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An overview of probate in Tennessee

Like many other Tennessee residents who have lost loved ones, you may be surprised at how much there is to do after the death of your family member. Planning the funeral, obtaining a death certificate and coordinating a cremation or burial can feel like daunting and insurmountable tasks as you attempt to process your grief.

However, you somehow get through those tasks only to realize that there is still more to do. Your family member's estate may need to go through probate. You may not know what that entails, which only makes it seem even more complex and intimidating.

The basics steps of probate

At the basic level, probate accomplishes the following tasks:

  • Gathering and inventorying all assets
  • Notifying all heirs and beneficiaries
  • Notifying and paying all creditors
  • Paying all outstanding taxes
  • Distributing remaining assets

If your loved one executed a will, the distribution of the assets subject to probate will follow the instructions in that document. Tennessee also allows for a simplified probate process for estates under $50,000 that also do not involve real estate. If your loved one owned a home, you will not be able to use this process.

What assets go through probate?

Any property owned only by your family member upon death must go through probate. In order for heirs to legally own those assets, the assets must pass through this system. Some of those assets could include the following:

  • Real estate without the right of survivorship
  • Bank and credit accounts without a payable-on-death designation
  • Stocks, bonds and investments solely owned
  • Tangible personal property

Tangible personal property includes items such as televisions, clothes and furniture, among other things.

What assets don't go through probate?

Not every asset in which your loved one had an interest will need to go through probate. Some of those assets include the following:

  • Real estate with the right of survivorship
  • Bank and credit accounts with a payable-on-death designation
  • Life insurance policies with a beneficiary designation
  • Retirement accounts with a beneficiary designation

If your loved one had a revocable or irrevocable living trust, the property held in that trust will also not go through the probate process.

Can I get help with this process?

Absolutely. As the personal representative (or executor) of the estate, you are not required to fully understand or complete the process alone. You may enlist whatever assistance you need in order to properly and legally wrap up the estate. This could include involving an attorney, appraisers and other third parties, depending on the complexity and needs of the estate.

In addition, this process does not always go smoothly. An heir could contest the will or a creditor could object to the distribution of assets, among other things. Therefore, it may be to your advantage to involve an attorney who can advise you, guide you through this process and help you with any issues that arise.

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