Domicile, Venue, and Probate

icon of a bridgeAt the end of the life of a family member or close friend, there can be many important steps to take, even after the immediate needs of notifying family and making funeral arrangements have been attended to.  One of these first steps is to probate the estate of the deceased.  Whether or not the deceased had a will at the time of his or her death, probate will be the process used to gather the assets of the deceased, pay creditors in order of the priority set out in Minnesota statute, and distribute the remaining assets to heirs or beneficiaries.  Before any of these steps can be taken, it is important that the probate case be opened in the right place.

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When choosing the proper place to open the probate case, a personal representative needs to make sure the chosen court is the right “venue.”  Venue is a legal term meaning the proper court where the case needs to be brought.  Minnesota statute 254.3-201 provides that the proper venue for a probate case is the county where the decedent was domiciled at the time of his or her death.  Note that venue is not determined by the place where the decedent was physically located at the time of his or her death.  Domicile is not defined in the Minnesota probate code.  Other law sources provide that “domicile” means the person’s physical presence in a county in combination with an intent to make that place home.  A person’s domicile is the place that the person calls “home,” does not have any present intention to move, and when gone, intends to return to that place.

Domicile is fairly straight forward when a decedent has made his or her home in one county on a long term basis, has community ties there, makes investments there, and all the other actions typically involved in making a place “home” and putting down roots.  The issue can become more complicated in probate cases, however, when the decedent was in a long-term nursing home or medical facility for an extended period before death.  In such a situation, the decedent likely did not have any true intention of returning to his or her “home,” but that will not necessarily change the decedent’s domicile for probate purposes.  Where the decedent has the intention and desire to stay and where he or she has the most significant ties and connections is more likely to be ruled the domicile for purposes of probate, rather than just the county where the long term nursing home facility was located.

Call us today at (651) 371-9117 for a consultation.  We can speak with you about the legal requirements for probate cases at all stages.

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