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Inventories can foreshadow estate valuation issues

In Minnesota, a duly appointed personal representative has an obligation to file what is called an inventory of a deceased person's estate. The personal representative must file this inventory with the court, especially when the court is supervising the administration of the estate. When the estate unsupervised, the personal representative mails the inventory to the surviving spouse, the heirs and any one else with an interest in the estate, including a creditor, who asks for a copy.

Unless given an extension, the personal representative has the latter of 9 months from the date of the person's death or 6 months from the date the representative was appointed to prepare the inventory. The inventory is important because it must list all of the property that the person who died owned and must give a fair market value to the property. The inventory must also note any liens against the property, such as a mortgage on a piece of real estate and give the amount of the lien.

In uncontested estates, this document is simply a roadmap that helps heirs anticipate how much of an inheritance that they can expect and helps creditors decide whether it is worth it to pursue a claim. However, the inventory can also foreshadow underlying problems with estate valuation that, in contentious cases, can be critically important.

Recipients of an inventory should therefore pay careful attention to the fair market value of each piece of property listed on the inventory. If a number does not seem right, it may be helpful to find out how the personal representative arrived at his or her value. One should also take note that an inventory must provide reasonable detail about each piece of property; generalities can be a sign that someone has something to hide.

In some cases, an inventory can be the signal that formal probate litigation is the best course of action; an inventory can also be a valuable tool in an ongoing estate dispute.

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