If your spouse, parent, or another close relative recently died, you may be faced with handling your loved one’s estate. While the idea of managing that legacy may seem daunting, and you may have questions about whether the estate must go through probate, the process can be less overwhelming if you have an experienced, Tennessee probate lawyer to help you.
Steps in the Probate Process
As you begin the process of handling the estate, it’s important to determine if probate is necessary. Some property, such as property that is owned with others, retirement accounts, trust property, and other types of property, does not go to probate.
However, other property that was owned only by the decedent must go through the formal process of probate. Probate allows a Tennessee court to transfer ownership from the decedent to the new owner. If the estate property totals $50,000 or less, a simplified probate process is possible.
In other cases, the probate process generally follows these steps:
- Step 1 (with a will): The person named as the executor in the will files the original will with the probate court in the county where the decedent lived. The court will issue the executor “letters testamentary,” so that the executor can handle the decedent’s property.
- Step 1: (without a will): If your loved one died without a will, a close relative, such as a surviving spouse, adult child, or parent, will inform the probate court that your loved one died and ask the court to appoint them as the administrator of the estate. The court will issue the administrator “letters of administration,” so that the administrator can handle the decedent’s property.
- Step 2: The executor or administrator gets an IRS taxpayer ID number to open a checking account funded by the decedent’s property. This account will pay for probate and estate expenses.
- Step 3 (with a will): The validity of the written or holographic will is proven in court.
- Step 4: Creditors are informed of the decedent’s death and the open probate case. The executor or administrator notifies known creditors. Additionally, the probate court clerk publishes a death notice in the local newspaper to inform creditors. Creditors have four to twelve months to make a claim. During this time, many creditors will settle their debts with the executor or administrator of the estate.
- Step 5: The executor or administrator has 60 days from the date of court appointment to:
- Provide the court with an inventory of assets that will go through probate. This inventory may only be skipped if the will provides that it does not need to be filed or if all beneficiaries agree that it does not need to be filed.
- Notify all potential heirs.
- File a request for release with TennCare, so the state Medicaid agency won’t seek reimbursement from the estate for nursing home or home care that the decedent received.
- Step 6: The executor or administrator provides property to the heirs pursuant to an order of the probate court.
In some cases, the executor or administrator must take additional steps. For example, if the decedent owned property in a state other than Tennessee, the executor or administrator may need to file an ancillary probate case in that state.
You Don’t Have to Handle Probate by Yourself
If you need help handling probate for your loved one’s estate, contact our Tennessee probate lawyers who can help you open the estate, identify and protect assets, pay creditors, transfer assets to heirs, and close the estate. We will also handle any conflicts that arise and potential issues that come up.