Last week's post discussed what happens in cases where a person leaves only little property for his or her estate to distribute. When people own less than $50,000 in personal property in their individual names, a probate proceeding may be unnecessary, so long as the person also does not own real estate.
These estates may well be called "small," but a small estate is no less important to the heirs and beneficiaries as is an estate worth millions of dollars.
Moreover, on a practical level, many "small" Minnesota estates are only such because the vast majority of a person's net worth is tied up in a jointly held home or in public stocks, retirement plans and bonds, all of which typically do not pass through the probate process at all.
However, the fact that these items are typically not subject to the terms of a will, does not mean that they cannot be the cause of a court battle between family members. Oftentimes, the most hotly contested estate matters do not involve assets that are subject to the jurisdiction of a probate court.
Small estates matters a great deal to many Saint Paul residents, and our law offices are confident about litigating them if the need arises. But before doing so, it is important for people to remember that in a truly "small" estate, at a certain point the cost of continuing with a lawsuit will eat up anything a person may have gained by suing in the first place.
Still, our offices don't see the inherent cost of litigation as a reason in and of itself not to take a case but as a challenge to try to find a creative way to resolve a probate dispute quickly. There are many means available, including mediation, in which a family can resolve litigation without having to go through a protracted court case.