If an owner of a property in the Twin Cities has died, that person is not available to sign a deed transferring ownership of the property to a buyer. Either the decedent’s name has to be removed from the title or someone has to have authority to sign the deed instead of the decedent.
In Minnesota, when title is vested in more than one owner, it is either as tenants in common or as joint tenants. If the deed whereby the owner received title to the property states “to X and Y grantees as joint tenants,” X and Y will then own the property as joint tenants. If, however, the deed states “to X and Y grantees” without the words “joint tenants,” X and Y will own the Minnesota property as tenants in common.
Title held as joint tenants give each owner an undivided interest in the entire property and the right of survivorship. There must be a minimum of two owners but there can be more than two. When one of the owners dies, his interest passes to the surviving owner(s). To remove the deceased owner from the title of a Minnesota property, an Affidavit of Survivorship and a Death Certificate must be recorded. Then a deed signed by the surviving joint tenant(s) to the buyer can be recorded.
Owners of real property who hold title as tenants in common each own a fractional interest in the title to the property. When one owner dies, that interest passes to the owner’s devisees under his Will or, if he had no Will, to his heirs as determined by state law, subject to the order of the Probate Court. A court probate proceeding must be commenced in the county where he resided at the time of death so that a personal representative of the decedent’s estate can be appointed. The person appointed as the personal representative then has the authority to sign a deed transferring title to the buyer. The personal representative first signs the purchase agreement and then signs the deed at closing. A Personal Representative’s Deed is used rather than a Warranty or Quit Claim Deed.
A probate proceeding is also necessary when the sole owner of property has died so that a personal representative can be appointed to sign a deed.
In a probate situation, certified copies of Letters Testamentary” or “Letters of General Administration,” the Will (if any) and a court order or statement admitting the Will of probate must be recorded along with the deed signed by the personal representative. The date of the certification of the Letters must be on or after the date the deed was signed. If the property is Torrens, the documents must be approved by the Title Examiner of the county in which the property is located.
For more details on the documents needed to transfer title when the owner has died, please see the White Pages of the Minnesota Title Standards. Consulting with a real estate or probate attorney is usually advisable.