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Probate and Estate Litigation Blog

Minnesota has rejected the 'Dead Man's' statute

Although other states may have a so-called "dead man's" statutes on the books, the Minnesota has for quite some time rejected the approach favored in such statutes. Instead, Minnesota law opts to rely on the truthfulness of witnesses in probate disputes.

"Dead man's" statutes are actually rules of evidence that prevent certain types of witnesses from testifying about what someone who has died said either to that witness or within the witness's earshot. Specifically, a witness who was either part of the litigation as either plaintiff or defendant or stood to benefit by the outcome of the litigation, such as an heir in a will, could not testify as to what the person who made the will told him or her.

The logic for these types of statutes is that a person who stands to gain from probate litigation would have both motive and ample opportunity simply to make up what the decedent told him or her and then roll the dice to see whether the lie would stick. These statutes effectively cut off the possibility that someone will commit perjury about these issues.

In the judgment of the Minnesota legislature, however, a "dead man's" statute can have the unintended result of barring a person with a legitimate probate dispute from having his or her rightful day in court. Many times, the only evidence available to a person is what the decedent said, but if that person happens to have an interest in the litigation, that person could not report what he or she knows to be true about the value of the estate, the validity of will or many other important matters.

The absence of a dead man's statute, however, does not mean that a person can simply testify to whatever he or she wants. As in all court cases, probate litigation is controlled by strict procedural rules, and an experienced Minnesota probate attorney may prove helpful to navigating through these rules.

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