Small Estates


If a loved one has passed away and has a relatively small estate, there are ways to access and distribute those assets without opening a full probate estate. Tennessee law allows estates with less than $50,000.00 and no real property to be quickly and efficiently administered through court. For very small estates, less than $15,000.00, the law allows the transfer of those assets without the necessity of probate. Here is the breakdown on these types of small estates in Tennessee:

Small Estate Affidavit

Filing a small estate affidavit is an efficient way to distribute assets of less than $50,000.00. If the deceased person had a will, then the assets would be distributed in accordance to its terms. If the deceased did not have a will, then the assets would be distributed in based upon Tennessee intestacy laws. The assets that make up the $50,000.00 could be located in:

  • Bank accounts
  • Stocks, bonds, or other securities
  • Retirement accounts
  • Life insurance proceeds
  • Business interests
  • Unclaimed property with the State of Tennessee

However, if the deceased had real property in his name, such as a home or rental property, a small estate affidavit could not be filed with the Court. Most likely, you would likely need to proceed with a full estate administration

45 Day Waiting Period

If the deceased's assets meet the financial requirements in order for a small estate affidavit to be filed, you still must wait 45 days after death for the Court to process the affidavit. However, the Court may waive this 45 day waiting period if good cause is shown. Usually, the Court will waive the waiting period when all beneficiaries or heirs agree in writing or when there is only one person inheriting the assets.


If the decedent passed away with no will, or had a will but it did not waive bond, the Court will require the person filing the small estate affidavit to be bonded. Tennessee law states that the amount of bond will be the total value of the property subject to the small estate affidavit. The purpose of this bond is to prevent the person that will gain access to the assets from disappearing and taking the money with them. Bond can be waived if there is only person inheriting or if all beneficiaries or heir agree.


If the deceased had creditors, the personal representative must list the amount of each debt as well as the name and address of each creditor. If the personal representative filing the affidavit is bonded, then to release the bond the personal representative must:

  • File a second affidavit saying all debts were paid or satisfied, or
  • Wait until one year from the date of the filing of the affidavit 

Example of How a Small Estate Affidavit

Mother dies with $40,000.00 in a bank account in her name only and she did not own any real property. She did not have a will. Her daughter decides to file a small estate affidavit. After 45 days from her death, the probate lawyer files a small estate affidavit with the probate court seeking the court to distribute those assets. The court then reviews the affidavit submitted and approves it. The clerk provides the daughter with a stamped certificate allowing the daughter to access the funds. The daughter would then take this paperwork to the bank, show it to the banker, and have the banker release the money to the daughter.

If the mother died with a will that appointed her daughter as executor, then the daughter would still file the will with the small estate affidavit in the court. The will must be validly executed and witnessed for it to be admitted. The executor  would be bound to distribute the assets to the beneficiaries listed in the will.

Very Small Estates with Less than $15,000.00

If a person passes away with a minimal amount of assets, Tennessee allows the transfer of these assets without the necessity of filing anything with the court. If the total assets of the deceased are less than $15,000.00 and these funds are held in a financial account, Tennessee law allows that bank or financial institution to release the funds to the named executor  in the will or the next of kin. In other words, if the deceased has less than $15,000.00 in a bank account, the bank can, in its discretion, release the money. However, an estate must not be opened for this law to apply. This type of distribution works best when the estate has one or two heirs or beneficiaries. 

Here is an example how this works: Father passes away in Clarksville with a bank account at that holds $12,000.00. He does not own real estate and his family is looking for a way to access the money without having to file for probate. One of the ways his family can do this is by asking the bank to transfer the money to her executor  in his will or to his next of kin. If the bank agrees to release the funds, the family's goals are accomplished and probate is avoided. If the bank refuses to release the money, then the family may have to file a small estate affidavit with the court for release of the funds.

Requirements for very small estates:

  • Less than $15,000 total in the deceased person's name at a bank other financial institutions
  • No real estate owed by decedent
  • No estate is opened

Need Help? Give Us a Call

Knowing how to handle the assets of a love is often confusing. We are happy to answer any questions you may have about estate administration. Attorney John Crow has dealt with many types of estate issues and has the experience necessary to guide you through this difficult time. Call us a 931-218-7800 to schedule an appointment today.

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