Let’s talk probate

Given how complicated people’s finances have become in this recession, I’ve been thinking about Minnesota’s probate system and how it operates. I want to get a discussion rolling and, as always, I want people to share their stories.

I’ll start by sharing my ignorance.


Probate is one of those legal fields that seems mysterious and worrisome. Money, death and human emotion typically don’t do well together but all three are in the room in probate, the process of settling a dead person’s estate, paying bills and distributing any assets.

The code and rules seem complex to a layman.

I had a theory the recession was generating more contested probate cases — families fighting it out over a deceased relative’s assets in hard times. It’s a question that’s been debated lately on probate blogs. But it seems to be wrong.

Here’s data I got this week from the state courts system (click on the chart for a larger view).


The system doesn’t keep data on contested probate. But the number of “formal supervised” cases, those requiring a “completely formal probate proceeding under continuous supervision of the court,” are down.

Last summer, I asked Bruce Beck, a probate attorney who’s part of MPR’s Public Insight Network, about what he was seeing during the recession.

Probate cases were rising, mostly because the World War I baby boomers, people born between 1920 and 1932 were dying in large numbers, he said.

“Probates are taking longer because of the slow-down in real estate sales,” he added. “Also, the counties are more active in collecting on Medical Assistance Liens. Certain types of cases require medical assistance lien clearance.”

“I tell my clients that probate is easy as long as there are no large tax problems and the heirs get along. If the heirs fight they can make a simple probate complicated. If they do get along they can also make a complicated estate fairly easy.”

I’d love to hear from people who’ve gone through the system, lawyers and judges who work with probate and others. Tell me what works and what doesn’t and how things have changed because of the recession.

We’ll build a discussion and I’ll put it on MinnEcon.

Post something below or contact me directly and share your probate story.


    I need help with a probate case with my grandpas estate my aunts are taking everything and not a person will do anything about it, please help me or tell someone that will know what to do