It is always a sad time when a loved one passes away. Trying to figure out how to divvy up their estate sometimes only makes this period of grief more complex and stressful—especially when there is a business involved. That is why creating a will is so important. Creating this legal document early on should clarify exactly how the deceased wants their assets split. It can always be amended at another point if their wishes slightly change, but it is crucial to have this starting point in order to ensure that their money, properties, and businesses all go to the right people.
However, sometimes it is not that easy. Even if the deceased has a will, probate is still required in the state of Tennessee. Although it can occasionally be avoided, it is essentially just a method used to validate the authenticity of the will and distribute assets to ensure that the deceased’s wishes are being followed. If there is no will, the court will appoint someone during probate to handle the estate and divide assets.
What happens if a business owner dies without a will?
If there is no will, the business will typically be divided equally among the owner’s spouse and children, with their spouse receiving no less than one third of it. However, this can be contested if there is a scenario where someone wants full ownership, for example.
File a creditor’s claim
If a child has been more hands-on with the business than their surviving parent, they may want to take over as the primary or sole owner. A qualified business law attorney can help them file a creditor’s claim for ownership if there is proof that they had a partnership with the owner before they passed. This does not mean they need to show proof that they were a legal partner—they just need to state that they believe they are entitled to the business because they have done x, y, and z throughout the years and worked closely with the deceased owner before their passing.
Find a holographic will
Digging up something like a holographic will could also quickly end probate. A holographic will is not necessarily a legal document; it is simply just a handwritten note signed from the deceased stating their wishes. It could be as simple as, “When I die, I want you to have my business.” The chance of finding something like this is pretty unlikely, but definitely not impossible.
Negotiate with the beneficiary
Let’s say that the deceased did not have a will or any children, so their business is set to go 100% to their spouse. An executive of the company, for example, can step up and start negotiations with the deceased’s spouse for the business. Maybe the spouse does not know how to run a business or would rather have cash in exchange for it. Or maybe the spouse does want the business and needs help fighting off more qualified executives. Trying to work out a deal can be tricky, so it is not something that should be done alone. The attorneys at Wagner & Wagner have years of probate experience and are highly skilled at negotiations just like this.
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What can an attorney do if someone contests the will?
For the most part, having a will should stop any kind of argument over the deceased’s estate before it starts. Unfortunately, it does not always happen that way. People can contest a will so long as they have the standing to challenge it—they cannot contest it just because they do not like what it says.
In addition, the only people who may contest a will are those deemed heirs, beneficiaries, creditors, or others who have property rights or claims against the estate. They must show that they were named in the will or would have been the recipient of something of value if no will was found, and they only have two (2) years to contest after the will has been admitted.
Some reasons people may contest a will are:
- The deceased was incapacitated when they wrote the will
- Procedural mistakes
- Someone exerted improper influence over the deceased while they were alive
- Insufficient or inappropriate witnesses
- Unclear arrangements in the will
- A more current will exists
What if the business’s shareholders revolt after announcing the heirs?
If the deceased did not have a will in Tennessee and their business is being passed down to their surviving spouse and children, some people may not take it very well. For example, shareholders of the business may think that they are more deserving of it since they owned more shares than the surviving family members before the owner’s death and are more knowledgeable of the business. They may act out and intentionally do things to hurt profits. Or if the beneficiary who received ownership comes in and starts making hasty decisions that do not align with pre-developed plans and is hurting business, shareholders may not believe this is the right fit for the sake of the company.
In any of these scenarios, highly skilled and experienced Chattanooga probate litigation attorneys can help rectify the situation and achieve a positive outcome. They will do what they can within the law to validate the will and hold all the right people accountable for properly maintaining the deceased’s estate, like their business, even after the owner’s passing.
Unfortunately, probate is not always so straightforward and determining who is legally able to contest a will can be tricky. At Wagner & Wagner Attorneys at Law, we use our years of experience to handle complex probate litigation issues and know exactly how to handle it when it does happen. We strive to earn the faith and loyalty of our clients through professionalism and honesty. Call our office or complete our contact form to schedule a free consultation. We offer legal services in Chattanooga and Cleveland.
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