A Simple Probate ... Really?

There are lots of questions about the issues associated with the probate court proceedings for families following the death of a loved one. Some say it is easy, some say it is hard, some say it is horrible, and some say, “I never had to go through probate.”

When I hear these statements and claims, sorry to say, I call B.S. There is no such thing as a simple probate case.

Probate will always be difficult in one degree or another. To illustrate this point, I want to share with you a story.

Jane’s mother died following a short illness. Jane was an only child, and her mother, before her death established her Last Will and Testament. In her Will, she left everything she owned to her daughter, Jane, and also named Jane as the executor of her estate. Her mother’s estate was fairly modest. She owned a home, some modest personal property, and a few bank accounts totaling approximately $80,000. Jane’s mother also had a few debts. She had a few credit cards and medical bills totaling about $20,000.

By all accounts this was going to be a simple probate.

After struggling to figure out the probate court system herself, Jane, decided to just go ahead and hire a lawyer. The lawyer put together the initial pleadings and filed them with the probate court. Three weeks later, Jane and her lawyer appeared in court to formally open the probate estate and to be formally named as executor of her mother’s estate.

There were no problems or issues at the court hearing. The probate estate was opened, Jane was named as executor, and she proceeded with paying the bills, closing the bank accounts, she held an estate sale, sold the personal property that she didn’t want to keep, and then put the house on the market for sale. With the assistance of a realtor, she sold the home in 30 days for a sale price of $300,000. Her lawyer filed the necessary pleadings with the court to close the probate estate. As all the property had been distributed to Jane, this was an easy process. Finally, she had to pay the lawyer’s fees and the court fees out of the probate estate, which ended up being $15,000.

A few months later, Jane had to hire an accountant to file her mother’s final income tax return.

This simple process required Jane to hire a lawyer, hire an accountant, and go through a public probate court proceeding that lasted seven months before her mother’s estate was settled, the property was distributed, and her mother’s old home was sold.

Was this simple? I would say a court proceeding that required seven months to complete, one where Jane couldn’t access her inheritance fully during that time, and one that cost her $15,000 in lawyer fees and court costs, as well as professional fees to an accountant at year’s end, is not what I would call a simple probate … and among attorneys, this is a simple probate!

 

If this was a simple probate, then how bad can it get?

 

Most families that we work with do not have as simple of an estate such as this. Many of the families that we work with will have different issues with their probate estate including:

 

  • Business Owners
  • Second Marriages
  • Children from First Marriages and From Second Marriages
  • Step-Children
  • Children Taking Over the Family Business
  • Children With Divorcing Spouses, Creditors, Lawsuits, and Other Issues
  • Property in Other States
  • Children in Same-Sex Marriages with Adopted Children
  • Grandchildren and Adopted Grandchildren
  • Investment Accounts and Retirement Accounts
  • Children Who Live Out-of-State
  • Mortgage and Other Debt
  • 2nd Home or Other Real Estate

 

Easy to see isn’t it? I probably named a few issues that are existent in your own estate, and that your family will be working through after your death. If you have even one of these issues above, don’t think for a minute that your estate will be as easy to settle as Jane’s.

If you have questions about probate administration, estate settlement, or you think it’s time to plan your estate so that your family doesn’t go through what Jane went through, then give please call your Nashville, Tennessee estate planning attorney, Dan Perry, today at (615) 472-2482 to schedule an initial planning session.

Daniel A. Perry
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Focused on helping seniors, individuals with disabilities and small business owners make informed decisions.
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