There are two different tracks one can take when an estate needs to go through the probate process in Minnesota: formal and informal. Informal probate is the most commonly used form, and is easiest for parties to use when the assets are straightforward and when everyone involved gets along. However, there are situations where formal probate is strongly recommended or even required.
The formal probate process is required in many situations, including the following: when there are problems with the will that a judge needs to review, when the heirs are not known, when the will is missing, when there are minor heirs, when known heirs do not get along, or when there are expected to be problems with the administration. Also, if the estate is insolvent (meaning there is more debt than assets), then formal proceedings are required.
The informal probate process uses a registrar instead of a judge who approves the estate to proceed informally and makes sure the paperwork is complete. The registrar is not involved between when the estate is approved and when the final accounting is due. This process has less oversight by the court and additional costs from hearings are not incurred.
The formal process starts with a hearing in front of a district court judge. The court reviews the paperwork and approves the Personal Representative (PR). At that point, the PR is able to work to resolve all outstanding issues in the estate. The estate may either be supervised, meaning the court must sign off on any distributions to heirs before they are made, or unsupervised, meaning the PR does not need the court to approve anything before closing the estate. In all estates, the court requires the PR to submit an accounting of everything they did.
Depending on the circumstances in your situation, one track may be better suited for you than the other. Speaking with an experienced probate attorney can help you to identify which route to take.