Probate laws in Tennessee play an important role in the orderly distribution of a person’s assets after they die and help to settle their affairs. The probate process typically begins when you hire an attorney who will file a petition on your behalf in the appropriate probate court, initiating the legal proceedings.
The court then appoints a Personal Representative (aka the executor) to oversee the estate, and their primary responsibility is to manage the assets and debts of the deceased loved one. Notification of heirs and beneficiaries is a critical step to ensure all interested parties are aware of the probate proceedings.
If you are nominated or appointed as a Personal Representative, there are several things you’ll want to keep in mind to ensure a seamless probate process.
Probate Court Jurisdiction and Venue
In Tennessee, your attorney will file for probate in the county where your loved one lived at the time of their death. This is wherever they consider to be their permanent home.
Across Tennessee, your probate case may be heard in a different type of court than a friend’s in another county. For example, in Davidson County the Circuit Court hears probate cases while in Rutherford County they are handled in General Sessions Court. Many counties process probate petitions through their Chancery Court. An experienced probate attorney will be able to tell you the procedure in the county where you live.
Tennessee Intestacy Laws
Intestacy laws in Tennessee come into play when there is no valid will. These laws dictate the distribution of assets when a person passes away without explicit instructions, outlining the order of inheritance among surviving family members.
Myth-busting: Many people are concerned that if they do not have a will, the government will take their belongings instead of their family. While there are certain exceptions where the government can claim funds that are owed to them, your closest family members will inherit if you do not have a will.
Validity and Execution of Wills
Tennessee recognizes several types of wills, from handwritten wills to the ones you think of that are typed up and signed in a lawyer’s office in front of a notary. Each type of will has different requirements in order to be “admitted to probate.” This just means that the court needs to make sure that the will is authentic before it is acted on.
The law is specific about how that authentication can happen. Probate laws delineate the requirements for a valid will and the various types of wills recognized in the state. Ensuring compliance with these stipulations is imperative for a seamless probate process.
Probate Inventory and Appraisal
Part of the probate process involves creating an inventory of the deceased’s assets and how much those assets are worth. This allows the heirs and beneficiaries to know what to expect in terms of inheritance and for the court to require insurance to protect those funds if needed.
Many people are concerned about their privacy if the inventory is made a part of the public record, but informal inventories are often used instead of filing as part of the public record. This can be written into your will or agreed to by your family after your death.
Creditor Claims and Debts
To handle creditor claims and debts, personal representatives must notify creditors and prioritize the settlement of outstanding debts so ensure that the distribution of assets is fair and equitable.
One primary responsibility of the personal representative is to pay any valid claims of the estate. Your attorney will assist you in notifying creditors, both by mail and in the newspaper, so that they can come forward and file claims if there is money owed. Your attorney will guide you through the process of evaluating whether those claims are valid and paying them (if appropriate).
Estate Administration and Accounting
Once all assets have been gathered and all creditors have been paid, it’s time to distribute the funds. An accounting, whether formal or informal, will assist the personal representative in getting the numbers right. Depending on family dynamics and the requirements of the will, the accounting may or may not need to be filed with the Court’s Clerk.
While the term “accounting” sounds scary, all it means is that you are keeping track of what funds come into and out of the estate. Your attorney will assist you in preparing the accounting if one is required by the court.
Will Contests and Disputes
Probate laws in Tennessee address the possibility of will contests and disputes, outlining the grounds for contesting a will and the specific procedures involved in resolving such disputes.
(Want to disinherit someone? As our team says, “No one is entitled to an inheritance.”)
Probate Taxation in Tennessee
Probate taxation is an overview of estate taxes, potential tax liabilities, and exemptions are governed by Tennessee probate laws. Understanding and following the laws around taxation ensures proper estate planning and compliance.
Although Tennessee no longer has an inheritance or estate tax, taxes are still an important process of probate and estate planning. As part of the probate process, the personal representative will be responsible for filing the deceased person’s final income tax return, as well as any federal estate taxes. There may also be state tax returns due based on what types of assets the decedent had.
Your attorney and accountant will assist you with maintaining the deadlines and knowing what these requirements are.
Closing the Probate Estate
In the final phase of the probate process, assets are distributed to heirs and beneficiaries, and the personal representative or administrator is officially dismissed of their duties. Take some time to celebrate – you’ve made it!
Common Issues and Pitfalls
The probate process takes a lot of time and effort (and maybe three hundred takeout coffees). The costs include court filing fees, attorney fees and possibly personal representative fees, which adds up. It’s important to have an attorney who knows the laws and the best way to complete the process efficiently so as much money goes to the people that your loved one wanted to have it.
Most people want to know how long the process will take or have heard horror stories out of other states (looking at you, Florida!).
In Tennessee, it can take as little as six months, depending on when your person died, how fast the court moves, the assets involved, family dynamics, and other variables. In most cases, it takes at least a year, and often more. If everyone gets along, it’s not such a bad process, and the attorney will handle much of it for you.
We also encourage the use of an after-loss professional like Sunny Care Services who can take some of the most frustrating tasks off your plate.
If you’ve become the Personal Representative for your loved one’s estate and want to prevent a lengthy probate process, it’s a good idea to start planning now. Talk with an attorney who has experience with probate and estate planning. (Psst – that’s us!)
Recent Developments in Tennessee Probate Laws
Probate laws are subject to change, and recent developments, including legislative updates and notable court decisions, can impact the probate landscape. Staying informed about these changes will help you navigate the probate process instead of asking, “Is it over now?” when you’re only halfway through.
Fortunately, Graceful Aging Legal Services can help you stay informed on such topics with our newsletter. Sign up today!