Under Tennessee law, when an individual dies, there are several different permutations that could result in an estate being opened or probated in order to distribute the deceased’s property, assets, and debts. When the testator died and left behind a will, the executor named therein will be directed to open and administer the estate pursuant to the testator’s instructions. If a decedent dies without a will, or intestate, then one of their heirs may come forward, and ask to open the estate, and for themselves to be named administrator and personal representative of the estate. If an individual dies with significant debts remaining in their name, and if no one has come forward to open the estate, then the creditor
s also have the authority to open an estate in order to protect and pursue their claims for any outstanding debts. Depending on the size and volume of the estate, the process of opening, administering, and closing an estate can take several years, and the process can be tedious and onerous for the executor and beneficiaries, especially if there are sizeable assets being fought over and disputed.
Conversely, if an individual dies who was insolvent or without any tangible assets, then more often than not, no one comes forward to open an Estate on their behalf, because the time and expense of doing so would not be justified, and they are likely to spend more money administering the estate than there are assets to be gained. However, there are still small assets and possessions that need to be procured and distributed to the will beneficiaries or their heirs at law. Fortunately, Tennessee has a Small Estate Statute which allows an executor or administrator to file a petition in the probate court in the county where the decedent lived at the time of their death. If the total amount of all their assets is less than $50,000, and if the decedent did not own any real property, then the court will grant their petition and will issue an order immediately awarding all assets of the estate solely to them. The entire process is streamlined and advantageous in circumstances like those above; however, there are numerous exceptions and pitfalls to be aware of, which may result in the small estate being converted into an ordinary estate at the court’s discretion.
Please contact our firm to discuss your probate or estate matter. We provide free consultations and we can thoroughly explain the applicable laws and can assist you in successfully administering an estate or probating a will.