Minnesota Probate: Transfers of Real Property

Probate is the legal process of settling a person’s estate after he or she has died, including distributing the decedent’s property to those entitled to receive it. Regardless of whether the decedent left a will, all property (real and personal) owned by the decedent individually or as a tenant in common is subject to probate. Property held with a beneficiary designation (such as a transfer on death deed) or survivorship interest and property held in a trust transfers outside of probate.

Chapter 524 of the Revised Statutes of Minnesota (Uniform Probate Code) governs probate proceedings in the state. Minnesota recognizes two types of probate: formal and informal. Formal probate is a more supervised process conducted with notice to interested persons. Informal probate is handled by the Probate Registrar with limited court supervision. Petitioners can apply for informal or formal probate of a will (for a testate estate) or informal or formal appointment of a personal representative (for an intestate estate). An estate is said to be intestate when a decedent dies without a will.

An application for probate of a will or petition for appointment of a personal representative (PR) is initiated in the Probate Court of the county in which the decedent was domiciled at the time of death. Probate commences with the issuing of letters of administration to the personal representative, whose fiduciary capacity is to administer the estate until its closing. Minnesota uses the general term “personal representative,” regardless of whether the decedent names an executor of his or her will or the court appoints an administrator of an intestate estate. Minn. Stat. § 524.3-203 establishes the priority of persons entitled to letters of administration.

By process of law, a decedent’s property devolves to the person(s) presumptively entitled to receive it upon the decedent’s death, unless the personal representative needs to take possession of the property for administrative purposes (§§ 524.3-101, 524.3-709). PRs also have authority to recover property to pay the decedent’s debts (§ 524.3-710).

After the expenses of the estate have been paid, the PR may make distributions pursuant to the decedent’s will (for testate estates) or laws of intestate succession (for intestate estates). For distributions of real property, a deed of distribution is evidence that a distributee has succeeded to the decedent’s interest (§ 524.3-908). As evidence of the distributee’s title, the PR executes and records a deed of distribution in the recorder’s office of the county wherein the subject property is located. Keep in mind that PRs appointed in informal probate are prohibited from selling, encumbering, leasing, or distributing real estate until 30 days after the issuance of letters of administration (§ 524.3-711).

A service of the Minnesota Department of Commerce, Minnesota’s Uniform Conveyancing Blanks are the standard forms for transferring interest in real property in the state. Minnesota maintains two forms for distributions of real property by a personal representative: one from an individual PR (Form 10.5.1), and the other from a business entity PR (Form 10.5.2). Under Minnesota Statutes, the PR’s deed of distribution is a quitclaim deed conveying all right, title, and interest of the grantor in the premises described to the grantee, the grantee’s heirs and assigns (§ 507.07). No deed tax is due on the execution of a deed of distribution because it is exempt under § 287.22(8).

Sometimes, the PR may be directed to sell the decedent’s real property when a necessary partition among multiple beneficiaries cannot be conveniently made, or to facilitate payment of the estate’s debts. Other times, a PR may be directed by a decedent’s will to sell real property. In such instances, the PR executes a deed of sale. There are four variations in form for a PR’s deed of sale, depending on whether the PR is an individual or business, and whether the grantee is an individual or business. Like a deed of distribution, the deed of sale is a quitclaim deed, but the conveyance is not exempt from transfer taxes.

All PR deeds contain identifying information regarding the decedent’s estate, including the decedent’s name, marital status at the time of death (a spousal affidavit is required to transfer real property), and name of the personal representative acting as the estate’s fiduciary. The conveyance requires a legal description of the property subject to transfer, and all other requirements of form and content for documents pertaining to an interest in real property in the State of Minnesota must be met. PRs must sign the deed in the presence of a notarial official before recording in the recorder’s office of the appropriate county.

Minnesota Probate Documents:

Deeds by PR generally require additional documentation, which may include a certified copy of the PR’s letters of administration, a certified copy of any decree or order for distribution, a certified copy of the decedent’s will, a marital consent form along with the deed, and/or an electronic certificate of real estate value, when applicable. See Minnesota Court Rule 410 for requirements for Transfers of Real Estate, and, as always, contact a lawyer with questions regarding estate administration and personal representative’s deeds in Minnesota.