Probate is a legal process that is often required in the state of Tennessee after a person’s death. It is supervised by the court and allows a surviving spouse or close family member, such as an adult child, the legal right to hold the decedent’s assets, pay their debts and transfer assets and property to anyone who inherits them.

Generally, in Tennessee, probate can take anywhere from six months to a year. However, the process can take longer if there is a dispute over the deceased person’s will or any unusual assets or debts involved.

In terms of filing for probate, if the estate is small and has a value of $50,000 or less, a small estate affidavit can be filed 45 days after the death of the property owner.

Letters Testamentary or Letters of Administration

As per the law in Tennessee, the executor of an estate where there is a last will and testament is issued Letters Testamentary and the estate administrator of an estate without a will is issued Letters of Administration from the probate court in the county or city in which the decedent resided. These Letters are needed to give the executor or the estate administrator the authority to act on behalf of the estate. Banks will also not allow an executor or estate administrator access to financial accounts of the decedent unless they present Letters from the court.

When is Probate Necessary?

It’s important to speak with a probate attorney in order to assess whether the probate process is necessary and what it entails. Not all assets have to go through probate. Generally, those that the deceased owned in their name alone are required to go through probate. Some personal and real property may be transferrable to heirs without the probate process. Those that do go through the process are considered part of the “probate estate”.

The following assets often are not part of the probate estate in Tennessee:

• Jointly held property: Homes, bank accounts and other assets that were jointly held by the decedent and their spouse or someone else may not need to go through probate. The surviving person automatically gains full ownership of the property.
• Property held in tenancy by the entirety: If the deceased owned property with their spouse, that surviving spouse becomes the owner.
• Bank accounts payable on death: If the individual has a bank account that names a beneficiary, that person becomes the legal holder of the account.
• Assets registered in transfer on death form: People are permitted to name a beneficiary on a transfer on death form, which negates the need for probate.
• Life insurance proceeds: The proceeds of a life insurance policy or annuity doesn’t go through probate when a beneficiary has been named.
• Retirement accounts: If a beneficiary has been named, the funds from retirement accounts automatically go to that beneficiary.
• Living trust assets: When a trustee is named in a living trust, the assets don’t go through probate.

Bond, Inventory and Accounting

Tennessee law requires that the executor or estate administrator post a bond appropriate for the value of the probate estate and provide regular inventories and accountings to the court. Wills often waive all three.  Where there is no will, all of the heirs-at-law can agree to waive all three, as well.