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Probate and Estate Litigation Blog

Sometimes an estate's greatest asset is a right to sue over death

When a person dies unexpectedly without a will in Minnesota, it is common for family members to argue over who gets the money, the house or other property. But there are many other assets that can make up the dead person's estate.

In one unusual recent case, a probate dispute developed over the right to sue the government after an unarmed man was killed by a police stun gun. Police said they fired a taser at the man during a confrontation at his home. There is some dispute over whether the man was threatening police or trying to surrender, but the end result was the same. Although designed to be non-lethal, the taser killed the man. His mother had been preparing to file a lawsuit against the state, alleging that the killing was a civil rights violation.

However, these plans were scuttled by a probate dispute. The mother of the man's 9-year-old daughter recently claimed that their daughter was the rightful heir of the man's estate. Under the laws of their state, when a person dies without a will, the deceased's minor children inherit all the deceased's assets. The greatest asset in this particular estate is the right to sue the state over the death.

Minnesota has a similar provision in what are called the laws of intestate succession. When an unmarried person dies without a will in Minnesota, the estate passes to the person's descendants. If the person has no descendants, the estate passes to the person's parents. If the person had no descendants and neither parent is alive, the estate passes to the descendants of the parents - meaning the deceased person's siblings and their descendants.

The laws of intestate succession can sometimes lead to some unexpected and undesirable results, which can serve as a reminder to others to execute a valid will that will make their wishes known. However, there are often problems with wills that can lead to undesirable results, as well.

Minnesota families who are in dispute over an inheritance should get help researching their options. The laws can be rigid, but heirs and beneficiaries do have legal options.

Source: Valley News, "Questions Over Estate In Taser Death," Mark Davis, June 28, 2013

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