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Estate Planning

What are the Purposes of Estate Planning?

Minnesota Estate Plan Considerations.

Who needs and estate plan?

Factors that require estate planning

What estate planning documents should I have?

What is Probate?

What are the Advantages of Probate?

What are the Disadvantages of Probate?

Does Any Property Avoid Probate?

Who Gets My Probate Estate If I Die Without a Will or Trust?

What is a Living Trust?

What are the Advantages of a Trust?

Questions about Wills, Trusts or Estate Planning?





Q: What are the Purposes of Estate Planning?

The purposes of an estate plan are to: (i) plan for the management and disposition of your property while you are alive (including if you become incapacitated) and after your death; and (ii) plan your health care if you become unable to take care of yourself.


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Q: Minnesota Estate Plan Considerations.

Before you can implement your estate plan, you must consider and answer the following important questions:

  • Personal Representative. Who do you want to name as your first, second and third choices to be the personal representative of your estate? Your personal representative is responsible for collecting your assets after death, administering your estate, opening a probate if necessary, distributing property to your beneficiaries, completing your last tax return and paying any taxes and other debts of your estate from your probate assets.
  • Guardian. If you have minor children, who do you want to name as your first and second choices to be the guardian(s) of your children? A guardian is responsible for raising and caring for the minor children.
  • Conservator. If you have minor children, who do you want to name as your first and second choices to be the conservator(s) of your children? A conservator is responsible for administering and accounting for any property owned by the minor children.
  • Title to Property. How should you and your spouse hold title to your assets? Should it be as community property, community property with right of survivorship, joint tenancy or another form?
  • Healthcare. If you cannot care for yourself, who do you want to make decisions about your healthcare?
  • Property Management. If you cannot manage your financial affairs, who do you want to give the power to manage your financial affairs and spend your money?
  • Beneficiary Designations. Who should receive the proceeds of your life insurance policies and your retirement benefits? Make sure you have properly designated your primary and alternate beneficiaries for all insurance policies and retirement plans.
  • Living Trust. Should you create a revocable trust to provide for a spouse or children, federal estate tax savings, asset management or to control property distributions until children are mature and able to manage your property? Property left to family members or your heirs in trust is one of the best asset protection methods that money can buy. A well drafted trust can protect a child’s inheritance from the child’s creditors, ex-spouses, and bankruptcy.
  • Federal Estate Taxes. Is your estate large enough to be subject to federal estate taxes? If so, what can you do to eliminate or reduce your potential estate tax liability? If your estate may owe federal estate taxes, how will the taxes be paid?


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Q: Who needs and estate plan?

Most adults should have an estate plan, regardless of the value of their estates. An estate plan is necessary to name the beneficiaries who will receive your property after your death. If your estate has substantial value, a good estate plan can assist in preserving your property for your heirs and reducing or eliminating federal estate taxes on your death. Everyone should designate the person or persons who are to manage their financial affairs, care for them and make health care decisions in the event they become incapacitated.


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Q: Factors that require estate planning

If any of the following situations apply to you, you should consider adopting an estate plan to accomplish your objectives:

1. You own real property or personal that you want to give to one or more beneficiaries who would not inherit the property if you were to die without a Will?

2. You have children under age 18 for whom you need to designate a guardian or a conservator.

3. You have children from another marriage and you want them to receive a portion of your property.

4. You want to give property to friends and/or charities or schools rather than family members.

5. Your estate may be subject to federal estate taxes, i.e., the value of your estate assets less your liabilities and deductions is more than the exclusion amount. See “When Is an Estate Subject to Federal Estate Taxes” below.

6. You want to eliminate or reduce your federal estate tax liability.

7. You want to pick the person or persons who will be responsible for your financial affairs if you were to become incapacitated.

8. You want to pick the person or persons who will be responsible for making health care decisions for you if you are incapacitated.

9. You want to state your medical treatment desires, donate your organs, provide for burial or cremation, or do not want to be kept alive by life support if you are in a terminal condition.


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Q: What estate planning documents should I have?

A basic estate plan for Minnesota residents prepared by Unique Estate Law consists of the following legal documents:

  • Minnesota Last Will & Testament. A Last Will & Testament is the legal document in which you identify the beneficiaries (people and/or companies or charities) who will receive your property after your death. The Will also names a person or company to be your personal representative to administer your estate. Your personal representative manages your affairs and is responsible to see that your property is distributed as provided in the Will. The Will may also name the guardian(s) of your minor children, the conservator(s) of property that belongs to minor children, make specific gifts of property and include burial instructions. In Minnesota, a child is a minor until becoming age eighteen.
  • General Power of Attorney for Financial Matters. This is a document that grants one or more people the power to manage your financial affairs if you become unable to do so or if you want a person to handle these things for you. The holder(s) of your power of attorney have the legal power to make binding decisions that affect your money, property, and other assets, including, paying your bills and spending your money. Without a power of attorney, your family may be required to obtain a court-supervised conservator to manage your financial affairs. A power of attorney terminates on your death.
  • Power of Attorney for Healthcare. This document names a person or persons to hold the power to make healthcare decisions (including mental health care decisions) for you if you are unable to make those decisions for yourself.
  • HIPAA Authorization. This document allows your doctor and emergency medical personnel to disclose information about your healthcare to your designated agent.  Without a HIPPA authorization, healthcare providers are prohibited to disclosing your health information.
  • Letter to Your Agent (Representative). This document notifies your agent(s) or representative(s) that you have named them in your estate planning document(s) and they have responsibilities thereunder.


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Q: What is Probate?

Probate is a Superior Court procedure by which probate assets belonging to a decedent are collected and administered by the decedent’s personal representative and transferred by the personal representative to the beneficiaries named in the decedent’s Will. The personal representative is also responsible to pay the liabilities of the decedent from the probate assets.

For a detailed explanation about Minnesota probate law, see my article entitled Minnesota Probate Law – Frequently Asked Questions.

What are the Advantages of Probate?

One advantage of probate is that when a notice to creditors is published, all debts and liabilities of the decedent are terminated with respect to creditors who fail to file a claim against the estate within the four month period. Another advantage of probate is that the probate court can resolve any disputes involving the decedent’s estate and disposition of its assets.


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Q: What are the Advantages of Probate?

Despite what you may hear about probate, there are a few advantages.

  1. When a notice to creditors is published, all debts and liabilities of the decedent are terminated with respect to creditors who fail to file a claim against the estate within the four month period.
  2. The probate court can resolve any disputes involving the decedent’s estate and disposition of its assets.
  3. If someone truly doesn't have anyone to trust in handling matters, it may be worth letting a court oversee the estate.


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Q: What are the Disadvantages of Probate?

Estates that go through probate become matters of public record. Anyone can examine the probate court’s file, including the inventory of probate assets. Probate also takes time, a minimum of six months or more. Although Minnesota does not provide for statutory attorneys’ fees based on the value of the probate assets, probate legal fees can be several thousand dollars.


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Q: Does Any Property Avoid Probate?

Whether assets will be subject to probate depends on several factors. The following types of property are not included in a decedent’s probate estate and therefore avoid probate:

1. Property that is held in trust.

2. Property owned as joint tenants with right of survivorship or community property with right of survivorship is not included in the probate estate of a decedent.

3. Property that is held by a third party that passes to one or more designated beneficiaries by virtue of a contract such as life insurance proceeds, retirement plan assets subject to a valid beneficiary designation and financial institution “pay on death” accounts.

Many persons elect to use a revocable living trust as a will substitute primarily to avoid probate. See “What is a Living Trust” below.


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Q: Who Gets My Probate Estate If I Die Without a Will or Trust?

If a resident of Minnesota dies with probate assets in Minnesota and no Will, the Minnesota law of intestate succession provides who will inherit the decedent’s probate assets. The Minnesota law of intestate succession disposes of probate assets of a decedent who does not have a Will according to the following in the order listed:

  • If the decedent was married and had no surviving issue (children, grandchildren, etc.), or if there are surviving issue all of whom are issue of the surviving spouse, all of the decedent’s separate property and all of the decedent’s one-half interest in community property passes to the surviving spouse.
  • If the decedent was married and there are surviving issue one or more of whom are not issue of the surviving spouse, one-half of the intestate separate property passes to the surviving spouse, but the surviving spouse does not get any interest in the one-half of the community property that belonged to the decedent.
  • Any part of the estate not passing to the decedent’s surviving spouse or the entire intestate estate if there is no surviving spouse passes in the following order to the following persons who survive the decedent:

    If no one is qualified to claim the estate under any of the rules set forth above, the intestate estate passes to the State of Minnesota.

    If the estate plan the State of Minnesota prepared for you (i.e., the Minnesota law of intestate succession) gives your probate assets to the beneficiaries that you would select, then maybe you do not need a Will to dispose of your assets. However, this article sets forth other reasons why you should have an estate plan
  • To the decedent’s descendants by representation.
  • If there is no surviving descendant, to the decedent’s parents equally if both survive or to the surviving parent.
  • If there is no surviving descendant or parent, to the descendants of the decedent’s parents or either of them by representation.
  • If there is no surviving descendant, parent or descendant of a parent, but the decedent is survived by one or more grandparents or descendants of grandparents, half of the estate passes to the decedent’s paternal grandparents equally if both survive or to the surviving paternal grandparent or the descendants of the decedent’s paternal grandparents or either of them if both are deceased with the descendants taking by representation. The other half passes to the decedent’s maternal relatives in the same manner. If there is no surviving grandparent or descendant of a grandparent on either the paternal or the maternal side, the entire estate passes to the decedent’s relatives on the other side in the same manner as the half.


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Q: What is a Living Trust?

A trust is a legal arrangement that involves a trustor (the person who creates the trust) who names a trustee to: (i) hold legal title to property assigned to the trustee by the trustor, and (ii) administer the property pursuant to the terms and conditions of a trust agreement. Usually the initial trustee(s) of a living trust are its creator or creators.

The term “living trust” (sometimes also called “intervivos trust”) refers to a trust that the trustor creates during the trustor’s lifetime. Some trusts are “testamentary trusts,” which is the name given to trusts that are created in a Will and that become effective only after the death of the trustor.

A trust can be revocable or irrevocable. A revocable trust is a trust that the trustor can amend or terminate. An irrevocable trust is a trust that cannot be amended by the trustor.

The terms and conditions of a trust should be set forth in a written trust agreement. The trust agreement provides how the trustee is manage the trust property, the beneficiaries of the trust, and when and how much trust property is to be distributed to the beneficiaries.


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Q: What are the Advantages of a Trust?

The reason most people create a trust is so that their assets avoid probate. Assets that are held by the trustee in trust are not subject to probate and may be managed and distributed by the trustee or successor trustee immediately on the death of the trustor. The assets held in trust avoid the expense, time and inconvenience associated with probate.

Unlike a probate where everything about the probate estate is a matter of public record open for inspection at the court house, trusts can be used to keep confidential the names of the beneficiaries and the nature and value of the property held in trust.

A trust can also be used to eliminate or reduce federal estate taxes. However, neither of those goals will be achieved unless the trustor actually transfers his or her property into the trust before death. To get real estate transferred to a trust, the trustor must sign and record a deed conveying the property to the trustee. The title to other assets must also be changed to name the trustee as the legal owner of the property.


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Q: Questions about Wills, Trusts or Estate Planning?

If you have any questions about issues related to estate planning or probate, call now to speak with a qualified Minnesota Estate Planning and Probate attorney.


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From within Hennepin County Unique Estate Law represents clients throughout Minnesota, including Minneapolis, Edina, Bloomington, St. Louis Park, Minnetonka, Plymouth, Wayzata, Maple Grove, St. Paul, and Brooklyn Park.



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3800 American Blvd., Suite 1500, Bloomington, MN 55431
| Phone: 952-955-7623
333 Washington Avenue North, Minneapolis, MN 55401
| Phone: 952-955-7623
5775 Wayzata Blvd., St. Louis Park, MN 55416
| Phone: 952-955-7623

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