At some point in your life, there is an excellent chance that you will be directly involved in the probate of an estate. Your involvement might be the result of being appointed as the Executor of the estate or because you are a beneficiary or heir of the estate of someone who recently passed away. Regardless of the reason, it helps to understand the process if you find yourself involved in it. With that in mind, a Murfreesboro probate attorney at Bennett | Michael | Hornsby offers a guide to the Tennessee probate process.
What Is Probate?
Most people leave behind money, property, and other things of value when they pass away. These assets make up the estate of a decedent. Probate is the name given to the legal process by which a decedent’s estate is inventoried, valued, and eventually passed down to beneficiaries and/or heirs of the estate. Most estates are required to go through probate; however, most states do offer a small estate alternative to formal probate that can save an estate both time and money.
If the decedent left behind a valid Last Will and Testament, the person named as the Executor in that document is responsible for overseeing the probate of the estate. If the decedent died intestate (without a Will), an adult friend or family member typically steps up and petitions to be appointed as the Personal Representative (PR), assuming essentially the same duties and responsibilities as an Executor.
Tennessee Probate Guide
- Search for estate planning documents. Shortly after a loved one passes away, family and friends will usually search for the decedent’s Will and other important estate planning documents. If a Will is located, the original copy is submitted to the appropriate court (Chancery court unless a separate probate court exists) to open probate. The Executor or PR also needs to submit a certified death certificate and a petition to open probate to the court.
- Letters Testamentary are issued. Whether confirming the decedent’s wishes as found in a Will or consider the issue anew, the court must officially appoint the Executor/PR. When that happens, the court issues “Letters Testamentary” that provide the Executor/PR with the authority necessary to oversee the administration of the estate.
- Identification and marshalling of assets. All estate assets must be identified and secured by the Executor/PR. This can entail anything from simply closing a financial account to arranging to run a business while probate is underway. The Executor/PR may be required to complete an inventory and submit it to the court.
- Valuing and categorizing assets. For each asset, a date of death (DOD) value must be ascertained. Each asset must also be categorized as a probate or a non-probate asset with non-probate assets bypassing the probate process. Examples of non-probate assets include things such as assets held in a trust, proceeds of a life insurance policy, and assets held in a retirement account.
- Notification to creditors. Creditors of the estate have the right to be notified directly or via publication in a local newspaper. Creditors must file a claim against the estate within four months of the notice to creditors or their claim is forever barred. Approved claims are paid using estate assets. If an estate lacks sufficient liquid assets to pay all approved claims and expenses, assets may need to be sold to provide the necessary funds. If the estate lacks sufficient assets to satisfy all claims and expenses, funds are allocated according to the order of priority established under Tennessee law. State and/or federal taxes, including gift and estate taxes, are considered a priority claim and must, therefore, be paid before assets can be distributed to beneficiaries.
- Transferring assets to beneficiaries and/or heirs. Only after all expenses and claims have been satisfied can the Executor/PR start distributing assets to the beneficiaries according to the terms of the Will and/or to legal heirs according to the Tennessee intestate succession rules.
Contact a Murfreesboro Probate Attorney
If you have additional questions or concerns about the Tennessee probate process, consult with an experienced Murfreesboro probate attorney at Bennett | Michael | Hornsby as soon as possible. Contact the team today by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your free appointment.
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