You asked: Why is probate so complex?
Editor's note: The following is an Echo Press feature called, "You asked." Readers are invited to send the newspaper a simple question and we'll try to get to the bottom of it. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
When a person dies, their estate lives on until it can be properly distributed. Most people don't deal with death and legal issues every day, which raises questions - questions that are deemed legal advice.
In April 2009, Tom Obert's mother, Natalia Obert, died. He and his three siblings thought they had their bases covered with a pre-paid funeral, joint checking account, a will, a living will and power of attorney papers. Something was still missing.
When Obert visited the Douglas County Courthouse to inquire on which probate forms to use, he was informed, "That would be giving legal advice."
Probate forms are needed in cases of wills, estates, guardianships and psychological commitments, according to Douglas County court administration.
Obert pointed out that the courthouse staff was always prompt and courteous when they told him they could not provide legal advice.
A representative from the governor's office also told Obert to "have an attorney guide you through the process," when he appealed to higher government in February 2012 about the frustration he encountered with the current probate process three years prior.
Obert was able to obtain probate forms from a stationery company in New Ulm. The cost for the forms was $25; filing at the courthouse was $250 at the time, Obert said.
Obert submitted all the forms he could acquire in an attempt to settle his mother's estate without the aid of an attorney, and the fees that accompany such legal advice. Obert was still short one form and needed to resubmit a new set of forms before the process would be complete.
"Once we obtained the proper forms, it literally took just a couple of minutes to fill them out," Obert said. He did not need to seek the aid of an attorney.
So how does a person resolve the matter of probate?
Per the Minnesota Judicial Branch, "Court staff cannot give legal advice." To determine if probate court is necessary, it is recommended to visit www.mncourts.gov.
Court administration said if an estate is limited; having no house or real property, an affidavit for collection of personal property can be filed. This process is generally allowed if a person is a blood relative to the person who died and the person had a modest sum of money or personal property when he or she died. The value of all the property cannot be greater than $50,000 in most cases.
While some probate forms can be downloaded from the state's website for free, Douglas County court administration said not all probate forms are available online and consulting an attorney is suggested.
The Douglas County website directs visitors looking for probate forms to a website for Miller Davis, a site the court notes it does not endorse, but uses to print legal documents.
Filing fees have gone up since Obert's experience. A law library fee of $310 accompanies most services. Deposit of a will is $27. The law library fee is deposited into a fund that is used to update Minnesota court processes and equipment.
Crystal Dey Crystal Dey is a staff reporter for the Echo Press. Originally from Minnesota's Iron Range, Dey worked for newspapers in North Dakota, Florida and Connecticut before returning to her home state to join the Echo Press in October 2011. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Staff Reporter Crystal Dey on Twitter at @CrystalDey_Echo.