Probate has a bad reputation, but it is an undeserved one. To “probate” a will means to prove its validity in an official capacity. Every estate – whether there is a will or not – will go through the probate process. The single best thing you can do if your loved one dies is hire an attorney to help you through the probate process.
For the record, if you live in Chattanooga, you need to hire a lawyer; you cannot go through the process without one. And you should not attempt to try even if you live outside of Chattanooga. The probate process can be challenging, especially if the estate holds substantial assets, or if the decedent dies intestate (without a will). If you do not have the experience our team has, you could end up in a big, nasty mess.
What does a Chattanooga probate lawyer do when there is a will?
If there is a will, your probate attorney assists the executor and named beneficiaries in properly administrating the estate per the instructions of the will and the law. Aside from the preparation and filing of all required paperwork, this can include:
- Identifying all property that does not pass through. Certain types of properties will not pass through the estate. For example, if one spouse dies and the other spouse jointly owns the home, then the home may not pass through the probate process. Neither may life insurance policies with named beneficiaries or property held in trust.
- Appraising the assets and properties associated with the estate. Wagner & Wagner works with appraisers in order to ensure that all assets are valued correctly.
- Ensuring all valid debts are paid. Certain creditors may need to be paid before the rest of the estate can be divided. We make sure these debts and bills which are valid claims against the estate are paid as directed by the court.
- Assessing and handling all tax issues. Tennessee has eliminated the inheritance tax and does not have an estate tax, though the federal government does levy taxes against estates of a certain size. However, any sale of real property may be taxed, as may interest and dividends. Failure to pay these taxes may result in large fines, so it is best to have one of the CPAs we trust review and assess what your tax requirements will be.
- Transferring and disbursing assets. If the estate is comprised of multiple accounts, we can ensure that all assets are transferred into one account, and help the executor disburse those assets per the instructions in the will and the Court.
Depending on the will, your probate lawyer can also help you manage and create trusts, assist with charitable giving, and help manage the estate in the event of one named beneficiary.
What does a Chattanooga probate lawyer do when there is no will?
If the testator (the decedent) dies intestate, then the Probate Court will designate an administrator to handle the estate. In some cases, this may be an attorney; in other cases, an heir or next if kin may come forward and petition the Court to serve as the administrator.
When we serve as estate administrators, we perform all of the same tasks and steps that we do when we assist executors. The primary difference is that we are bound to Tennessee’s laws for intestate succession.
In other words, as administrators, our job is to administer the estate accounting for the property and contents of the estate and paying just and valid indebtedness the finally distribute the assets to the family, based on the relationship and Court orders:
- Spouses without children. In this case, the spouse may inherit everything.
- Spouses with children and descendants. Typically, the spouse inherits 1/3 of the estate, and the other descendants (children, grandchildren, etc.) are given equal shares of the estate, depending on the length of the marriage.
- Children. If both spouses have died, the children may be given equal shares of the estate. This also may apply to legally adopted children, stepchildren, and any children born posthumously within 10 months of the death of testator, provided the children survive for at least 120 hours after their birth.
What does a probate attorney do in the event of a will contest?
If the will is contested, or if there is a dispute about whether someone is a legal heir to an estate (with or without a will), one of our Chattanooga probate attorneys can handle the ensuring petitions and litigation. We also represent estates where the executor failed in his or her duty to properly execute the will, and investigate which version of a will is valid when multiple versions are unearthed.
Why should I hire Wagner & Wagner to probate an estate?
Wagner & Wagner Attorneys at Law has been Chattanooga’s go-to resource for more than 70 years. We are a local firm with large-scale resources, and we maintain a vast network of professionals with whom we work to ensure that your plans, and the plans of your loved one, are put into action. We know every Tennessee probate and estate law there is, and have seen every type of estate hiccup imaginable, including will contests, beneficiary disputes, mandatory arbitration clauses in wills, challenges to the Uniform Trust Code, and shareholder lawsuits over business succession. No matter what you are facing, we are almost guaranteed to have worked within someone who faced a similar experience. You are not alone, and help is available.
At the end of the day, there is nothing our team of experienced probate attorneys cannot handle. You can rely on the competent, ethical counsel of Wagner & Wagner to guide you and your family through the challenges of probate in good faith, and to uphold the wishes of your loved one. To learn more about our services, or to schedule a free consultation at our office in Chattanooga, please call 423-454-3387 or fill out the contact form. Serving Chattanooga and Cleveland, TN, and clients throughout the state.
Wagner & Wagner is one of the longest-established law firms in Chattanooga. With more than seven decades of proven legal experience, our law practice has steadily grown through repeat business, valuable referrals and a tradition of client satisfaction. Learn More