Minnesota offers some probate shortcuts for "small estates." These procedures make it easier for survivors to transfer property left by a person who has died. You may be able to transfer a large amount of property using simplified probate procedures or without any probate court proceedings at all -- by using an affidavit. And that saves time, money, and hassle.
Here are the ways you can skip or speed up probate. (If the affidavit procedure is used, there's no need to use the simplified probate procedure.)
Minnesota has a procedure that allows inheritors to skip probate altogether when the value of all the assets left behind is less than a certain amount. All an inheritor has to do is prepare a short document, stating that he or she is entitled to a certain asset. This document, signed under oath, is called an affidavit. When the person or institution holding the property -- for example, a bank where the deceased person had an account -- gets the affidavit and a copy of the death certificate, it releases the asset.
The out-of-court affidavit procedure is available in Minnesota if the entire probate estate, wherever located, including any contents of a safe deposit box, less liens and encumbrances, does not exceed $75,000. There is a 30-day waiting period. This process can also be used to change the registered owner of stock or a vehicle. Minn. Stat. § 524.3-1201.
Minnesota has a simplified probate process for small estates. To use it, an executor files a written request with the local probate court asking to use the simplified procedure. The court may authorize the executor to distribute the assets without having to jump through the hoops of regular probate.
You can use the simplified small estate process in Minnesota if the court determines that no property is subject to creditors' claims (because it is exempt from claims. Minn. Stat. Ann. § 524.3-1203.
You can also use the simplified small estate process in Minnesota if the value of the estate is less than what must be set aside for the surviving spouse and children and certain expenses. The surviving spouse and minor children are entitled to homestead exemption, up to $2,300 per month for one year if there is not enough money to pay creditor claims, or if there is enough money to pay claims, for 18 months. Minn. Stat. Ann. § 524.2-404. Additionally, the surviving spouse is entitled to $15,000 of personal property and one automobile as exempt property. Minn. Stat. Ann. § 524.2-403. Any remaining assets must be used to pay debts in the following order:
The simplified process can also be used if the value of the gross probate estate, excluding the surviving spouse's allowances described above and exempt property, is $150,000 or less.
The court orders the executor to pay the inheritors and creditors in the priority it specifies. The court can order estate closed without further proceedings. The court might not require that the executor give notice to inheritors or creditors. Minn. Stat. Ann. § 524.3-1203.
For help determining if an estate qualifies for one of these probate shortcuts, or handling an estate in general, see The Executor's Guide, by Mary Randolph (Nolo), or Estate Planning Basics, by Denis Clifford (Nolo).