You?

Depending on the value and complexity of the estate in question, intestate probate proceedings may be complicated, lengthy and expensive. It can be vital to have legal guidance and representation during the probate process to ensure all aspects are completed correctly, and you receive the portion of the estate you are entitled to. If you have questions or concerns about intestate probate or wish to take steps to ensure your loved ones do not have to face this often stressful process, our helpful legal team at Metropolitan Law Group, PA can assist you. Contact our Minneapolis law firm at 612-448-9653 to schedule a free 15-minute strategy call.

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