Plymouth MN Estate Planning Blog

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Probate Process

A Minneapolis Probate Lawyer Gives Provides a Quick Overview of the Probate Process

In some circles, “probate” almost feels like a dirty word.  There are plenty of reasons that a person may prefer to skip the probate process, when possible, but it is a fact of wills and trust administration.  The details of probate can vary somewhat from place to place, even county to county. There are different requirements even between Hennepin County and Ramsey County probate procedure. Additionally, probate in California will likely be different than probate in Minnesota.  There are such differences, in fact, that separate proceedings are necessary for an individual with estates and real estate in both states.  This means that involving a probate lawyer from Minneapolis and St. Paul is usually the best choice for those who are local.

The process of probate is used to ensure that an individual’s estate is being administered in a way that conforms with probate laws.  This is one of the reasons that a qualified probate lawyer can make such a difference.  He or she can help family members and other heirs navigate the process and ensure that all steps are being completed properly.

Many of those who engage in estate planning do their best to avoid probate by creating a revocable living trust.   This helps to set out their wishes in advance and allows for a trustee to follow through on those wishes when the time comes.  Those who simply have a will and those who have not planned their estates at all will have their assets go into probate.

One of the biggest concerns about probate is the fact that it is a public affair.  Because the will or estate goes through the court system, the information that arises is available to the public.  While this may not be a major concern for some people, others prefer to keep matters of money, property, and inheritance private.

Another common concern is the cost.  A considerable amount (anywhere up to four percent) of the gross of an estate may go to the courts.  A similar amount will be paid in attorney’s fees.  For some people, these fees are negligible, but in many cases, these costs significantly affect the overall inheritance.

Finally, if you are involved with an estate that is going into probate in Hennepin, Ramsey, or another metro area county, it is important to be aware that it can be a lengthy process.  An opening procedure must be conducted with the court, notice must be given to interested persons and creditors, an accounting of assets is completed, creditors must be contacted regarding any money owed, and assets may need to be sold off.  All of these things take time.

 A good probate lawyer will have experience with this process making it smoother.  He or she will also understand the concerns of those involved and will keep clients up to date and informed on the status of their case.  While a wills and trust lawyer is a great contact point during estate planning, a Minneapolis probate lawyer may very well be needed as the estate is actually being administered.

At StoneLAW, PLLC we are here to assist you with your probate and estate administration needs.  It is our goal to make navigating the complicated world of probate as easy as possible and help you carry out the wishes of your deceased loved one.   If you have specific questions or you are not sure how to get started with the probate process, please give our office a call at 763-231-7884. 

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Sandwich Generation Issues and working together as siblings

Plymouth Elder Law Attorney Tackles the Sibling Situation

Siblings often have trouble agreeing on anything, so why should it be any different when it comes to Mom and Dad’s elder care?  Unfortunately those of us in elder law see quite often how families have a very difficult time when it comes to determining what is best for aging parents. 

In some cases, one sibling may be expected to take on an unreasonable portion of the elder care with other siblings not recognizing (or possibly not caring) that it is a hardship. Other times, siblings simply can’t agree on the best course of medical intervention or the choice of an assisted living facility.

A Twin Cities elder law attorney can actually help to avoid or work through some of these issues.

The best approach is to start early.  Most siblings can likely agree that having your parents make their wishes known in advance is a good thing.  The attorney can help them draw up some very important documents before they are even needed. 

  • Medical Power of Attorney – In Minnesota, this is the first portion of a Health Care Directive.  This names the person responsible for making medical decisions when the parent is unable to do it for himself or herself.
  • Financial Power of Attorney – This is used to determine who will have control of the parents’ finances in order to keep the household going, pay medical bills, etc. during an illness or crisis.
  • Living Will – In Minnesota, Part B of a Health Care Directive is most similar to a living will.  Part B of the Health Care Directive helps to outline the parents’ wishes when it comes to medical interventions and end-of-life care.  Having this in place takes some of the burden off of the adult children who would otherwise be making these choices.

If possible, it’s best to have all of the siblings aware of and in agreement about these documents, as it can cut down on the amount of frustration later. 

When things do become more intense and these documents come into play, it is still likely that siblings will have disagreements about what is best.  The one who has the largest responsibility for day-to-day elder care may become resentful, while another may also harbor resentments that someone else was chosen to take care of the parents’ finances.  Throw in the emotions that surface when facing your parents’ mortality, and there is potential for a major explosion.

In order to diffuse the situation, an elder law attorney can direct you to other forms of outside help.  For example, some families choose to hire a “geriatric care manager.”  This person is able to manage many aspects of the parent’s care, and because he or she isn’t a family member, much of the associated drama is mitigated.  When a situation has become too out of hand, the siblings may need to agree to use a mediator.  This impartial listener can help to determine the best course of action for getting the parents the care they need while meeting the needs of the siblings as appropriately as possible.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Estate Planning for the Single Adult

Critical Estate Planning Considerations for Single Adults In Minnesota Without Children

When we typically think of estate planning, we see grandma and grandpa putting together a will and possibly setting up some trusts for the following generations. It’s all about providing for our offspring, right?

Not necessarily. Even if you are single and/or have no children, a will or trust should still be in your plans. Why? Because estate planning is really about YOU.

While it is absolutely advisable for married people or those with children to work with a wills and trusts lawyer, it is actually just as important for single adults, as well.

In fact, there are times when it’s almost more important for singletons. After all, when a married person suffers a major illness, it’s usually pretty clear who will take on medical and financial responsibility. The water gets a bit murkier for unmarried individuals.

If you were to suddenly become incapacitated, who would make your medical decisions for you? If you haven’t worked with an estate planning attorney, the answer to this question becomes quite complicated. Possibly your parents would be called in to determine how your medical care should proceed. Maybe it would be a sibling. Most likely, it would not be your best friend or your significant other or whomever you would choose. Even if your parent or sibling would be your first choice, that doesn’t mean that the courts would agree without having your express wishes legally documented.

And what about your finances? If you are unable to take care of your finances for a period of time, who do you think will do so? The answer to that is: whomever the courts say. Again, it could be a parent, a sibling, some other relative, or even a court-appointed individual.

Finally, what will become of your things if you should unexpectedly pass away? Who would have legal rights to your belongings, to your home, to your pets? You may think you know the answers, but without clearly outlining your wishes with a Minneapolis wills and trusts attorney, you have very little control over the matter.

A single adult without children does not need to worry about creating guardianships and trusts to provide for his or her offspring, but it’s certainly a good idea to look out for yourself. Some of the basic legal documents any single person should have include:

  • A will to determine what will become of your assets in the event of your death.
  • A power of attorney for healthcare (in Minnesota we refer to this as a Health Care Directive) to name the person you want making medical decisions on your behalf.
  • A living will (included in a Health Care Directive) to clearly explain your wishes regarding medical procedures and life support.
  • A durable power of attorney for financial matters to name the person you feel should be responsible for your money if you are incapacitated.
  • A revocable living trust to centralize management of assets if you become incapacitated and keep your assets out of probate if you should pass away.

These documents are crucial in ensuring that your wishes are met and that you have control over your future. As a wills and trusts attorney located in the western suburbs (Wayzata, Minnetonka, Maple Grove, Plymouth, St. Louis Park area) of Minneapolis and St. Paul, I can easily get you on the path to having these affairs in order.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Importance of Naming Guardians for Minor Children

Plymouth and Maple Grove, MN Guardianship Attorney Explains How to Physically and Financially Protect Your Children If Something Happens To You

Parents in Minneapolis/St. Paul and surrounding suburbs rely on a lot of outside help when it comes to raising their children.  From family members to school systems to friends who pass on advice and hand-me-downs, it really does take a village to raise a child.  When it comes to estate planning, however, it is up to you to determine what is best for your minor children.

As an estate planning attorney, I recommend that all parents who have children under 18 make planning a priority.  No one wants to consider the idea that they will not be able to raise their kids, but the unforeseen does happen.  By putting a plan into place while you are young and healthy, you can help determine your children’s future, even if you aren’t able to play the role in it that you had hoped.

For example, if you were to die or become somehow incapacitated, who would you choose to care for your child or children?  In many cases, the surviving parent is the obvious choice.  But, considering the fact that the family will be going through a particularly difficult time and that the parental responsibilities will now fall to one person, it may be beneficial to go a step further.  To do this, more Minnesota families are choosing to create an estate plan that provides for more financial support of both the children and the spouse.  In doing so, that caregiver can be relieved of some of the burden of working and raising the children.

The children may also benefit from psychological counseling.  As a part of the estate plan, some parents set up a strategy for providing therapy for the kids as they deal with the loss of a parent.  This can also be provided for the surviving spouse.

In cases where both parents are killed or where one parent is already absent from the child’s life, setting up a guardianship is a must.  This allows you to determine who in your “village” will be responsible for the continued upbringing of your children.  Your estate plan may offer financial support to this person as well as trusts that provide for the children and that they can ulitmately access when they reach a certain age.  That said, it is acceptable to place a different person in charge of financial responsibilities.  An estate planning attorney will walk through the options with you in order to find a solution that best fits your situation.

When it comes to finances, it is also a good idea to consider what kinds of restrictions you might want to place on your children’s access to inheritance.  Some parents make access contingent upon certain goals such as age, education, and behavior.  Simply allowing access to a trust when a child reaches 18 may not always be the best approach due to inexperience and pressure from others.

Again, an estate planning attorney is well versed in the options available to parents who wish to plan for their minor children.  Choosing an attorney focused in this area of law in Minneapolis ensures that your estate plan is legal and meets the criteria of the local courts.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Beneficiary Designations and Naming Beneficiaries in your Will or Trust

Estate Planning Attorney with offices in Plymouth and Maple Grove Warns About The Importance of Matching Beneficiaries to Those Named in Your Will or Trust

As an estate planning attorney in Plymouth and Maple Grove, I have unfortunately seen many circumstances where a person goes through the time and expense of having an estate plan done, only to fail to update their beneficiaries on their financial or retirement accounts before they pass away.

An example of this would be Mary naming her brother Bill as the beneficiary of her life insurance policy in her trust, but at the time of her death, she had a different beneficiary named on the policy itself.

Just as life changes, so do your relationships, which can affect who you want to receive your assets --especially if you do not have children. Changing the beneficiary on assets such as bank accounts or life insurance policies is not uncommon, but you must remember to make sure that your will or trust reflects that change also.

Keeping your estate planning documents and beneficiaries up-to-date and coordinated is a quick and painless way to prevent legal headaches from occurring after you are gone.

Having two different named beneficiaries on two different documents can result in a lengthy and costly process to fix it – especially if each named person believes that they should be the one to inherit the asset.

The best way to avoid problems like this is to have a lawyer who focuses on estate planning and specifically, retirement planning to handle every aspect of your estate. If you are ready to get started, we invite you to call our office at 763-231-7884 to schedule a free consultation.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Adding Children To A Bank Account

Twin Cities Probate Lawyer Weighs in on Whether to Add Your Child to Your Bank Accounts to Avoid Probate

Individuals engaged in estate planning often get panicky when they hear the word “probate.”  When the term hasn’t been fully explained by a probate lawyer (and sometimes even when it has), it conjures visions of long waits, loss of inheritance, and many other hassles for heirs of an estate. 

To calm these fears (and to avoid working with an attorney), many people consider the idea of adding one or more of their children to their bank accounts.  Generally speaking, each “joint tenant” of an account has complete access to the money, but when one dies, the entire amount becomes the property of the other joint tenant(s). 

This may seem like a logical way to directly transfer money to heirs without going through the probate process, but a skilled probate attorney in the Minneapolis / St. Paul metro area needs to keep clients informed of potential pitfalls of this approach:

  • As it has already been mentioned, all joint tenants have access to the funds in the account.  This means that either party can withdraw money at any time.  If the child added to the account is not entirely trustworthy, this can be a devastating reality when the money is used inappropriately.
  • In a case where the parent passes away, any money received by the child can be considered a gift, which means that it is subject to a variety of laws and may be taxed.  An Twin Cities estate tax attorney will be able to keep you up-to-date on current laws and regulations in our area.
  • Creditors for both parties can have access to this account.  That means that if one joint tenant dies (even the one who is not in debt), the other’s creditors can go after the money they jointly held.  Keep in mind that this means that if the child has had credit problems, those creditors may have access to the parent’s money.
  • Money left in the event of the parent’s death will only be accessible to the other named tenant(s).  If one child has been responsible for the majority of a parent’s elder care and therefore is on the account, he or she will likely have no legal responsibility to share those funds with other siblings.  Again, trustworthiness is an important issue.

If you are considering adding a loved one to a bank account as a means to avoid probate, it’s important to at least talk to a knowlegable probate attorney about your options. You may find that simply giving your loved one power of attorney over the account or holding your assets in trust may be more preferable based on your circumstances.

To get the information you need, please feel to give our Minneapolis area probate law firm a call at 763-231-7884 and ask to schedule a consultation at no cost to you.  During this comprehensive session, we can help you determine the best methods for protecting your assets if death or disability should occur.


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Estate Planning Tips for Blended Families in Minnesota

Minnesota Estate Planning Tips for Blended Families

It is clear to Minneapolis and St. Paul area estate planning attorneys that the modern American family comes in all shapes, sizes, colors, and configurations.  This creates unique circumstances when creating wills and trusts, writing prenuptial agreements and putting long-term care plans in place.

There is always potential for conflict when it comes to estate planning in general, but the added element of a blended family can compound problems.  For this reason, it’s a great idea for anyone in a blended family or non-traditional relationship to discuss their options with an Twin Cities area estate planning attorney to ensure you are planning with such complexities in mind. 

In preparing for this conversation and its outcome, it makes sense to consider the following:

  1. What role will your new spouse play in your estate?  What role will your children play?  Those who are married later in life may choose to leave their entire estate to their biological children, while the spouse does the same.  In other situations, both spouses may choose to leave their assets to the surviving spouse or to do a combination of both.  Of course, many step-parents choose to consider their non-biological children in the estate planning process as well.
  2. It may seem unlikely now, but there is potential for a spouse who receives your assets to disinherit your biological children.  To avoid this, beneficiaries (and their inheritance) should be clearly and legally outlined in your will.  Likewise, children could move to disinherit the new spouse, so this provision will also protect him or her.
  3. Use your will to make your wishes known when it comes to the inheritance of specific assets.  Your estate planning attorney can help you to identify what these are, as it is very easy to overlook a particular asset, not realizing it holds value (monetary or sentimental).
  4. To remove concerns regarding what a spouse, child, or step-child might do should you be unable to oversee your own finances, work with the estate planning attorney to set up a living trust, powers of attorney, and other legal documentation before they become necessary.
  5. Review any retirement accounts, mutual funds, insurance policies, etc. to ensure they are kept up to date as your familial status changes.  For example, you may need to remove a former spouse in favor of your current one, add step-children as beneficiaries, or amend your beneficiaries with the birth of a new child.

Probably the most important aspect of making these choices is to ensure they truly reflect your preferences and wishes, as well as applicable laws here in Minnesota.  Because there are a number of special considerations in these types of situations, be sure to choose an estate planning attorney who has significant experience working with blended families.

Here at StoneLAW, PLLC, we are happy to work with you and your extended family to ensure your have the right plans in place should the unthinkable happen.  Just call 763-231-7884 and ask to schedule a free consultation to discuss your blended family situation.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Choosing a Trust Administrator

Trust Attorney in Minneapolis / St. Paul metro area Offers Practical Considerations When Choosing an Administrator

Trust administration in Minnesota is more complicated than many people realize. So, when deciding whom to name as your administrator, you may want to explore other options besides a close family member or your best friend.

In my experience as a Twin Cities trust attorney, I’ve actually found that the best place to start is by going through the general qualifications that a trust administrator should possess.  From there, you can think through your list of family and friends and choose someone whose personality and financial savvy make them the right fit for the job.

One of the most important qualifications to start with is trustworthiness.   This is an essential requirement, considering your administrator will be privy to all your financial information and will manage your estate upon your passing.  

You should feel confident knowing that your administrator will distribute your assets and manage your affairs as you’ve indicated, rather than use the proceeds of your estate as if it were their own personal bank account.  Thankfully, there are a number of laws intended to keep this type of financial abuse in check, but it still does happen and it’s hard to recover the proceeds of someone’s estate once they are gone.

Fair-mindedness is another trait a trust administrator should possess. Throughout the administration process, you’ll want your beneficiaries to be treated fairly and equally.  You don’t want to run into a situation where someone you’ve appointed shows favoritism towards certain family members and distributes your assets accordingly.

Another characteristic of a good trust administrator is loyalty-- to the trust and to the heirs. In a way, he or she is the keeper of the final wishes, and part of their job is ensuring that these wishes are carried out as set forth in the will or trust.

Finally, you’ll want to choose an administrator who is strong-minded and cool under pressure. Following the death of a loved one, emotions can run high among the heirs. A favorite candlestick holder can take on epic proportions when everyone thinks it should go to them.

Sometimes greedy beneficiaries believe their share is short. Other times, heirs think they should be getting their money immediately, either not realizing (or caring) that debts, liens, and other considerations have to be satisfied before any funds can be distributed.  Tensions can run high and your administrator should be prepared to keep such squabbles in check should fights break out regarding the terms of the trust.

While choosing a trust administrator is no doubt a tough decision to make, we are here to help guide you through the process.  Please do not hesitate to reach out to us as a resource if you need assistance setting up a trust and ultimately choosing an administrator to manage your estate upon passing.  Simply call our Minneapolis estate planning office at (763)231-7884 to set up a complimentary consultation.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Role of a Trust Administrator in the state of Minnesota

The Role of a Trust Administrator in the state of Minnesota

As a lawyer with extensive trust administration experience in Minnesota, I have seen that the death of a loved one, particularly if the deceased is a spouse or parent, is one of the most difficult periods in a person’s life.

At a time when the survivor is already struggling with loss and grief, the administration of the deceased’s trust can be an overwhelming and daunting task. That is why many beneficiary/trustees choose to “leave things the way they are” and ultimately take no action regarding the administration of their loved one’s estate. This is especially true if the trustee is the same person as the beneficiary.

Again, the  sheer magnitude of everything going on  is one reason for this, but beneficiaries/trustees also hesitate to administer their loved one’s estate out of fear they will encounter expensive legal costs, endless probate, or tax situations they may not be equipped to handle. Whatever the reason, people have been known to delay for months, or even years. Unfortunately, most of these beneficiary/trustees are unaware of the legal and fiduciary responsibilities of their position.

As a trust lawyer in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, part of my job is making sure my client is thoroughly informed about what to realistically expect from the trust. Most clients appreciate that assets held in trust are much easier to administer and distribute after death than through the probate process, but they also need to know that the successor trustee is required by law to do many things before the distribution of assets can occur. 

As the requirements and obligations for trust administration can vary from state to state, it is important to be conscious of the role and the responsibilities for the beneficiary/trustee in the state of Minnesota.  Duties include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Notifying beneficiaries
  • Valuation and Liquidation of Assets
  • Paying Debts and Taxes of the Trust
  • Filing Tax Returns
  • Distribution of Remainder of the Assets to Beneficiaries   

Additionally, it is compulsory for the trustee to follow the accounting and reporting requirements of the state and courts, and to be responsible for defending the trust against all claims of creditors or excluded heirs. Although the trustee may be unacquainted with all of these duties, an experienced trust lawyer knows exactly what is involved and can prepare forms and guide the administrator through the process.

That’s why for many people, having a lawyer who handles trust administration on their side makes this difficult time go more smoothly and eases the administrative burden of having to close out a loved one’s estate.   If you are now in this position and would like further information about how our firm can help you, please feel free to give our office a call and ask to schedule a complimentary consultation. 

Friday, June 17, 2011

Talking to your Children about their Inheritance

StoneLAW Suggests Letting Your Teens Know Now About Their Inheritance


Depending on your family’s lifestyle, your teenage children may already have an idea of what would happen if you and your spouse were to pass away. They may not know the exact dollar amount of the money that they would inherit, but they probably have an idea of who they would live with and that they would receive most of your assets if something happened.


As a Minneapolis and St. Paul estates lawyer, I know that many parents feel this information is sufficient enough for their minor children.  But having an open discussion with your teen can prevent them from being angry or confused if you have decided that he or she will not have access to their inheritance until they are a few years past the age of majority, such as 25 or 30 years old.


It is common knowledge that inheritances are distributed at the age of 18 or 21, unless the parents have set up a trust that makes the teen wait. If a teen anticipates these funds at 18, but discovers that you have made them wait until 25, they might get the wrong idea and feel that you made the decision because you did not trust him or her. And with you not there to defend your decision, the teen could be upset and confused.


The best way that we at StoneLAW feel that you can avoid this anger or confusion is to sit down and have a frank discussion with your teen.


Talk to them about the following issues:


- The amount of money that he or she is to inherit (you may also ballpark this figure)


- The age you feel is appropriate for the inheritance (i.e., 21 or 25 years old, etc.)


- The age that the teen feels is appropriate


- How you want the money to be spent, for example on college or the down payment on a house


- Whether there are other stipulations besides age for receiving the money. For example, you can set it up so that the teen can receive the money at any age, as long as he or she has graduated from college.


Doing what you can to eliminate secrets or surprises from your estate plan can not only bring your family together while you are still living, but it can make the grieving process easier for your kids after you are gone.


Let an estate planning attorney at StoneLAW help you with these decisions by setting up a free consultation. Call us today at (763)231-7884 to schedule your appointment.  

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Updating Your Estate Plan

Updating Your Will with an Estate Planning Attorney in the Twin Cities

As an estate planning attorney in Minneapolis, I commonly see people who understand the importance of the initial estate planning but then forget that they need to keep their wills and trusts up-to-date.  These documents aren’t something that should just be done once and then tucked into a safety deposit box never to be visited again.  Actually, there are several times in the course of your life that you need to dig out your wills and trusts and make changes.

  • Marriage – Obviously, when you get married, you will have a new spouse to consider when it comes to things like inheritance, living wills, and powers of attorney.
  • Divorce – If you don’t relish the thought of your ex receiving your estate, you may want to meet up with an estate planning attorney to make some changes.
  • Children – The addition of a child should trigger a need to reevaluate your will and other documents.  Estate planning is often thought of as a way to care for your children after your death, and that can only be done if you keep your documents current with the birth of each child.
  • Purchases – If you acquire new assets, whether in the form of real estate or something else of value, you will want to call your estate planning attorney to be sure it is covered in your will.
  • Health – You may find that certain health conditions cause you to reconsider the wishes outlined in your living will.  This ensures that your loved ones and healthcare providers are apprised of your decisions.
  • Insurance – Over the course of your insurance policy’s life, you may find that you want to change the terms, such as the type of coverage you have or the beneficiaries of your policy.  When changes like this occur, it is important to have an estate planning attorney reflect that in your legal documents.

An estate planning attorney will be current on federal, state, county, and city laws and will be able to guide you as you keep your wills and trusts up-to-date.  This protects you and your beneficiaries and can actually keep your will from being invalidated after your death.

So if it’s been awhile since you’ve updated your estate plan, I invite you to give our office a call and schedule a complimentary consultation to have your documents reviewed.  Simply call 612-867-6007 to get started.

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StoneLAW, PLLC is a boutique law firm that assists clients in Minneapolis, Saint Paul and throughtout the Twin Cities region including Osseo, Hamel, Wayzala, Long Lake, Hopkins and Loretto in Hennepin County, Wright County and Ramsey County.

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