When someone close to you passes away, the last thing you likely want to focus on is the legal ramifications of your loved one’s death. The reality though is that someone must do so, and that someone may be you if you were named as the Executor of the Last Will and Testament as that means your loved one has put you in charge of the administration of his/her estate. Retaining the services of an experienced estate planning attorney to assist you throughout the probate of the estate is certainly advisable. To get you started, however, the estate planning attorneys at German Law have compiled some commonly used probate resources for the Thief River Falls, Minnesota area.
Probate for the Beginner
The assets owned by a decedent at the time of his/her death must eventually be transferred to the intended beneficiaries and/or legal heirs of the estate. Probate is the name given to the legal process that ultimately results in the transfer of those assets. Probate also serves several additional important functions, including authenticating the Will, identifying and valuing of assets, notifying creditors of the estate, and the paying debts of the estate, including taxes. If the decedent executed a Last Will and Testament prior to death, the individual appointed in that Will to be the Executor will be responsible for overseeing the probate of the estate. If the decedent died intestate, or without a Will, any competent adult may volunteer to be the “Personal Representative” (PR), subject to approval by the court, and oversee the probate of the estate. The duties and responsibilities of an Executor and Personal Representative are essentially the same. As such, the generic term “Personal Representative” is frequently used to refer to either someone appointed in a Will or who volunteered for the position. For more general information on the probate process, the American Bar Association has a section entitled “The Probate Process” on its website that you may wish to read. In addition, you will find some general information on the probate process on the “Probate, Wills, and Estates” section of the Minnesota Judicial Branch website.
Court Resources for the Pro Se Litigant
Whether because you were appointed, or because you volunteered, if you are the Personal Representative (PR) of the estate it is your responsibility to initiate the probate of the estate as soon after the death of the decedent as possible. Because probate is typically opened in the county in which the decedent was a resident at the time of death, if a decedent lived in Thief River Falls probate will take place in the Pennington County District Court. Probating even a relatively simple estate can be a time consuming and emotionally exhausting process. If the estate involves valuable and/or complex assets, or if the estate becomes involved in litigation, a Personal Representative can begin to feel overwhelmed and may make costly mistakes. For these reasons, most PRs retain the services of a probate attorney to assist them through the probate of the estate. If, however, you decide to proceed pro se, or without the assistance of an attorney, you will be expected to understand the Minnesota Rules of Court as well as the Minnesota and federal laws applicable to the probate of the estate. In addition, you may find some assistance on the Self Help Centers page of the Minnesota Judicial Branch website as well as on the FAQ page of the Probate, Wills, & Trusts Section of the same website. Finally, you will find a limited number of probate related forms on the Forms section of the website as well.
Finding the Right Attorney
At some point, you may decide that trying to navigate the probate process without help is too stressful. The thought of trying to locate the right attorney, however, may sound equally overwhelming. For help finding an experienced probate attorney, you may wish to start with the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys website. The AAEPA is a national organization of attorneys who have chosen to focus their practice on legal issues related to wills, trusts, and estates. Membership in the AAEPA signifies that an attorney has proven experience in the areas of estate planning and/or elder law. In addition, the Minnesota State Bar Association’s Find a Lawyer service may be helpful as well.
Personal Representative Resources
To get the probate process started, you will need to prepare a petition to open probate. If you have retained (or will retain) an attorney to assist you, this is something your attorney will prepare for you. In addition, you must submit an original, signed, copy of the decedent’s Last Will and Testament, if one was located, along with a certified death certificate to the Pennington County District Court. You may obtain certified death certificates from the Minnesota Department of Health. You will also likely need to conduct a thorough search to make sure you have identified all real property owned by the decedent. A good place to start is the Property Tax section of the Pennington County website where you can conduct a search by name of the county property records. As the PR you will also be responsible for notifying all creditors of the estate that probate is underway. Know creditors may be notified individually; however, for unknown creditors you must publish a notice in a local newspaper. To accomplish that requirement, you may wish to contact the Thief River Falls Times to arrange for publication.
Paying Federal Gift and Estate Taxes
Because every estate is potentially subject to federal gift and estate taxes, you will need to be familiar with how to calculate the tax and how to prepare the tax return. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) website offers a general overview of the federal estate tax. They also have a “Frequently Asked Questions about Estate Tax” section that may be helpful. If it turns out that the estate does owe federal gift and estate taxes, any tax obligation due must be paid before any assets are transferred out of the estate. In addition, the State of Minnesota imposes a state level estate tax that is separate from the federal gift and estate tax. Information and forms relating to the Minnesota estate tax can be found on the Estate Tax section of the Minnesota Department of Revenue’s website.
If you have additional question or concerns regarding the probate of an estate, contact the experienced Thief River Falls, Minnesota estate planning attorneys at German Law by calling 701-738-0060 to schedule an appointment.