Informal vs. Formal Probate Proceedings
You have the choice of using informal instead of formal probate proceedings in qualified probate cases. Informal proceedings are generally less expensive than formal probate proceedings, and the estate is administered without court supervision. Appointment of a personal representative for informal proceedings is done by a probate registrar. The registrar's office is responsible for all informal probate estates, and the registrar has complete discretion to approve or deny the use of informal proceedings in any case. If you cannot use or you choose not to use informal proceedings, appointment of a personal representative is done through formal proceedings before a district court judge.
Probate Court Forms
To begin the process of being appointed as personal representative in either informal or formal probate proceedings, you must prepare the required court forms. The Minnesota Judicial Branch provides general probate forms for statewide use, some of which are available from its website. Forms are also available at your local courthouse, law library or from an online legal document provider. Not all counties use the statewide forms, as some may require you to use their county-specific forms. For example, Ramsey County provides a packet of its own forms for probate cases, while Hennepin County requires that you use the statewide forms.
Types of Forms Required
For informal probate proceedings, you will prepare an "application" to be appointed as the personal representative. A "petition," however, is required for formal proceedings. Both forms require basic case information, such as the decedent's name, date of death, any known beneficiaries of the estate, and an estimate of the estate's value. In informal and formal proceedings, you must also prepare the required forms for notice of the probate case and an "Acceptance of Appointment and Oath" by the person nominated to be personal representative. In some counties, such as Ramsey County, you may be required to prepare additional forms, such as a State of Informal Probate and Letters Testamentary. Make copies of all the forms you are required to prepare for your records.
The forms used in applying for appointment of personal representative in an informal probate proceeding are submitted to the probate registrar in person or by mail, depending on your county's rules. Some counties also require you to appear before the probate registrar with your attorney. If the probate registrar finds your forms complete and your case suitable for informal proceedings, the probate registrar will accept the forms for filing. For formal proceedings, forms for your petition for appointment of personal representative are filed with the clerk of court, who will verify they are complete before he accepts them for filing.
After the registrar accepts your forms for filing, the registrar will sign the "Notice Of Informal Probate of Will and Appointment of Personal Representative and Notice to Creditors" and provide you with a copy. In a formal probate case, the clerk of court completes and signs the "Notice and Order for Hearing on Petition for Formal Probate of Will and Appointment of Personal Representative and Notice to Creditors." In either case, you must mail or personally deliver a copy of the completed and signed notices to the following persons: all known legal heirs of the decedent; all beneficiaries named in the will (if any); the Minnesota Attorney General, if a charity is a named beneficiary or there are no heirs or beneficiaries; a foreign consul, if the decedent was born in a foreign country or left heirs or beneficiaries in any foreign country; and any lawyers who represent any of the foregoing persons.
Special Notice Requirements for Spouses and Minor Children
An additional, special form of notice must be served in cases where a spouse or minor child survives the decedent; this special form of notice regards certain rights they may have under Minnesota law, as follows: to receive the decedent’s personal property, such as clothing, furniture and household goods; to receive maintenance payments while the estate is being administered; and to elect to receive a one-third share of the estate and homestead. The Judicial Branch publishes a form titled, "Notice to Spouse and Children" that you can use.
In a formal or informal probate proceeding, you must publish a copy of the notice that you mailed or delivered to the interested parties. You must publish this notice once a week for two consecutive weeks in a legal newspaper in the county where the probate case is filed. In some counties, such as Ramsey County, the clerk will forward the notice to the legal newspaper for you. For an informal procedure, you need to determine whether you or the court administrator for the case will arrange publication.
Issuance of Letters Testamentary
After you have completed the notice and publication requirements, you must file with the court administrator proof these tasks are done. For the notice requirement, file an "Affidavit of Mailing" that identifies all the interested parties you notified. You must have a notary witness that you have signed the affidavit. You should also obtain a proof of publication or affidavit of publication from the legal newspaper's publisher. Along with these affidavits, also file the Acceptance of Appointment and Oath by Individual. In an informal probate proceeding, the registrar will issue Letters Testamentary, which is the written authority for the personal representative to administer the estate, after receipt of the affidavits. In a formal probate proceeding, the court must hold a hearing before issuing Letters Testamentary. Also, if the court orders a bond be posted, it must be filed before the letters will be signed by the judge.