Understanding Probate and Non-Probate Assets

When an individual passes away, his or her assets may or may not be required to go through the probate process in Tennessee’s probate court. The determination of whether probate is needed is often dependent on what types of assets were left by the decedent.  Often many beneficiaries of an estate may be confused about what is rightfully owed to them. By determining whether certain assets are required to go through probate, you will have a better understanding of what you may be entitled to as a beneficiary of an estate or what is required to probate an estate. This understanding can help to prevent any potential disputes in the probate process.

As mentioned, only certain assets are required to go through the probate process. Assets that were owned solely in the name of the decedent or assets that did not have beneficiary designations will need to go through the probate court in Tennessee. So what exactly does that mean? Here are a few common types of assets that are NOT required to go through the probate court:

  • Any type of 401K, IRA plan or other retirement plan that lists a specific individual as beneficiary. The listed beneficiary will receive the assets within the account without having to go through the probate court. However, if the estate is listed as the beneficiary or if there is no living beneficiary listed, the asset will be a probate asset.
  • Any assets that are owned jointly with another individual are not required to go through probate. This can include bank accounts, real estate, automobiles, or any other assets owned jointly. Specifically, real estate that is owned as joint tenants or tenants by the entirety with rights of survivorship will be considered a non-probate asset. Ownership of these assets will pass automatically upon the owner’s passing.
  • Any asset that has a “transferable on death” or “payable on death” designation which lists a specific individual as beneficiary will not be a probate asset.
  • Any life insurance policy that designates a specific beneficiary other than the estate will be considered a non-probate asset.

Any other types of assets that were solely owned by the decedent will have to go through the probate process. It is important for beneficiaries of the estate to understand what all comprises the estate. Many beneficiaries may misunderstand and think that everything owned by the decedent should be included within the estate. However, that is not the case. By recognizing what is required to go through the probate process, beneficiaries can better understand both what is required to be probated and what will be distributed as a part of the probate assets.

Even after determining that there are probate assets, Tennessee law provides several options for probating an estate. Depending on the type of assets within the estate, you may be able to expedite the probate process. If you have questions about probating an estate, be sure to contact the Nashville probate attorneys at The Higgins Firm. Our experienced team of Nashville probate lawyers will be able to answer your questions and guide you in the right direction.