Articles Posted in Probate

If you have experienced the death of a loved one, you know that the period of time following his or her passing can be a confusing and trying time. You may not know what to do or where to turn. If the person who passed, also known as the decedent, left behind assets, there are certain requirements that must be met in order to transfer those assets to the rightful recipients under the law. Those assets may or may not be required to go through the probate process in Tennessee. If you have questions about Tennessee probate, contact one of our Nashville probate attorneys.

Following the death of a loved one, one of the first things that should be done is a review of the decedent’s important documents. Many people may keep all of their essential documents together in a file or in a particular location. Reviewing these documents will help you to have a better picture as to discovering what types of assets or debts that the decedent may have had. An inspection of ownership documents of an asset can also enable you to determine whether or not an asset is a probate or a non-probate asset.

Also, looking through these documents may allow you to determine whether the decedent left behind a will or not. A will is used by the probate court to determine where any probate assets should be distributed. As mentioned above, there are both probate assets and non-probate assets. The probate courts in Tennessee will oversee the transfer of any probate assets.

Working as a Nashville probate attorney, I often hear a number of misconceptions that many people have when it comes to probate. When a loved one passes away, many people assume that they will be entitled to a portion of the decedent’s complete estate as provided in the will or the laws of intestacy. However, that may not be the case depending on a number of factors including the amount of debt a decedent had. If you have questions regarding what you may be entitled to in the probate process, contact the Nashville probate lawyers at The Higgins Firm.

Although you may have been named as a beneficiary of an estate, certain requirements must be met by the executor or administrator before any beneficiary recovers any of the assets from the estate. Specifically, there are certain priorities of claims that must be paid out before others receive a portion of the estate. Each class of claims must be paid out in its entirety before the next class of claims may be paid out. The first class of claims that are paid out includes administrative expenses, attorney’s fees and administrator’s fees. The second class of claims that are paid out includes funeral expenses. The third class of claims includes any types of taxes or assessments owed to the federal or state government. The fourth class of claims includes any claims made by creditors. Only after each of these classes of claims are paid out in full can the beneficiaries then receive a portion of the estate. If an estate cannot pay out all of the claims, it is considered to be insolvent and the beneficiaries will not receive any of the assets.

Obviously, the amount of debt that a decedent may have had will play a large part in determining whether or not the beneficiaries will recover from the estate. For the most part, debts are still required to be paid to creditors after someone dies. However, there are different types of debt including secured debt and unsecured debt. An unsecured creditor may be a credit card company or other business that does not have a secured interest in any specific property. The administrator or executor is required to send notice that an estate has been opened to any known or potentially known unsecured creditor of the estate. Unsecured creditors are required to file a claim with the estate in order to recover. Many unsecured creditors will send bills and collection notices to the individual in hopes of getting paid from the estate. However, the personal representative of the estate is not required to pay the unsecured creditor until a claim has been filed.

Recently, attorney Jim Higgins appeared on Nashville’s WSMV News and More at Midday to discuss the task of administering an estate. After someone passes away, often the estate will have to go through the probate process to ensure that debts are paid off and any assets are distributed. The probate court will appoint an executor or administrator, an individual that is responsible for making sure that these tasks are completed. Many people become appointed but do not understand what their responsibilities entail. If you have questions about your role as an executor or administrator of an estate in Tennessee, this video can provide an overview of your duties. Feel free to contact our Nashville probate lawyers should you have any more questions. Our team of Nashville based probate attorneys would be happy to explain the estate administration process in Tennessee.

There is good news for those who may be looking to utilize the small estate option in Tennessee. Recently, Governor Bill Haslam signed into law an amendment to the Small Estate Act. The amendment increases the size of an estate that may utilize a small estate affidavit from $25,000 to $50,000. This increase will allow even more individuals to look toward the small estate option.

So what are the benefits of a small estate administration? First and foremost, the small estate administration is a much faster process than fully probating the estate. While fully probating an estate will take at least four months, a small estate can often be opened and closed in the court within the same day. This allows any creditors to be paid faster and beneficiaries to receive their portion faster as well. Also, another benefit is that attorney’s fees will be much lower with a small estate. Because a small estate is a more streamlined process, there will not be as much legal work that needs to be done by an attorney.

You may be wondering what limitations are put on a small estate? There are two main qualifications regarding the small estate administration in Tennessee. The first qualification is that the value of the decedent’s property must not exceed $50,000. Second, the Small Estate Act requires that the property must be comprised of personal property individually held by the decedent at the time of passing. Personal property does NOT include any real property, or real estate in other words. If the decedent’s estate is valued at more than $50,000 or if the estate includes real property, then a small estate administration cannot be used. Rather, the estate would likely have to be fully probated.

As a Tennessee probate attorney, I field many different questions from clients and potential clients. Popular misconceptions or “urban legends” are the motivation behind some of these probate questions. Many people will assume a particular fact because they heard it from a friend or family member. However, like many areas of life, it is always best to take these probate “urban legends” with a grain of salt. If you have any probate questions, be sure to contact the Nashville probate attorneys at The Higgins Firm.

One of those popular misconceptions is that leaving one dollar to an heir in your will is the only way to disinherit that person. The thought process behind this concept is that by leaving a dollar to an individual in a will, that person cannot inherit any more than that amount. However, leaving a dollar to someone in your will is completely unnecessary. While the disinherited will in fact receive only a dollar, there is a much easier way if you are seeking to disinherit an individual. The alternative is as simple as not naming that individual within your will.

Some wills include an introductory clause stating that the decision to not provide for those not listed within the will is intentional. This is allows everyone to know that those not listed within the will have been excluded without the necessity of specifically naming individuals. By leaving someone out of your will, you are able to accomplish the goal of disinheriting the individual without calling more attention to the situation.

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.

Probate has somewhat undeservingly developed a negative reputation from some over the years. Certain people who have gone through the probate process may negatively talk about the cost or time required to probate an estate. However, for the probate process to work properly, there are certain requirements that must be met in order for an estate to be probated. These requirements allow the court to properly oversee the probate process which benefits both the personal representative and the beneficiaries of the estate. If you have any questions regarding probating an estate in the middle Tennessee area, contact our Nashville probate lawyers.

There are a number of benefits of probating an estate. The main benefit in probating an estate is the court’s oversight of the transfer of any assets owned solely in the name of the decedent. Certain entities like banks or other financial institutions will not allow for the transfer of assets without an order from the probate court. When the probate court issues an order, this signifies that the court has given oversight to the last will and testament or the next of kin to transfer the estate’s assets. This oversight enables a bank or other institution to then transfer the assets without any fear of transferring to the wrong party. In other words, the court is able to verify who should receive what assets according to the will or laws of intestacy.

Probate ensures that the transfer of assets is done in an open and orderly manner. Without a court overseen process, assets could be transferred to the wrong person or they could be transferred in the incorrect amount. In addition, a person could claim to have distributed all of the assets without actually having some way to verify that fact. The probate court allocates authority to the personal representative (person nominated executor in the will or appointed administrator) to pay off any debts that the decedent may have had and to distribute any remaining assets within the estate. The court requires that the personal representative complete certain requirements to ensure that the proper steps have been taken.

One of the questions that I often get is, “How long does probate take in Tennessee?” Although many times it is very simple, the probate process can become very complicated depending on what type of assets or debts are within the estate.  As a result, an estate can remain open for a longer period of time depending on certain factors.

Fully probating an estate (not a small estate) takes a minimum of four months following the time of first publication. After an estate has been opened with the court, publication is made within a local newspaper notifying any potential creditors that the estate has been opened. During this four month period, creditors are then able to file a claim against the estate for the repayment of any debts that the decedent may have incurred. After this required four month period, an estate can be closed assuming that all debts have been paid and all of the necessary requirements have been met.

It is important to keep in mind that four months is the bare minimum amount of time that an estate will remain open. There is no guarantee that the estate will be closed at the end of the four month period. Often estates will remain open for a month or two longer depending on whether certain steps have been completed or not.

Recently, attorney Jim Higgins appeared on Nashville’s WSMV to talk about what happens when someone passes away without a will. Although there are a number of benefits to having a will in place, it is not the end of the world if you do not have one. The important difference when someone dies without a will in place is that the state determines where the decedent’s assets will go rather than the specific person before his or her passing. Tennessee state law has set forth where the assets should be distributed based solely upon family relationships rather than any specific need that a certain family may have. Obviously, people have the ability to determine where they want their assets to go, and a will serves that very purpose. However, in leaving such an important decision up to state statutes, there is not the flexibility to determine where you want any of your stuff to go after you’re gone. If you have any questions about any probate matters in Tennessee, be sure to contact the Nashville probate attorneys at The Higgins Firm.

You may or may not have a will in place. In fact, a large portion of the population does not even have a will. Although it is always best to have a will in place for a number of reasons, Tennessee law sets forth where a person’s assets are to be distributed if he or she dies without a will. The legal term for the person who died is the “decedent” while the term for dying without a will is known as dying “intestate.” Accordingly, the laws of intestacy set forth how an individual’s estate, or more simply put things, will be divided upon his or her death. This determination is based strictly on familial relationships. Obviously, not every family situation would be best suited by a distribution of assets based upon the law.

Under the Tennessee laws of intestacy, the statutes set forth which relatives can recover and exactly how much they receive. Obviously, if the decedent had a spouse and/or children, they are given priority.  If a decedent left a spouse without any children, the spouse is to receive the entire estate. If the decedent left a spouse and children, the surviving spouse will receive either one-third of the entire estate or a child’s share of the estate, whichever one is bigger. In other words, the smallest portion of the estate that the surviving spouse could recover would be one-third. If the decedent left only one child, the surviving spouse and child would split the estate with each receiving one-half.

If the decedent did not leave a surviving spouse, priority of the distribution of the decedent’s assets is given as follows. First priority is given to any children with each child to be given an equal share of the entire estate. However, if there are no surviving children of the decedent, the parents of the decedent are to recover in equal shares of the entire estate. If the decedent does not have any surviving parents, the estate is divided up between the decedent’s siblings or the siblings’ children if the sibling is no longer living. If the decedent does not have any surviving siblings or children of the surviving siblings, the estate is divided among the decedent’s grandparents.