What Happens If You Die Without a Will in Minnesota?


Did you know the glaciers carved out most of Minnesota's land? These glaciers left a legacy lasting thousands and thousands of years, including Minnesota's mountains, hills, and 10,000 lakes. 

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For many, their legacy is a gift they leave behind for their loved ones. Do you know what kind of legacy you want to leave behind? 

If you die without a will in Minnesota, you may not get to decide. A will is a legal document that allows you to give your property to specific people after you die. However, a will is not the only way to transfer property upon death.

A will is just one of many tools available when you start your end-of-life planning. Many considerations go into deciding if you need a will, including what happens if you die without a will.

Minnesota's Intestacy Laws Explained

If you die without a will, you are said to have died "intestate." Each state has its own intestacy laws that determine what will happen if you die without a will. If you die without a will in Minnesota, then Minnesota's intestacy laws will determine what happens to your property.

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How Does Probate Work in Minnesota If There Is No Will?

Probate is the "legal process of settling your estate in court after you die." In Minnesota, your estate must go through probate if "your personal property exceeds $75,000 or you own real estate in your name alone.” If your personal property is worth $75,000 or less, then your heirs may be able to collect it without going through probate. 

If you are the one who must initiate the probate process, you must apply with the probate court in the county where the deceased resided. The court must then appoint a personal representative for the deceased. The personal representative is usually a close relative of the deceased and handles the deceased's estate.

There is a priority list of who gets picked first to be the personal representative. The priority is generally given to a surviving spouse and then to any surviving heirs. However, just because a person has priority does not mean they need to accept the role.

They may decline, and the court must appoint someone else to be the personal representative. In some instances, a personal representative may even be a creditor.

The personal representative is responsible for the following:

  • Determining interested parties in the estate and serving them notice of the probate
  • Collection, inventory, and appraisal of assets
  • Protecting and preserving the assets of the estate
  • Paying the taxes and debts of the person who died and their estate
  • Distributing remaining assets to the proper parties as specified by law
  • Following deadlines and filing requirements, if any
  • Preparing a final account and closing the estate

The role of personal representative comes with many responsibilities. You should think carefully before taking on this role for the estate of a loved one. If you are unsure of whether you can fulfill your responsibilities, you should consult with an attorney. An estate planning attorney can answer your questions and assist you with the process. 

Informal and formal probate 

In Minnesota, probate may be either informal or formal. During the informal probate process, the personal representative "may pay debts and inheritances and may otherwise administer the estate without the court's supervision.”

The formal probate process mostly happens when estates are more complicated, and the judge must make determinations. In Minnesota, "[f]ormal probate matters can be either supervised or unsupervised by the court.”

Not all items are subject to probate

An estate is all of the property of the deceased. However, not all property and assets go through probate. The following items are not subject to probate in Minnesota:

  • Property owned as joint tenants
  • Jointly held bank accounts
  • Payable-on-death accounts
  • Life insurance proceeds to a specific beneficiary
  • Pension benefits with a designated beneficiary in the event you die

Once you are dead, you cannot control what happens to your property. However, while alive, you have many options for distributing your assets. Our planning platform can help you understand these options and streamline your planning process. If you have additional questions about end-of-life planning, you should contact an experienced estate planning attorney. 

Who Typically Inherits Assets in Minnesota If There Isn't a Will?

If a person has a will, they can decide who will inherit their assets. However, if they don't have a will, a lot depends on whether a person had a spouse, children, or other closely related family members.

Much like personal representatives, inheritance also has an order of priority. This means that how closely related you were to the deceased determines your inheritance. Keep in mind that not everyone will inherit. 

A discussion about inheritance will include some legal terms such as decedent and descendant. The "decedent" is the deceased person. The word "descendant" can mean a person's child, grandchild, great-grandchild, and so on.

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Surviving spouse

If a person dies and leaves a surviving spouse, then the spouse's share of the estate will be determined by whether they had children and, if so, how the children were related to the deceased and the surviving spouse. 

In Minnesota, if a person dies without a will, the surviving spouse gets the entire estate if: 

  • No descendant of the decedent survives the decedent.
  • All of the deceased's surviving descendants are also descendants of the surviving spouse. The surviving spouse must have no other descendants. 

The surviving spouse does not get the entire estate if the surviving spouse and/or the deceased have descendants from other partners. In that instance, Minnesota law states that the surviving spouse gets "the first $225,000, plus one-half of any balance of the intestate estate.” 

Heirs other than the surviving spouse

What happens to the rest of the property? Or what happens to the property if there is no surviving spouse. Minnesota also has laws to address these situations. 

If there is a surviving spouse, whatever doesn't go to the surviving spouse passes to these people the following in order of priority. Similarly, if there is no surviving spouse, then the entire estate would pass to the following in the following order of priority: 

  • The deceased's children or grandchildren
  • The deceased's surviving parent or parents
  • The deceased's siblings
  • The deceased's grandparents or descendants of grandparents (aunts and uncles)
  • The deceased's next of kin

Probate can quickly become complex depending on a person's property and familial relationships. If you have questions about probate, you should immediately contact an experienced probate attorney. The probate attorney can answer your questions and guide you through the legal process.

Frequently Asked Questions: Dying Without a Will in Minnesota

After losing a loved one, you may have many questions, especially if your loved one died without a will. Below we will answer frequently asked questions about dying without a will in Minnesota. 

What happens when your parent dies without a will?

It can be difficult to face the loss of a loved one, especially if it is a parent. If your parent dies without a will, you may face additional challenges, like figuring out what happens to their property. As discussed above, what happens to their property will depend primarily on whether they have a surviving spouse and if you have any siblings.

Your parent's surviving spouse will get everything if they are also your parent and there are no other siblings from other relationships.

However, it can become a little bit more complicated if your parent dies without a surviving spouse and/or there are descendants from other relationships. If you are entitled to a portion of the estate, so are your siblings. If a sibling is deceased and has descendants, they would be entitled to their parent's share of the estate. 

If your parent is concerned with how the state will distribute their estate after their death, they should know they still have time to make alternate arrangements. Your parent can use our planning platform to help with their end-of-life planning. They can also contact an experienced estate planning attorney to help guide them through the process. 

What are a surviving spouse's rights if there's no will?

The loss of a spouse can also be a difficult experience. As a surviving spouse, you may have many questions about your rights, especially if there's no will. 

As discussed in earlier sections, a surviving spouse's rights largely depend on whether there are surviving descendants and how the surviving descendants are related to the spouse and the deceased. The surviving spouse will inherit the entire estate if there are no descendants or if the descendants belong to both the deceased and the surviving spouse. 

Are there any probate exemptions if you die without a will in Minnesota?

In Minnesota, exempt assets are "those that pass to spouse or children free from creditor claims.”  In Minnesota, a spouse’s exempt property rights include the following:

  • Life estate in the homestead 
  • One car
  • $15,000 of tangible personal property or cash
  • Family allowance ($2,300/month for up to 18 months)
  • A share of the "augmented estate"

If you have questions about probate exemptions, you should consult with an experienced probate attorney. An experienced attorney can answer your questions and assist you in probate. 

How long does probate take when there is no will?

The probate process is generally the same with or without a will. The duration of probate depends on a lot of things, like how complicated the estate is. In Minnesota, "probate can take on average 12-18 months and can cost as much as an average of two to three percent of the estate value."

Keep in mind that not all estates must go through probate. As discussed above, if the estate does not include real estate and assets are equal to or less than $75,000, the estate can bypass probate. 

Who is considered next of kin in Minnesota?

"Next of kin" can have many different meanings. The term generally references a person's closest living relatives.

When discussing "next of kin," it is crucial to understand what the word "heirs" means. In Minnesota, heirs include "those persons, including the surviving spouse, who are entitled under the statutes of intestate succession to the property of a decedent.” 

Next of kin are those entitled to the deceased's property under intestate laws. 

What's Your Legacy?

Minnesota is known as the land of 10,000 lakes because of glaciers from thousands of years ago. Those glaciers left a legacy that impacted the landscape and the lives of everyone who followed. 

Your legacy may not be as dramatic as the glaciers, but it can still be significant. One part of this legacy is your estate. Do you know what you want to happen to your estate when you are gone? If you are unsure, now is a great time to take the first step and start thinking about what you want to do with your estate.

If you know what you want to happen with your estate after you are gone, then the next step is making a plan for your estate. You can use our planning platform to help you through this process. 

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