Simply put, probate is the process for transferring a deceased person’s assets to his or her heir. If the deceased had a last will and testament, the assets will be distributed as outlined in the will. If there is no will, assets will be passed on according to Tennessee inheritance law. Either way, the process will involve probate court and could take up to two years—or sometimes even longer—depending on how complicated the estate is.
Even the most dedicated do-it-yourselfer would be wise to hire an attorney to represent the estate throughout the probate process. Attorney Dan Perry understands the probate process in Tennessee and can help ensure a smooth transition of assets.
How Does Probate Work in Tennessee?
The probate process can be long and complicated. Along with coping with the death of a loved one, the surviving family members could be caught up in a legal process that could take many months to conclude. With the help of an attorney, the following steps in the probate process could move along much more quickly:
- Appoint an executor. If there is a will, an executor should be named in it. If there is no will, an executor will have to be appointed by the court. The role of the executor is to settle the estate, pay remaining bills, and see to it that assets are distributed according to the will or state law.
- Hire a lawyer. The executor is not a legal expert and should not attempt this complex legal proceeding alone. Hiring a lawyer will ensure that everything is handled efficiently and legally.
- File probate court pleadings. This initial set of court pleadings will include a petition to confirm the executor to the court, an order admitting the last will and testament to probate, and a series of waivers signed by those who are set to inherit under the will.
- Attend a probate hearing. The executor and attorney will attend a court hearing to confirm the appointment of the executor and to grant the executor access to the deceased’s frozen assets so that he can pay bills and liquidate property.
- Settle Medicaid accounts. If the deceased received Medicaid benefits through TennCare, the agency has the right to be reimbursed for those benefits out of the deceased’s estate. This is a complicated process that should be handled by the attorney for the estate.
- Settle tax debt. Statements from the IRS and State of Tennessee will have to be collected and settled.
- Obtain a list of assets. The executor and attorney will have to obtain a list of all probate property owned by the deceased. This may include any financial accounts without beneficiary designations, bank accounts without payable-on-death (POD) designations, real estate, personal property in the home, cars, vehicles, and boats.
- Obtain a list of debts. This may include medical bills, unpaid credit cards, electric and water bills, funeral bills, and any other miscellaneous unpaid bills. Creditors must be notified and debts must be settled.
- Sell real estate. If there is real estate to sell, the executor and lawyer will need to file a petition to sell the real estate and await an order from the court authorizing the executor to sell the real estate.
- Report to the court. One of the final major steps in the probate court process is that the executor and their lawyer will need to periodically, and again at the end of the proceeding, file a detailed accounting and inventory of all of the assets and expenses of the estate, including any spending done on behalf of the estate.
This list gives you a general idea of the many tasks involved in settling an estate through probate. While somewhat simplified, you can see that a great deal of work needs to be done to settle an estate and that, without the help of an attorney, there are many places where things can go wrong.
Avoiding Probate for Your Heirs
Often, when someone has been through the probate process after a loved one has died, he wants to know if there is a way to avoid the same process with his estate when he dies. The simple answer is yes, but it will take advanced planning and the help of an experienced estate planning attorney. Ensuring that all of your financial accounts with payable-on-death designations have named beneficiaries and establishing living revocable trusts for all of your assets will ensure that your assets will pass directly to your loved ones, rather than going through probate. Attorney Dan Perry can work with you on an estate plan that will protect your assets and honor your wishes upon your death.
Call Dan Perry at Thomas Walters, PLLC Today!
Whether you are the executor of a loved one’s will or you are hoping to make an estate plan that avoids probate for your heirs, estate planning attorney Dan Perry can help. He will put his experience in Tennessee estate law to work for you and your loved ones. Call today at 615-472-2482 to learn more.