Do I Need to Probate My Spouse’s Will?

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Grieving the loss of your spouse is an emotionally charged time, and the last thing you want to deal with is going through paperwork and probate proceedings to figure out how your spouse’s inheritance will be divided. The good news is that for couples who’s assets were owned jointly in some form, it may not be necessary to probate your spouse’s will.

What Guidelines Do You Need to Know?

While the specific laws vary depending on your state, as a general guideline, you can expect to keep out of probate any property that was owned by both husband and wife. This includes bank accounts with a transferable-on-death or payable-on-death designation, retirement accounts, real property (such as land or a house) owned in joint tenancy, living trusts, and payouts for life insurance. Assets such as these can pass on directly to the beneficiary, as long as the said beneficiary is named right in the document and is still living at the time of the account holder’s death.

On the other hand, any assets that were titled and that were solely in the decedent’s name without a beneficiary designation will be transferred to the decedent’s estate and will require probate before being passed on to a beneficiary. That includes bank accounts (with the exception of TOD accounts as explained above), stocks, bonds, mutual funds, vehicles, and real estate solely owned by the decedent. These assets will go through probate and the state will name an executor to secure the assets.

What is Considered a “Small Estate”?

For couples who owned what is considered a small estate, a simplified probate process may be available for assets not in joint tenancy or without a beneficiary designation. In Tennessee, any estate valued at $50,000 or less is eligible for small estate probate, while Kentucky only allows for estates valued under $15,000 to go through the simplified process.

Another important fact to mention about Kentucky is that it is one of the few states that still have dower and curtesy laws (the other two being Ohio and Arkansas). Those laws were designed to protect the financially dependent surviving spouse if her husband—typically the sole breadwinner of the household—passed away. What that means today is that a surviving spouse can expect to receive half of the deceased husband’s estate if he dies intestate (without a will) but not the entire estate, unless there are no other surviving relatives.

Probate May Not Be Necessary, but How Do You Know?

It is always possible that probate may not be necessary for assets owned in joint tenancy or with a beneficiary designation that directly names the surviving spouse as a second owner or as the new owner upon the account holder’s death. The laws vary for each state and this is just a general overview, so you may want to check with an estate planning and probate attorney to see if this applies to your case. Sometimes, only part of a deceased spouse’s estate needs to be probated. Crow Estate Planning and Probate, PLC has a team of skilled Clarksville estate planning attorneys that can offer insight on your particular case and answer any questions about probate. Contact us and schedule an appointment to learn more. A hard time shouldn’t be made more difficult. Let us help.

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