Below is an overview of the probate process in Minnesota District Court. Read through our Definitions tab for commonly used words in probate, and read through our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for more information about the probate process.
What is probate?
Probate is the legal process of getting court authority to transfer property of a person after death. To start a probate case, a petition or application must be filed with the court and a personal representative must be appointed by a court order. The personal representative is responsible for the following:
Do I need to go through probate?
- Collection, inventory, and appraisal of assets of the person who has died.
- Protection of the estate's assets.
- Payment of the debts of the person who has died.
- Distribution of the remaining assets to the proper parties as provided by law.
The need for probate is determined by the kind of assets the person owned when they died, not whether they had a Will. The fact of having a Will alone does not affect whether probate will be required. For more information on when probate is required, see the FAQs
When probate is needed, it is a good idea to talk to a lawyer
There are two types of probate – Formal and Informal.
- Informal probate - An informal application can be filed to ask the court to appoint a personal representative without a hearing in front of a judge in situations that are less complicated.
- Formal probate - A formal petition can be filed to ask the court to appoint a personal representative with a hearing in front of a judge in situations that may be more complicated.
For more information about Formal and Informal probate, see the FAQs.
Codicil A legal document that is used to make changes to an existing Will. Generally, codicils add to or supplement a Will rather than replace a Will. For a codicil to be valid under Minnesota law, it generally must meet the same requirements a Will has to meet to be valid. For more information on these requirements and certain exceptions, see Minn. Stat. §§ 524.2-502; 524.2-506; and 524.2-513.
Any person or business that has a financial claim against (is owed money by) the estate.
The person who has died.
Descendant or Issue
A blood or legally adopted relative directly descended from a person, including children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, etc.
Any person designated (named) in a Will to receive property.
Heir A person who is entitled to the property of a person who died intestate. The “Table of Minnesota Heirship” shows who is entitled to a share of the estate under MN law.
Interested Person A term that includes:
If you are not sure whether or not a person or entity is or should be considered an “interested person” for purposes of starting or administering a decedent’s probate estate, it is a good idea to get legal advice. This determination can be complicated and depends on the particular matters involved in a probate proceeding.
- heirs of the decedent;
- devisees of the decedent;
- children of the decedent;
- spouse of the decedent;
- creditors of the decedent;
- anyone with priority for appointment as personal representative;
- anyone else having a property right in or claim against the decedent’s estate that may be affected by a probate proceeding, or the fiduciary representing someone who does, such as a guardian, conservator, or trustee; and
- other individuals as determined by the court.
When a person has not made a valid Will before dying, they are said to have “died intestate.”
Joint Tenancy with Right of Survivorship
A way for two or more people to share ownership of property (real property or personal property) so that when one joint owner dies that joint owner’s share automatically transfers to the other owner(s) and is not considered part of the estate of the person who died.
Letters of General Administration (“Letters”)
Court authorization to act as personal representative when there is no Will.
Letters Testamentary (“Letters”)
Court authorization to act as personal representative when there is a Will.
Non-Probate Assets Assets of the decedent that can be transferred to a new owner without going through the probate process. For example:
- real property held as joint tenants with right of survivorship;
- bank or brokerage accounts that are held jointly or with a payable-on-death beneficiary designation to a surviving person;
- investment or retirement accounts or insurance policies that have a designated beneficiary other than the decedent that survives the decedent; or
- property held in a trust.
All property other than real property, including tangible property such as cars, jewelry, and furniture, and intangible property such as stocks, bonds, and cash in a bank account.
Formerly known in MN as the “executor,” the person who is appointed by the court to be responsible for administering the estate of a person who has died. Being named as a personal representative in a Will does not mean that you are one. A court has to authorize you to act as a personal representative by issuing Letters.
Probate Assets Assets of the decedent that require court involvement to be transferred to a new owner. For example:
- real property that is not held by joint tenants with right of survivorship;
- bank or brokerage accounts that are not held jointly or with any payable-on-death designation to a surviving person;
- investment or retirement accounts or insurance policies that do not have a designated beneficiary that survives the decedent; or
- property that is not held in a trust.
Land and buildings or other improvements permanently attached to the land (also called real estate).
Separate Writing Gifting Personal Property A document that lists what the testator wants to have happen to specific items of tangible personal property (other than cash, coin collections, or property used in a trade/business) that are not specifically addressed in the Will.
For a separate writing to be valid under MN law, it generally must:
For more information on these requirements, see Minn. Stat. § 524.2-513.
- be referred to in a valid Will,
- must be in the testator’s handwriting or signed by the testator, and
- needs to describe the items and the people they will go to clearly.
A way for two or more people to share ownership of property (real property or personal property), so that when one tenant-in-common dies, that tenant-in-common’s share passes to his or her heirs or devisees rather than to the other owners.
When a person has made a valid Will before dying, they are said to have “died testate.”
Will A legal document describing how a person wants their property distributed after they have died. In order to be valid under Minnesota law, a Will generally must:
For more information on these requirements and certain exceptions, see Minn. Stat. §§ 524.2-502; 524.2-506; and 524.2-513.
- be in writing;
- signed by the testator (the person describing how they want their property distributed); and
- signed by at least two witnesses over the age of 18.
The MN Judicial Branch publishes some probate forms, but not every probate form. You could also get forms at a law library
, from a legal forms publisher, or from an attorney. You should get advice from a lawyer
to decide which forms to use in your case.
Probate Court Forms (2nd District) - approved for Ramsey County District Court
If your case is not filed in Ramsey County District Court and you want to use these forms, you MUST edit the forms for use in your county and judicial district. Check with your local Court Administration
about the specific procedures for that district.
Probate Court Forms (4th District) - approved for Hennepin County District Court
If your case is not filed in Hennepin County District Court and you want to use these forms, you MUST edit the forms for use in your county and judicial district. Check with your local Court Administration
about the specific procedures for that district.
The Minnesota Legal Services State Support
publishes some non-court forms, including:
Health Care Directive Fact Sheet & Form
Power of Attorney Fact Sheet & Form
The MN Attorney General's Office
also publishes some non-court forms, including:
Health Care Directive Form (.pdf)
Power of Attorney "Short Form" (.pdf)
Revocation of Power of Attorney Form (.pdf)
Wills and Trusts: Because estate planning is a complicated area of law and every person’s situation is unique, it is best to get help from a lawyer
with drafting a Will and/or Trust.
A trust is an arrangement to hold assets for the benefit of another. Title to the trust assets is held by the trustee, who has the duty to administer and distribute the trust assets for the benefit of the beneficiary. Trusts are usually established by a written document signed by the trustor, or person who creates the trust. Most of them are private agreements between the trustor and trustee. Some are supervised by the court, meaning the court approves the selection of the trustee and approves the accounts of the trustee. The trustee itemizes receipts and disbursements.
There are many kinds of trusts. The most common ones include:
- Discretionary Trust: a trust that grants a larger amount of discretion to the trustee to distribute the trust income or principal to the beneficiary.
- Inter Vivos Trust: a trust that is created by a transfer during the trustor's (creator's) lifetime. This is most commonly referred to as a living trust.
- Irrevocable Trust: a trust that cannot be revoked or amended.
- Revocable Trust: a trust that can be revoked or amended.
- Supplemental Needs Trust: a trust established for the benefit of a disabled person to supplement the government benefits received by the beneficiary.
- Testamentary Trust: a trust created pursuant to the terms of a will and takes effect at the time of the trustor's death.
The MN Judicial Branch does not publish forms related to creating or administering a trust. Because estate planning is a complicated area of law and every person’s situation is unique, it is best to get help from a lawyer
with drafting a trust.
Rules & Laws
The following is a list of some of the laws and rules that relate to Probate cases. We encourage you to talk with a lawyer to get advice on how the laws and rules may affect your case. Learn more about Laws, Rules & Legal Research.