Generally, courts in Tennessee do not require you to hire an attorney to probate an estate, although clients tend to find that most county courts and probate offices either strongly recommend legal assistance or instead generally will not answer questions from Executors of any legal nature. It is much easier to hire an attorney than tackling a probate alone.
The probate process can become complicated and with many potential pitfalls. Many Executors fail to realize until too late the high standard they are required to uphold when they took oath with the court to be Executor and that, by accepting that position, they may be held personally liable for mistakes, whether it be a failure to provide proper notice to beneficiaries or creditors, or missing important deadlines, or other mis-steps. Without the assistance of an attorney, Executors are generally left to determine which documents to file, which parties to notify, which deadlines apply to them, and which procedures to follow for distribution of the estate to beneficiaries.
We have been involved with numerous estates where an individual decided to handle a probate on their own and soon realized that their best intentions to assist a friend or loved one suddenly has put them in a conflict and that they may become personally responsible to unhappy beneficiaries for an honest mistake that they made without properly understanding the law.
So, our clients often ask, why then should an attorney be used for probate? An overly simplistic yet accurate answer is that attorneys unfortunately tend to get paid much more in a probate where they have been hired late in the process and find themselves having to clean up issues that were unforeseen by the client – the legal fees would have been less had the attorney assisted the client from the beginning. Our firm has been involved in countless probates where clients chose to start the process on their own, only to find that they were unable to complete the process or, even worse, that they needed emergency help to fix a costly mistake in their administration of the estate. Having help is cheaper in the long run.
Having said that, some simple probate matters are routinely handled by clients without an attorney and without incident. That might be when a spouse has died (and the surviving spouse administers the estate) or where an estate has only a handful of assets and only one heir. Those estates have little room for conflict or error.
However, we have found numerous probate situations that would be very difficult to handle without competent legal advice and guidance, such as:
* Anticipated family conflicts (such as blended families, numerous beneficiaries, minors receiving money, trusts receiving money)
* Ambiguity in the language of the Will (family likely to fight about what something means or to grapple over conflicting interpretations of unclear provisions)
* Estates with diverse or large quantities of assets, including making valuations
* Transfer of a business
* Creditor claims that are incorrect
* TennCare estate recovery issues (if government benefits were paid out)
* Federal or state tax issues (whether estate tax or income tax claims)
* Insolvency issues (the estate not having enough money to pay debts)
* Real estate transfers
Our firm has decades of experience in handling probate estates for clients. We recognize both the difficult emotional time it often is for clients and also the need to walk clients comfortably through the probate process in a fair and cost-effective manner. Let us help you.
For a consultation with one of the probate attorneys at Carpenter & Lewis, please call (865) 690-4997 or you may prefer to send an e-mail to: [email protected]. Consultations are by appointment only.