Families in Minnesota know how difficult the death of a parent can be. In addition to the huge emotional toll, the death of both parents leaves brothers and sisters having to sort out finances and figure out how to dispose of property. While everyone hopes that this process can move along without any conflict, sometimes old or even more recent sibling rivalries can have an effect on the probate process, sometimes resulting in probate litigation that only adds to the emotional stress of the death in the family.
Heirs and beneficiaries to deceased Minnesota residents can find themselves embroiled in a wide variety of probate and other disputes, particularly when the person who died was not clear about their estate plan or when a plan was made under unusual or suspicious circumstances. In addition to more classical probate litigation, like lawsuits over the validity of a will, one thing that Minnesotans do need to be aware of is the possibility of disputes over what belongs in a person's probate estate in the first place.
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.
A valid will represents a person's wishes for what is to be done with their property after their death. Since the person is not around anymore to clarify those wishes, Minnesota courts try to stick as close as possible to what the will specifies. However, first, the court must know that the will is valid. There are a number of requirements that go into making a will, but perhaps the most important is that the person making the will, known as the testator, was competent to make a valid will at the time it was executed.
Minnesota families sometimes set up trust funds to help their children or grandchildren with their financial needs after they're gone. These can be a great way to keep a sense of family legacy together through generations. However, the work involved doesn't end once all the documents are signed and dated. The trustee must perform its duty to the trust principal and the beneficiaries must not interfere with each others' rights to the fund. When something goes wrong, it can lead to lawsuits over misuse of funds.
Officials say that financial exploitation of the elderly is on the rise in Minnesota and around the country. These crimes can have a terrible impact on vulnerable adults, and on the inheritances they want to leave to younger generations. In many cases, the perpetrators use undue influence to gain control of the victim's assets.
The author J.R.R. Tolkien was famous for writing "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings," epic fantasy stories about a major battle over who has the rights to old treasures like a gold ring and a broken sword. But the success of Tolkien's novels and the movies based on them has created a treasure of its own. Powerful forces are now fighting over bits of his legacy like Frodo fighting Gollum over the fires of Mount Doom.
This blog has reported in the past about the apparent rise in financial exploitation of vulnerable adults in Minnesota by unscrupulous businesses. A recent case involving a Minneapolis coin dealer shows how brazen some of these businesses can be.
The bizarre circumstances surrounding the death of a once lucky businessman may be enough to make some Twin Cities readers reconsider their hopes of winning the lottery. A story that originally made news as a case of good fortune soon turned dark amidst suspicions of murder and, more recently, as an illustration of how a failure to plan ahead can lead to bitter probate disputes.
Despite some indications of increasing public awareness, officials from one Minnesota county say that the number of cases they see involving financial exploitation of vulnerable adults continues to rise. The observation of Olmsted county social services workers seems to gibe with the results of a national study published last year that reported nearly $3 billion in losses during 2010 as a result of the financial exploitation of people over age 60. That figure factored in losses to organized efforts, such as fraudulent home improvement and trust or insurance scams, but vulnerable adults also frequently fall prey to misuse of funds by those entrusted to provide for their care and well being.