A recent news article about a probate fight going on in Dallas, Texas prompted the following look into an interesting concept known as the “laughing heir.”
The dispute in Texas revolved around a case where a man died without a will and a lengthy process (more than a year) of identifying all possible relatives ensued. The search turned up 11 heirs on the decedent’s maternal side along with 168 heirs on the decedent’s paternal side. In an attempt to avoid such time consuming searches in the future, the Texas legislature is considering adopting a laughing heir statute which would eliminate the inheritance right to similarly remote relatives.
The article pointed out that Texas is one of a very few number of states without an existing laughing heir statute. To bring the case home a bit, let’s spend some time discussing Minnesota’s laughing heir statute and how it works.
What’s a laughing heir?
First things first, why on earth is it called a “laughing heir” statute?
The phrase “laughing heir” refers to someone who is legally entitle to inherit from a decedent but, because of the distant relationship, has no reason to feel grief at the decedent’s death. Rather than a devastated heir, the heir is laughing all the way to the bank thanks to his fortunate blood relationship with the recently deceased.
Why do we have laughing heir laws?
Rather than waste time and money tracking down these remote relatives who have no actual connection to the deceased, states passed laws that limited their inheritance rights. This move is a pretty selfish one on the part of states, because in the states with laughing heir laws, rather than have an estate pass to distant relatives, the money instead escheats to the state itself.
The term “escheats” refers to a common law doctrine which transfers the property of a person who dies without heirs to the state. The doctrine helps ensure that property is not left in limbo without recognized ownership. That means by passing a laughing heir statute, the money passes directly to the government of Minnesota. In states without laughing heir statutes, the distant relatives would have priority over the state government to a decedent’s estate.
So what does a laughing heir statute do?
The state’s laughing heir statute is contained in the Minnesota Uniform Probate Code and it works by eliminating the intestate inheritance rights of relatives that are more remote than the decedent’s grandparents and their descendants.
In other words, any person that is related to the recently deceased person through great-grandparents or beyond would not receive any inheritance, which would instead escheat to the State of Minnesota.
Minnesota’s laughing heir statute is found in Section 524.2-103 of Minnesota Statutes and sets the outer limits of the right to inheritance with grandparents, aunts and uncles, and first cousins.
Under the Code, heirs that are farther removed from the deceased are left with no claim to the estate at all. Minnesota’s law was updated in 2008 which added a provision that said inheritance rights were extended to descendants of the recently deceased person’s spouse.
An experienced Minnesota estate planning lawyer can help guide you through complicated aspects of the probate process, tackling difficult questions along the way. For more information on estate planning in Minnesota, along with a variety of other topics, contact Joseph M. Flanders of Flanders Law Firm at (612) 424-0398.
See Our Related Blog Posts: