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How do I create a valid will in Minnesota?

In many of its posts discussing estate disputes, this blog has alluded briefly to the requirements that every resident of this state must follow in order to create a valid will in Minnesota.

While these requirements can present complicated questions and will usually depend on the specific circumstances of a person's case, a brief overview of them may help Minnesota residents either avoid probate litigation or find good grounds to fight an injustice.

On the surface, the requirements are simple enough. A person must be a legal adult (i.e., over 18), of a "sound mind," and must sign his or her will, and two witnesses must observe the signature of the will. There are special rules that apply to a person who cannot write; they can usually have a designated third party sign their will for them, but it must be done so at the specific request of the person.

Despite that fact that these requirements would simple enough to follow, irregularities can occur. There can be questions as to whether two people really "witnessed" the signing of the will, and people are always prone to making mistakes like simply skipping over a signature line. More often, litigants will challenge whether a person was of "sound mind" to make a will. While this legal standard is relatively easily for a person to meet, a person who acts confused during the will process may be opening the way for will litigation down the road.

Moreover, in an age where digital copies of official documents are used all the time, it is important that a person must keep his or her originally signed hard copy of his or her will in a safe location that his or her heirs will be able to find. A will that gets lost, misplaced or destroyed before a person dies is as good as no will at all.

Knowing the requirements for executing a valid will in Minnesota can help a person prevent probate litigation or, at a minimum, help his intended heirs stave off an unfounded contest. For those Minnesotans who may need to contest a will in order to protect their rights, knowing what grounds on which to challenge a will may be helpful.

Source: The Office of Attorney General Lori Swanson, "Probate and planning," accessed Nov. 4, 2014

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