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Understanding the probate process for Minnesota property owners

When a loved one dies, it can be difficult for surviving family and friends to deal with the aftermath of the situation. Minnesota residents understandably deal with much grief in the days, months and years after a loved one's death, but they also must take care of certain tasks in order to transfer the real and personal property belonging to the deceased individual.

One area that causes some confusion for surviving family and friends is the process of probate. For instance, some individuals may incorrectly believe that probate is not necessary if the deceased had a valid will. In reality, whether an estate needs to be probated does not hinge upon whether a will was in effect, but on the specifics of what property was owned and the manner of ownership.

For instance, property owned in joint tenancy does not pass through probate, because the surviving joint tenant takes the property at the death of the other joint tenant. Similarly, life insurance proceeds are not passed through probate, but through the beneficiary designation listed on the policy.

On the other hand, probate will often be necessary if property is not owned in joint tenancy, including real estate. Even out-of-state residents must go through probate in Minnesota courts if the real property is situated in Minnesota.

As for personal property, the process may differ depending on whether the personal property at stake is worth more than $50,000. In that event, probate is necessary in order to distribute the personal property. If the personal property is worth less than $50,000, however, the heirs may be able to file an affidavit and notify all heirs, after which the heirs can collect the property without needing to proceed to court. Accordingly, whether probate is necessary depends on the circumstances of a person's estate and the property at issue.

Source: Minnesota Attorney General, "Probate and planning: A guide to planning for the future," accessed August 2, 2014

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