Losing a loved one is never easy. And dealing with questions of inheritance can make things even more emotional and challenging. Before you can claim a deceased family member’s assets,including their home or car, their estate must go through probate.
The probate court appoints a personal representative and resolves important issues regarding the estate. Loved ones often testify in probate hearings to help the court interpret the person’s desires regarding their estate. Additionally, If there are any problems with your loved one’s estate, you may need a hearing to resolve them.
As one of the oldest law firms in Tennessee, Batson Nolan PLC can help you navigate probate and protect your rights. This page will explain what to expect in a probate court hearing.
What Is a Probate Court Hearing?
Many families know what their loved ones want done with the things they own after their death. Regardless, Tennessee law requires every estate to undergo probate to determine what property is in the person’s estate and how it will be distributed. This process is used to pay off the deceased person’s bills, distribute their inheritance, and transfer their deeds to heirs or beneficiaries. The probate court decides important issues in probate hearings, including:
- The will’s validity;
- Who can legally act as the executor or administrator;
- Who has a rightful claim to the estate’s property, including creditors or Medicaid;
- Who will inherit estate property; and
- The estate’s value.
If your loved one did not leave a will, Tennessee law will dictate how the probate court will distribute their property. If your loved one did leave a will, the probate court first makes sure the will is valid and then grants the executor named in the will the power they need to administer the estate.
The Probate Court Process
The probate court process begins when the executor or a family member petitions the court to open the deceased person’s estate. The probate court first reviews the will’s validity by hearing a witness’s testimony. Once the court determines the person properly executed a will, it will appoint the named executor and grant them Letters of Testamentary. The Letters authorize the executor to act on behalf of the estate and pay creditors.
If someone dies without a will, the person acting on behalf of the estate is called an “administrator.” If no family member applies for the position, the probate court will appoint an administrator. That person must manage the estate in accordance with Tennessee law.
Creditors have between 4 to 12 months to submit claims against the estate for unpaid bills. If any person objects to the executor’s or administrator’s decisions, the court may hold a hearing to resolve the dispute. Finally, the administrator or executor, heirs, and beneficiaries must appear to account for and close the estate.
The Executor or Administrator Duties
A will cannot be administered until the court approves an executor or administrator. If someone left a will, that document usually names an executor. The court will approve an executor if the named person accepts the appointment and meets the legal requirements. A spouse or other family member can petition to act as an administrator if someone dies without a will.
Tennessee Code Sections 30-2-301 and 30-2-306 require the executor or administrator to complete specific tasks within 60 days of their appointment, including:
- Notifying creditors directly of the person’s death and ensuring the clerk publishes a notice in the newspaper;
- Carrying out an inventory of the probate assets unless the will states otherwise, or all beneficiaries agree otherwise;
- Notifying everyone who will inherit; and
- Requesting a release from TennCare, the state Medicaid agency, so that the agency won’t try to recover costs it paid for nursing home or home care.
The law requires the estate’s representative to act in the estate’s best interest. If they act wrongfully, an interested party can file an objection with the probate court. If you are an appointed executor or administrator, our attorneys can help you make filings on time, properly document disbursements, and avoid disputes.
The personal representative must file the deceased person’s last state and federal income tax returns. Usually, these returns are due by April 15 of the year after the death. They may also need to file income tax returns for the estate itself, but only if it exceeds the statutory threshold. In 2022, the IRS only taxed estates valued at over $12.06 million. Additionally, Tennessee charges no estate or inheritance tax.
Batson Nolan PLC: Experienced and Efficient Probate Assistance
If you’re wondering what to expect in a probate court hearing, the experienced probate attorneys at Batson Nolan PLC can answer all of your questions. Our legal team is dedicated to helping you navigate the probate process as quickly and efficiently as possible. We have decades of experience helping families, executors, and administrators handle estates of all sizes. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you with your probate matters.