After the loss of a loved one, you need competent probate attorneys to guide you through the complexity of the probate and estate administration process. Our probate and trust administration practice is focused on helping families through this difficult time, while simplifying the legal complexities that they are confronted with. We recognize that probate and estate administration can be an emotional, difficult and complicated process. Our firm provides the counsel needed to complete the process in a timely and efficient manner and makes certain that clients are fully informed and guided through each step of the process. We advise and represent beneficiaries, executors, administrators, personal representatives, trustees, heirs and interested parties in regard to probate and trust administration matters.
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Probate is a legal process necessary to administer certain kinds of property owned by someone who has died (called the “Decedent”), to (1) confirm that claims, expenses and taxes are properly paid, and to (2) ensure that the remaining estate is distributed to those entitled to receive it in the Decedent’s will (known as a “testate” estate) or under Tennessee “intestacy” law if someone dies with no will.
The probate process generally takes place in the probate court of the county where the Decedent lived. If the Decedent also owned real estate or property located in another state, additional steps (quite possibly an “ancillary” probate) may be necessary in that state.
Probate property generally is all property titled in the Decedent’s name individually (not “jointly” with others) and with no legal designated beneficiary.
Often some property will not be probate property, and therefore is not part of the probate estate. Such property not necessary to be probated often includes: property jointly held by the Decedent and another person, property held in a trust, accounts that are payable on death (POD) or that transfer on death (TOD) to a named beneficiary, and insurance or retirement benefits that are payable to a named beneficiary.
A point which is often mistaken: property that must be included in probate and property that is subject to estate taxes are two different matters. Even if property is not included in probate, it still may be included when adding up assets for federal estate tax purposes.
Probate is necessary to give the person authorized by law (whether in the Decedent’s will or, if there is no will, then under Tennessee law) legal authority to deal with the Decedent’s probate assets. Such person is referred to as an “executor”, “administrator”, or “personal representative”. A will is not effective until a judge determines it is valid. Once validated and a probate estate is opened with the court, the executor or administrator has the authority and duty to take control of and safeguard the assets of the Decedent’s estate. Probate then provides a process for the payment of outstanding debts, taxes, and the expenses of administration, and for the distribution of the remainder of the estate to the beneficiaries and heirs.
Probating an estate requires the appointment of a person to conduct the administration of the estate. If there is a will, this person usually is named in the will and is called an executor. If there is no will or no person is named in the will, this person is appointed by the probate court and is called an administrator. The executor or administrator may be an individual, a bank or a trust company, and is also often referred to as a “personal representative”.
Carpenter & Lewis provides executors and administrators help with many aspects of administering a Decedent’s estate, including:
Opening the “testate” (where there is a will) or “intestate” (where there is no will) estate
Qualifying the personal representative
Identifying the assets and debts of the estate
Preparing and filing an inventory and accountings for the estate, if necessary
Paying or challenging/settling claims against the estate
Distributing assets of the estate to its beneficiaries
Closing the estate officially with the court
These tasks require the preparation and filing of numerous legal documents, and often the preparation of various notices, potential hearings in court, an appraisal of the assets of the estate, an inventory of the assets, an accounting of funds, final transfer of all assets to beneficiaries, termination of the probate proceeding, and discharge of the executor or administrator by the probate court.
Claims against the estate may generally be made up to four months after a probate is opened and the creditor is properly notified by actual or “publication” notice by law. A small estate that has no beneficiary or creditor issues often can be settled within six months of the appointment of the executor or administrator. The administration of a probate estate will usually take at least six total months and often can often last more than a year, depending on difficulties or complexities in distribution of assets and any beneficiary or creditor issues.
Carpenter & Lewis routinely handles the probate of estates in Knox, Anderson, Blount, Loudon, Union, and other surrounding East Tennessee counties. Our attorneys are able to assist in all such matters, having walked hundreds of clients through the probate process.
Most courts in Tennessee do not require you to hire an attorney to probate an estate. So, our clients often ask, why then should an attorney be used for probate?
Our clients also tend to find that most county courts and probate offices either strongly recommend legal assistance or instead generally will not answer questions of any legal nature from personal representatives. The probate process can become complicated with many potential pitfalls. Many personal representatives fail to realize until too late the high standard they are required to uphold when they take the required oath with the court to be personal representative. 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 missteps. Without the assistance of an attorney, personal representatives 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.
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. We have found numerous probate situations that would be very difficult to handle without competent legal advice and guidance, such as:
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.
“We own several businesses and have had the pleasure of working with Stephen and his team for over 9 years now. He always comes through in a pinch. They have assisted us with leases, estate planning, company formations and even landlord issues. I highly recommend them for all your business attorney needs!”
Mary Ellen Nichols
Our firm has decades of experience in handling probate estates for clients. Let us help you with answering the most frequently asked questions.
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.