The objectives of probate are to pay creditors and distribute assets according to the law and your loved one's wishes. Before assets of an estate are paid, creditors may seek payment on debts. As a personal representative, you don't want to pay a debt the estate does not legally owe. However, you also do not want to unnecessarily tie the estate up in lengthy proceedings with a valid creditor.
The individual named as a personal representative plays a crucial role in successfully administering an estate. Often, however, the personal representative performs her or his important duties while grieving the loss of a loved one. In addition, the person named as personal representative may never have been in this position before and may feel overwhelmed.
The goal of Minnesota law is to simplify the probate process for the families of the deceased. However, the more property a person has at the time of his or her death, the more complex the probate process may become. Large estates may raise special tax issues that don't apply to smaller estates with limited assets.
Can and Should You Avoid Probate?
Upon your passing, your property goes to your beneficiaries via your will, if you prepared one. If you do not have a will, intestacy laws determine who receives your inheritance. In order for your beneficiaries to attain the title(s) to your property, the estate usually goes through the probate process, which establishes your will's legitimacy. Probate can sometimes be a lengthy and contentious process. Certain kinds of properties, however, bypass the probate process automatically upon your death.
In July of this year, reports emerged analyzing the last will and testament of James Gandolfini, the star of the popular Sopranos who passed away while on vacation in Italy just a month earlier. The publication of his will fueled a public debate over the wisdom of the will's drafting as far as taxes are concerned, with commentators arguing that the will could result in higher estate taxes being paid by the heirs than necessary. As co-executors, Mr. Gandolfini's wife, sister and lawyer are responsible for resolving any issues arising in the course of carrying out the deceased's testamentary wishes.
Probate is the court process by which estates valued at more than $50,000 are settled, whether you have a will or not. With a will in place, you can name your executor - the person who collects and inventories all your property, pays your debts and divides what is left among your heirs. Without a will, the court appoints an executor for you. However, the state of Minnesota excludes certain property from the probate process.