Probate is the process by which courts oversee the distribution of a decedent’s (the person who passed away’s) estate. The individual responsible for administering the will (the executor) is required to go through probate in order to collect the decedent’s assets and property, distribute them to heirs and beneficiaries according to a will, and pay any remaining debts and taxes. During probate, eligible creditors and heirs may also contest the will.
A question heard often by our attorneys is, “When do I start the probate process?” Although there is no specific legal answer, the most practical advice is, “As soon as possible.”
Tennessee has no statutory time limit on submitting a will for probate. Generally, however, wills are considered void ten years after the decedent’s death, with some exceptions. If the executor never probates the will, the assets continue to remain in the decedent’s name, as long as the estate continues paying required taxes and debts. Without probate, however, it is likely impossible to transfer any assets to heirs or beneficiaries. If creditors or heirs contest the will, the executor will be forced to begin probate.
Once probate begins, the executor is responsible for notifying creditors of the decedent’s death to give them proper time to submit claims for any debts owed. The executor of the will is also required to pay Tennessee and federal taxes owed at the time of their death.
Does everything have to go through probate?
No, not every asset is required to go through the probate process. Following are some examples of assets that can avoid probate:
- Property held in joint tenancy (co-owned)
- Assets held in trust
- Retirement accounts
- Life insurance proceeds
- Payable-on-death bank accounts
- Pension plan distributions
The types of things that go through probate are generally the decedent’s individually-owned assets.
And, not every estate is required to go through probate. If a Tennessee estate’s value does not exceed $50,000, it can forgo probate altogether (known as a “small estate”).
If you have any interests in a will, whether as an executor, beneficiary, or creditor, you should understand how the probate process works. Even without a busy court schedule, probate can take 12 months or longer. Getting the probate process started as soon as possible, with a thorough knowledge of what’s involved, ensures timely and efficient administration of an estate.
Here at Shepherd & Long, P.C., our estate planning attorneys can help with all aspects of the will and probate process. Let us provide trusted advice and guidance. We work with people just like you across East Tennessee. To schedule your free consultation, please call our Maryville offices at 865-982-8060, or we invite you to complete our contact form.