By Jason DeRusha

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — There is something about that dramatic moment where the probate attorney opens the will and breaks the news. So, who needs a will and what happens if you don’t have one?

“Not everybody needs a will,” said probate attorney Norm Bjornnes, who has helped thousands of people set up an estate plan, including this reporter.

“In Minnesota, if you don’t have a will, the State of Minnesota has one for you,” he said, under a procedure called intestacy.

If you’re single and die without a will, your money “will go upstream to your parents, or if your parents are deceased, it will go out to the side to your siblings,” said Bjornnes.

If you’re married and die, your spouse gets everything if you don’t have a will. If you both die, the money goes to the children.

“The children are going to have legal right to the money itself at age 21. A lot of folks don’t want that to happen. They don’t want the kids to have access to too much too soon,” said Bjornnes.

According to Bjornnes, people with children need a will the most, not necessarily because of figuring out how to distribute the money.

“Guardianship with children is a very big deal,” he said.

If you don’t decide where your kids will go upon your death, a court will have to decide.

He also said that state law hasn’t really caught up with the explosion in blended families. It can be challenging without a will to figure out who gets which money, and which kids go where.

According to Minnesota law, you can disinherit your children, but you can’t disinherit your spouse. Basically, you can’t write your spouse out of your will.

So, if you want to leave all your money to charity, you could have trouble.

“That’s almost financially disinheriting your spouse and you can’t do that. So, yes, they can challenge your will,” he said, and the spouse would be likely to win.

Also, going to a lawyer isn’t the only choice for doing a legal will. In fact, if you wrote a will on a napkin in a bar, it might be legal.

“If you happen to have a couple of disinterested third parties with you at the bar, and they witness it, at the bar, with you, and they are both with you, witnessing each other, it would probably be an OK will,” said Bjornnes.

The same is true for wills you download off of the internet or write yourself at home. It’s best to have the signing witnessed by a notary.

“You don’t have to go to court, spend money, and do that, because the document speaks for itself,” he said.

Generally, single people with a small amount of money wouldn’t need to have a will. However, Bjornnes said “we deal a lot with dogs, pets, cats and providing for them.”

Typically, an estate plan includes a will, a power of attorney, and a medical care directive, and Bjornnes said for a single person that package can cost less than $1,000, for couples it’s typically less than $2,000.

Jason DeRusha

Comments (14)
  1. Pavel says:

    Good advice. Stated clearly and covers the needs of most individuals. Thank you!

    1. Mendota says:

      Not the information you need. Get quickens will maker and save the money paid to lawyers

      1. Tarbel says:

        About 40 dollars for that program and good for all states. Same will Lawyers draw up.

      2. Sure!! says:

        Then if you mess something up your survivors can ask Quicken what happened.

      3. What's that saying? says:

        Oh yeah. Penny wise; pound foolish!!

        You can cut you own hair too. Most people don’t. Why? Because they don’t know what they’re doing.

        But hey, you wanna save a few bucks doing something you know next to nothing about, by all means!!

  2. Rachel says:

    Definitely an interesting article, thanks for putting this out there!

  3. mom says:

    This article covered married people with children and single people, but it did not cover single mothers.

    1. Neko says:

      If you have children, you need a will. If you don’t have a will stating who will care for your children in the event of your death, the courts will have to find somoeone. Just like they would if a married couple with children died intestate.

      1. mom says:

        Thanks for the clarification, Neko. But where does the money go then? (If a single mom dies and doesn’t have a will).

  4. Bob says:

    Keep the damm government out of my affairs, Inheritance tax is double tax as it has been paid for by the folks who made the money in the first place The government is crooked and evil.

    1. mom says:

      Yes, it’s terrible how high the tax is for inheritance tax!!

  5. goldie says:

    Get a will. My mom and dad (but according to MN law – stepdad even though he raised me and my siblings died within minutes of each other in a car accident. Because my Mom didn’t live at 5 business days longer than my dad and they didn’t have a will, half of everything went to my dad’s brother, sister and nieces and nephews. They all knew our parents wishes but they had the state and law on their side. If you want to know the ethics of the main uncle? He married his own niece and had a kid. Get a will anyway you can or family will inherit who shouldn’t and the lawyers will get all the money and not you.