What Happens if a Probate Case Is Not Filed?

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When Is Probate Required in Tennessee?

If a probate case isn’t filed, the assets that need to be distributed via the probate process cannot be distributed to heirs. Because of this, heirs often want to start and get through the probate process as quickly as possible when it’s required. Depending on how an estate is set up, you might also need to attend to other processes to shift assets or the benefits of assets to heirs and beneficiaries. That can include trust administration as well as ensuring payable-on-death accounts are handled correctly.

Can You Skip Probate?

You cannot typically skip probate altogether unless you are dealing with a very small estate. In Tennessee, estates with basic checking and savings accounts worth less than $15,000 do not have to go through the probate process for those assets to be distributed to heirs.

In cases where an estate’s assets are worth less than $50,000, a court administration process is available to distribute the assets. This is typically quicker and easier than the entire probate process. You must ask the Court to provide Limited Letters of Administration to a personal representative and follow the correct processes to administer the estate.

While estates worth $50,000 or more cannot skip probate through the small estate processes, it is possible for certain assets to avoid probate. By planning well in advance, individuals can create situations that allow most of their assets to avoid probate. Assets in a trust do not go through probate, for example. Jointly owned assets with a right of survivorship, such as a home or a joint checking account owned by a couple, do not typically go through probate. Payable-on-death accounts with named beneficiaries, including checking and savings accounts, many types of investment or retirement accounts, and life insurance, also usually avoid probate.

Basic Overview of the Tennessee Probate Process

Each probate case has its own unique factors, but the overall process tends to follow a format. The basic steps of probate in Tennessee include:

The executor named in the will files it with the correct probate court, has a hearing, and the Court issues letters testamentary to the executor. The letters testamentary provides the executor with the authority to handle estate matters. When no will is present, someone requests that the court appoint an individual as the administrator of the estate.

The executor or administrator gathers all the assets and debts of the estate and settles accounts. This includes paying any necessary estate expenses and remaining bills and debts for the deceased. Tax returns and TennCare releases are also typically prepared and filed by the executor.

If required, an inventory of all assets is prepared and shared with the court and heirs. This must be completed within 60 days from the time the executor or administrator received letters testamentary or was appointed by the court.

Once estate debts and expenses are handled, the remaining assets are distributed to the heirs of the estate. If there is a will, the assets are distributed according to the provisions of the will as well as the estate laws of the state.

If there is no will, then assets are distributed according to estate laws.

What Are the Consequences of Avoiding Probate When It Is Required?

The biggest consequence of delaying probate is that the assets of the estate cannot be distributed to heirs. This delay may be a significant problem for certain heirs who need the assets to be distributed so they can pay down personal debts, move on with their lives, or get final closure after the death of a loved one.

It can also be problematic for the assets themselves. For example, if a house is part of the estate and must go through probate, it could sit abandoned if the probate processes are not followed. In other cases, a property may remained titled in the name of the decedent for many years, or even generations. This circumstance creates confusion of who may own the property. Bills may not be paid, which can result in rising interest and collections—and more expenses for the estate down the line. Ultimately, it is often better for all heirs and beneficiaries if estate matters are handled timely.

That being said, there is no timeline to probate a will in Tennessee that is mandated by law. However, if you wait too long, you may face increasing challenges. And in some cases, the court will not grant letters testamentary more than 10 years after someone passes away because such a long time has passed.

How Long Does Probate Take?

On average, you can expect probate processes to take between 6 and 12 months. Depending on the complexity and the circumstances of the estate, however, it could take longer. That’s especially true if the will is contested or there are disputes between heirs about the distribution of assets.

Get Help With Complex Probate Matters

Walking through probate and other estate administration processes can be daunting. Working with a legal team experienced in estate matters can help. Whether you want to plan ahead so your assets mostly stay out of probate or you need help administering a complex estate, we can help. Reach out to Crow Estate Planning & Probate today by calling 931-213-7940 to speak to someone on our team about your needs and how we can assist you and your family.

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