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FAQs About WILLS in Minnesota 

What is a Will?

What makes it legal?

What can a Will accomplish?
. . . . . . You decide who receives your assets after your death
. . . . . . You nominate a Personal Representative or Executor
. . . . . . You can nominate a guardian for your minor children
. . . . . . You can include one or more trusts
. . . . . . You can include provisions to minimize potential estate tax.

Are there any important limitations on what a Will can accomplish?
. . . . . . Wills don't apply to "non-probate property"
. . . . . . Divorce can automatically change your will

Do I need a Will?
. . . . . . What happens if I die without a will?
. . . . . . What does current Minnesota law say about what happens if I
            die without a will?

Does a Will avoid probate?

Can I make my own will by writing out what I want and signing it?

Does a Will apply to all of my assets?

When should I change my Will?

 
What is a Will?

A will is a written document signed by an adult of sound mind directing the disposition of the person's assets after death. If you do not have a will, state law determines who will receive your assets after your death, regardless of your wishes. The person who makes the will is called the "testator" if male, or "testatrix" if female.


What makes it legal?
To make a valid will under Minnesota law:

  • You must be at least 18 years old;
  • You must be of sound mind;
  • The will must be written;
  • The will must be signed by the Testator; and
  • The will must be witnessed by at least two qualified witnesses, each of whom must also sign the will as witnesses.

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What can a Will accomplish?
A will gives you the opportunity to exercise your right to say what happens with your assets after your death. If you have minor children, it gives you the opportunity to state your preference for a guardian for your children.


You decide who receives your assets after your death.
You have the right to say who receives your assets after you die, but only if you say it in a valid will. Telling your son that he will get the farm after you're gone will not cause him to inherit it, even if you tell everyone else in the family, unless you also put it in writing in a valid will. Of course, there are some restrictions on disinheriting your spouse, and some legal requirements to protect your minor children.


You nominate a Personal Representative or Executor
.
Generally, a will also nominates someone to act as "personal representative," or "executor." The personal representative is entrusted with the job of seeing that the provisions in the will are carried out.


You can nominate a Guardian for your minor children.
A will may also nominate a guardian for the person's minor children in case the person dies before the children reach adulthood. Although this is evidence of your wishes regarding who should care for your minor children after your death, it is not binding on a Court.


You can include one or more trusts.
Your will can direct that your assets be distributed outright to your beneficiaries or you can name a trustee hold one or more beneficiaries' shares be held in trust to be used for their benefit. This is a good idea if your beneficiaries are minor children or if you have a beneficiary who is disabled.

You can include provisions to minimize potential estate tax. If your estate is large enough to raise the issue of potential estate tax, your will can include provisions to minimize the impact of estate tax on your beneficiaries.

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Are there any important limitations on what a Will can accomplish?
Yes. There are several ways in which a Will may not accomplish what it was meant to accomplish. Here are some of them:


Wills don't apply to "non-probate property". A will does not govern what happens to what is sometimes called "non-probate property." "Non-probate property" is any property that passes directly to one or more beneficiaries named in a deed, beneficiary designation, account agreement, or other document that governs what happens to the asset on your death. Examples of non-probate property:
  • Life Insurance;
  • Some types of bank and investment accounts;
  • Real estate if the title is held as "joint tenants with right of survivorship;"
  • Retirement plans and IRA's;
  • Assets held by a trust can be non-probate property
What this means is that if you name someone as your beneficiary under a life insurance policy or other asset and then you later decide that you do not want that person to share in your estate, simply removing that person from your Will won't change the beneficiary designation under the life insurance policy or other asset.


Divorce can automatically change your Will.
Suppose a husband and wife each have a will that leaves all of their assets to each other and each spouse nominates the other as personal representative of his or her estate. Suppose further that sometime after signing these wills the husband and wife divorce each other. Most of the time, people in this situation want to take the ex-spouse out of their will, and some of the time, they get around to executing a new will that accomplishes that. Even if they don't get around to it, however, probate law does it for them. A divorce or annullment automatically revokes will provisions in favor of the former spouse, including any nomination of the former spouse as executor, trustee, conservator, or guardian, unless the will expressly provides otherwise.

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Do I need a Will?
It depends on whether you care about how your assets are administered and distributed after your death. If you want to take advantage of your right to direct the disposition of your assets, you need a will.


What happens if I die without a Will?
That's impossible to predict with any certainty.  Because probate law changes from time to time, it's impossible to tell for sure what the rules will be at some unknown future date. If you move to another state before your death, the law that will apply to your estate may or may not be the same as we now have in Minnesota. Even if all of your assets are "non-probate property," you have designated the beneficiaries you wish to receive the property, it is usually impossible to tell ahead of time whether you will out live your beneficiary. If you do, the asset may cease to be a non-probate asset, and if it does it will be subject to whatever the applicable probate law requires.

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What does current Minnesota law say about what happens if I die without a will?

Generally, your estate is responsible for valid debts, taxes, and claims. After these are paid, your estate is distributed to your heirs. If you are domiciled in Minnesota at the time of your death, the Homestead, Family Allowance and Exempt Property paragraphs are applied first to determine what constitutes your "intestate estate."

Homestead. Generally, your surviving spouse, if any, is entitled to your homestead; if you have any descendants who also survive you, your surviving spouse is entitled to a life estate in the homestead, with your surviving descendants being entitled to a remainder interest in the homestead; if you die without surviving descendants, the spouse is entitled to the homestead. A homestead that passes by descent or will to your surviving spouse or descendants is exempt from all debts that were not valid charges against it at the time of your death except for claims for state hospital care and medical assistance.

Family Allowance. Your surviving spouse, your minor children and children you supported while living, if any, are entitled to claim a family allowance for up to 18 months after your death.

Exempt Property. Your surviving spouse, if any, is entitled to one automobile, regardless of value, and up to $10,000 in value of household furniture, furnishings, appliances, and personal effects. If the value of household furniture, furnishings, appliances and other personal effects are worth less than $10,000 then other personal property can be used to make up the difference. If there is no surviving spouse, your children are jointly entitled to this property. The rights of your adult children to exempt property are subject to certain debts, taxes and claims against your estate.

Remainder of Estate. Any part of your estate not disposed of under the preceding rules or used to pay valid debts, taxes and other claims is distributed according to the following rules:

1. Surviving spouse and traditional family - If you have a spouse that survives you, and either (a) you leave no surviving descendants; or (b) all of your surviving descendants are also descendants of your surviving spouse and there is no other descendant of the surviving spouse who survives you, then your surviving spouse is entitled to all of the assets remaining in your estate;

2. Surviving spouse and "blended family" - If you have a spouse and descendants who survive you and either (a) all of your surviving descendants are not also descendants of your surviving spouse; or (b) there is a surviving descendant of your surviving spouse who is not a descendant of yours, then your surviving spouse is entitled to the first $150,000, plus one-half of any balance of your intestate estate;

3. Balance of Intestate Estate. The remainder of your estate, if any, or if there is no surviving spouse, all of your estate goes in the following order to the individuals designated below who survive you:

(a) to your descendants by representation;

(b) if there is no surviving descendant, to your parents equally if both survive, or to the surviving parent;

(c) if there is no surviving descendant or parent, to the descendants of your parents or either of them by representation;

(d) if there is no surviving descendant, parent, or descendant of a parent, but you are survived by one or more grandparents or descendants of grandparents, half of the estate passes to your paternal grandparents equally if both survive, or to the surviving paternal grandparent, or to the descendants of your paternal grandparents or either of them if both are deceased, the descendants taking by representation; and the other half passes to your maternal relatives in the same manner; but if there is no surviving grandparent or descendant of a grandparent on either the paternal or the maternal side, the entire estate passes to your relatives on the other side in the same manner as the half;

(e) if there is no surviving descendant, parent, descendant of a parent, grandparent, or descendant of a grandparent, to the next of kin in equal degree, except that when there are two or more collateral kindred in equal degree claiming through different ancestors, those who claim through the nearest ancestor shall take to the exclusion of those claiming through an ancestor more remote.

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Does a Will avoid probate? No. There are ways to avoid probate, but a Will is not one of them.

Can I make my own will by writing out what I want and signing it? If that's all you do, it will not be valid in Minnesota. See What Makes it Legal?

Does a Will apply to all of my assets?
Not necessarily. See Wills Don't Apply to Non-probate Property.

When Should I Change my Will?  Whenever, because of changes in your life or those of your beneficiaries, changes in your goals, or changes in the law, your existing will no longer reflects your wishes or no longer will accomplish your objectives. 

 
   You should review your will periodically, especially after major changes in your life, to see if it still reflects your intentions. In the normal course of our lives, our situations change, as do the lives of those close to us.  The laws that apply to us and our estates also change, sometimes by legislative action, and sometimes because of our change of residence or marital status.  In Minnesota, divorce and annulment automatically revoke all Will provisions in favor of the ex-spouse, including any nomination of the former spouse as executor, trustee, conservator or guardian, unless the Will expressly provides otherwise.  Usually, this reflects the wishes of the people involved; occasionally it does not. 

    Marriage, on the other hand, makes no automatic changes in pre-existing Wills, and this is a good time to review your planning.  Other life changes that should suggest a review of your Will include the death or disability of your spouse or anyone else that you have named as a fiduciary or beneficiary, a significant change in the value of your assets, a move to another state, particularly a move from Minnesota to a community property state (Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, New Mexico, Nevada, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin all have some form of community property laws) or vice versa.


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