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Minneapolis—St Paul Probate Litigation: Minnesota Civil Trial Attorney

Litigation in probate cases is not a first step. It is also rarely a last step.
Before even considering litigating, the interested survivors must determine whether or not a will exists to direct the executor in distributing the estate. A handwritten will is called a holographic will in legal terms—the validity of which is often the subject of litigation. A will can also be prepared by a lawyer and signed by the decedent in the presence of others who can provide witness of the validity of the will. A witnessed will difficult for potential beneficiaries and interested third parties to contest because of the ease with which the witnesses and the preparer can validate the papers.

If no will exists, then Minnesota state law takes over and controls the distribution of the decedent’s assets. Without going into too much detail, Minnesota intestate succession laws distribute assets per stirpes, which means that heirs can be awarded differing amounts based on particular circumstances, as opposed to per capita where each heir receives an identical share.

When a will exists, then the documents must be submitted for probate. During probate, the will is filed with the Clerk of Courts in the county where the deceased person lived (in most circumstances). The representative (the person taking on the responsibility of seeing the probate process through) must petition the court to request that the will be validated.

Will contests are the first, and most common, challenge in probate litigation. Validity issues generally arise in two cases. The first case is whether the decedent in fact wrote or autographed the contested documents. Both signatures and entire documents can be forged. Criminal forgery can carry serious penalties. The second case is whether the decedent had testamentary capacity at the time he or she executed the will.

Competency is more likely to be contested than forgery in the probate process simply because forgery is rare. To possess legal capacity to execute a will, the decedent must comprehend basic concepts. The decedent must know that a will is a document instructing for the distribution of his or her estate. The decedent must understand, at least in general, the assets he or she possesses, such as real and personal property. And the decedent must to be able to recognize or identify the members of his or her family and any other persons to whom he or she wishes to distribute property.

A will written under duress or undue influence should be considered suspect. Undue influence occurs in under several conditions, but the basic issue is whether or not the decedent felt such an irresistible pressure from another person as to write the will granting specific instructions that the decedent had no practical option but to relent to the influence.

Learn more about the probate litigation process.

Appointing an Executor or Administrator

If the probate court validates the will, then the court will confirm the executor if named in the will or appoint an administrator if an executor is not named. The decedent can appoint any person executor. Of course, the appointee must be living to carry out the duties. The decedent can name a relative, a friend, an attorney, a priest, or anyone else. The court may appoint any person administrator also, but the principal in designating an administrator is choose a person who will adhere to the decedent’s wishes to the extent of the law and will obey the court’s instructions.

This designation is the second issue for litigation. A person with standing can challenge the selection of executor or administrator. Contesting the selection represents an appeal of the decision of the probate court on that issue. The petition needs to show that the designee will fail in his or her duty to execute or administer the estate. Such arguments can be hard to establish.

Distributing the Assets

When all of the previous disputes are resolved, the administrator or executor must fulfill the desires of the decedent and the orders of the court. If a will was validated, then the administrator or executor will distribute the assets to the beneficiaries and creditors according to plan. If the decedent died intestate, then the administrator must distribute the property according to Minnesota intestacy succession law.

Before the property may be distributed, the administrator and court need to determine what in fact the decedent owned and possessed at the time of death. A will might provide that a Property A be distributed to one beneficiary and Property B be distributed to another. If the decedent did not own Property A at death, then the executor or administrator will not have the property to give to the former beneficiary. The later beneficiary will not have to give up a share in his or her property even if the former beneficiary gets nothing.

Determining assets can necessitate litigation. Ownership can be disputed. Value might be disputed. Rightful beneficiaries can be disputed.

Call or contact Twin Cities attorney Patrick K. Oden at 651.210.9409 for a consultation on any probate disputes, including contesting a will, disputing a beneficiary, and challenging appointment of an administrator.

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