Probate can be an intimidating process for someone who’s never been through it before. There’s paperwork to file, deadlines to meet, and numerous tasks to complete when probating an estate. Whether you’re the executor of an estate or the beneficiary of a will, you probably have some questions about probate.
At Batson Nolan PLC, our Dover probate lawyers are here to help with your probate needs. Our team of probate lawyers is knowledgeable and well-versed in the intricacies of probate law in Tennessee. We take the necessary steps to create a smooth probate process for you and your family. Contact us today.
What Is Probate?
Probate is the legal process of settling a deceased person’s affairs. A court supervises the administration of the estate, and the entire process is subject to Tennessee probate law. Probate looks different for every estate, so no two proceedings are the same. However, here are some tasks that are typically part of the probate administration process:
- Filing a petition for probate;
- Attending a hearing in probate court;
- Proving the validity of a will, if one exists;
- Appointing an executor to administer the estate;
- Identifying and valuing the decedent’s assets;
- Notifying creditors, heirs, and beneficiaries;
- Paying the decedent’s debts and taxes; and
- Distributing any remaining property to the legal heirs and beneficiaries.
Probate can be a costly and time-consuming undertaking. Let our Dover probate lawyer step in and help you.
What Does the Probate Process Look Like?
While the end goal of the probate process is for the executor to distribute estate assets according to the terms of the decedent’s will, there are quite a few steps before reaching that point. First, if the decedent had a valid will, the person named as the executor in the will takes the document to the county clerk’s probate office. In the event that the decedent did not have a will, the court will appoint an administrator for the estate—often the decedent’s surviving spouse or an adult child. Once the court formally appoints an executor or administrator, the court issues “letters testamentary,” which is a legal document giving the executor or administrator the power to take control of the estate.
After the court appoints an executor, the next step is for that person to identify all estate assets, value these assets, and pay any estate debts. The executor typically opens up a checking account in the name of the estate to cover the expenses associated with administering the estate. If an estate is subject to federal estate tax, it is the executor’s duty to pay those taxes out of the estate assets.
Ultimately, once the administrator pays all the estate’s debts, they can then distribute the assets under the terms of the will. In some cases, this is a smooth process. However, sometimes a disinherited heir may challenge the validity of the will. This is referred to as a will contest. Most will contests stem from allegations that the will did not comply with the strict procedural requirements of a will in Tennessee. Or, the person contesting the will could assert that it was created as a result of undue influence or fraud. The Dover probate attorneys at Batson Nolan PLC, have more than a century of experience helping families navigate the complexities of the probate process.
Does Every Estate Need to Go Through Probate?
Only estates with certain assets need to go through probate. If the decedent dies with assets titled solely in their name, then probate is necessary. Alternatively, if the decedent only owned assets that are jointly titled or have a beneficiary designation (also known as non-probate assets), then probate can be avoided. Some examples of non-probate assets are retirement accounts, life insurance policies, property titled as joint tenants with rights of survivorship, and “payable-on-death” bank accounts. With non-probate assets, they automatically transfer to the surviving joint owner or named beneficiary when the decedent dies. Thus, there’s no need for probate.
Tennessee offers a simplified version of probate if the estate’s value does not exceed $50,000. This is called a small estate administration and takes significantly less time than a full probate proceeding.
When you work with our Dover probate attorney, we can help value the decedent’s estate so you know which type of probate is appropriate.
How Long Does It Take for an Estate to Go Through Probate?
Probate can range anywhere from a few months to multiple years to complete. The timeline varies based on the estate’s complexity and how quickly the probate court can schedule a hearing. Here are some factors that can prolong the probate process:
- Estates with tax implications;
- Assets that are hard to value or sell;
- Someone files a lawsuit against the estate; and
- Lack of a valid will.
Our probate lawyers are prepared to take on even the most complex estate and get it through probate. We’ll educate you along the way so you feel confident about what lies ahead.
How Much Does Probate Cost?
Probate can be expensive, but it depends on how difficult it is to administer the estate. Probate involves filing fees, executor compensation, notification publication fees, and the costs of hiring professionals, such as accountants and appraisers. For example, if the decedent left only a car and a bank account, probate will be much less expensive than if the decedent owned several businesses. If the estate is involved in litigation, that will substantially increase the cost of probate.
The estate is responsible for paying all probate fees.
Is Probate Necessary If There’s No Will?
Whether or not the decedent left a will doesn’t determine the need for probate. Again, it’s the type of assets in the estate that determine if probate is necessary. However, the probate process is much more complicated when there’s no will.
In Tennessee, when a decedent dies without a will, it’s called dying intestate. Tennessee’s intestate succession laws apply, and the decedent’s assets are distributed based on what the law says. Essentially, there’s a hierarchy of surviving heirs who will inherit the estate based on their relationship to the decedent. Spouses inherit first, then children, then the decedent’s parents, then the decedent’s siblings, and so on until all assets are transferred.
Are There Ways to Avoid Probate?
With proper estate planning, probate can be avoided entirely. As discussed above, probate is only necessary if the decedent dies with assets in their individual name. By retitling assets or putting certain designations on them, it’s possible to spare your family the hassle of probate.
The probate attorneys at Batson Nolan PLC can create an estate plan that avoids probate and satisfies your goals.
How Can a Probate Lawyer Help Me?
Most estate executors have never served in that capacity before. This inexperience can lead to uncertainty and confusion. Hiring a lawyer to help you through probate can save time, money, and stress. Probate is a multi-step process with many opportunities for error- so having an experienced probate attorney can prevent delays that could unnecessarily deplete the value of an estate. The probate lawyers at Batson Nolan PLC
offer the following services:
- Determining the type of probate administration necessary;
- Identifying whether an expedited alternative may be available for smaller estates;
- Filing the probate petition;
- Communicating with the probate court;
- Conducting an inventory of all assets;
- Sending notice to interested parties; and
- Preparing final income and estate tax returns.
If someone sues the estate, we can also represent you in probate court. For example, an heir may argue that the decedent’s will is invalid because it was created under duress. This is called a will contest proceeding and requires the legal expertise of a competent attorney. If not properly and expeditiously handled, a will contest can dramatically increase both the cost and length of the probate process.
Contact the Dover Will and Probate Attorneys at Batson Nolan PLC
It’s difficult to go through the loss of a loved one. Our Dover probate attorneys can help you during this challenging time by taking on probate tasks and allowing you time to grieve properly.
We are a client-focused law firm that has been helping Tennessee families transfer their wealth since 1860. Whether you need a living will and powers of attorney prepared or are facing estate litigation, we can help. Our will and probate attorneys work in tandem to give you the best experience and services possible. To schedule a free consultation, call our office or go online to submit a request.
The experienced lawyers at our firm handle other types of cases as well, including: