When a person dies, there is often an estate left behind by the individual that needs to be distributed to their intended beneficiaries. The courts have an interest in ensuring that these estates are handled properly, including the lawful transfer of assets to the legal heirs and beneficiaries.
When the person who died (the decedent) leaves behind a will, this document is to be used in determining what happens to the estate’s assets and how they are distributed. If the decedent died without a will or died intestate, intestate succession rules in Tennessee determine the distribution of assets.
Estates usually need to go through a legal process referred to as probate upon the death of a decedent. Probate requires the proper handling of estate assets based on the decedent’s wishes. It also requires the creation of an inventory and the proper valuation of the assets involved, in addition to the payment of all required taxes owed, and notifications sent to creditors.
If the decedent left behind a will, the executor of the estate, often named by one of the decedent’s relatives, is the individual responsible for supervising and managing the probate process. In the case of an intestate estate, a judge will designate someone to supervise the process.
Determining the length of the probate process
Beneficiaries under the terms of a will left by a decedent do not necessarily receive their inheritance quickly after the death of the decedent. Any assets gifted to a beneficiary in a will are required to first go through a probate process before they are distributed.
The time involved to complete the probate process depends on a number of factors. These include:
Choice of executor
Executors often utilize the services of an experienced estate planning attorney to help make the probate process as smooth as possible. However, the choice of executor of the estate can determine how quickly the process moves forward and is completed. An executor who drags his or her feet and fails to accomplish the tasks that need to be completed will cause the process to be dragged out longer than necessary.
Creditors to an estate are required to have an opportunity to file claims against the estate for money owed from the estate (i.e.; the decedent’s debts). It is the executor’s job to evaluate these claims and either approve or reject them. Under Tennessee law, creditors are given a four-month period to issue claims from the date a Notice to Creditors is published by the probate court clerk. This four-month period must pass before the estate can be closed. Even under the best of circumstances, a simple estate will usually take at least six months to close.
The degree of estate planning
If the decedent created a detailed estate plan in advance of his or her death, it likely included strategies to avoid many aspects of probate. This may have included changing various assets of the estate into non-probate assets, thus allowing those assets to transfer directly into the hands of beneficiaries without the need to apply probate to them.
Challenges to the will
After the decedent’s will has been sent to the court for probate, the will may be legally contested by any “interested persons.” If a challenge to the will is issued, it must undergo litigation before probate can move forward. In in some cases, disputes over complex wills can prolong the completion of probate by months or even years.
At Wagner & Wagner Attorneys at Law, we understand the difficulties involved in creating a will, developing an estate plan, and choosing an executor. We are here to represent you in a wide range of probate matters to bring about a fair and favorable resolution to your deceased loved one’s estate. To arrange a free consultation, call us today at 423.756.7923, or drop us a message through our contact form. Our probate attorneys serve Chattanooga and Cleveland, TN, and the surrounding areas.