Probate and Estate Administration Attorneys in Columbia, Tennessee

The passing of a loved one is a difficult time.  In addition to the obvious emotional struggles, dealing with the complexities of the probate process can be an added stressor at an inopportune time.  Our probate attorneys in Columbia, Tennessee will guide you through the probate process.  We understand you have many things to adjust to as you adapt to life without your loved one; we are patient and happy to explain things as many times as it takes.

The first thing we do when engaging with a client in a probate or estate administration matter is the same we do in all aspects of our practice:  we provide you with information to demystify the process.  With knowledge and understanding ultimately comes peace and comfort.  Although some clients are happy to simply allow us to “run with it”, most clients prefer to have at least a base understanding of what needs to be done and why.

What is Probate?

Many of our estate planning clients approach us worried about “probate“.  They often want us to help them avoid it without really understanding what it is.  Probate is simply a natural aspect of the estate process and not something to be feared.

In short, Probate is the process of administrating a Will.  It’s the process you go through when a loved one has died with a Will in place.

Probate refers to the proving of the validity of a last will and testament.  In Tennessee, a will can be probated before a probate court clerk in common form when no will contest is anticipated.  If a contest is expected, it is advisable to more formally probate the will in solemn form.  The court maintains the original will, collects court costs, and issues a document called letters testamentary to the executor named in the will, whose first responsibility is to present the will to the court.

Probate and Estate Administration

The probate of a will starts the administration of an estate by the executor.  Alternatively, when someone passes without a Will, their Estate is handled by an “Administrator”.

The executor or administrator is responsible for inventorying the decedent’s property; for paying the decedent’s debts and the administrative costs of the estate; for identifying and safekeeping the decedent’s probate assets; and for distributing the assets to, and obtaining receipts from, the beneficiaries named in the will.  The court clerk publishes in a newspaper a notice to creditors, and creditors have four months to file claims against the estate.  The executor / administrator will often find it necessary to deal with banks, insurance companies, brokerage firms, real estate agents, accountants, and public officials.  An attorney will usually assist the executor / administrator in the estate administration.

Property Included in Probate Administration

Probate administration includes all property interests owned at death by the decedent, with some exceptions.  If, during life, the decedent set up ownership of property jointly with a spouse or other person with right of survivorship, the survivor takes the property.  If, during life, the decedent named a beneficiary to take property, such as life insurance proceeds, the named beneficiary takes the property.  Similarly, if the decedent had set up property and designated it payable or transferable on death to someone, that someone takes the property.  A will and its administration after death is mainly for the purpose of transferring property to others where the decedent had not made other transfer provisions during life.

Should I Avoid Probate?

In the preceding paragraph, we discussed some ways, such as joint ownership with right of survivorship, that probate of assets can be avoided.  The primary alternative to a last will and testament, and probate, is a revocable living trust.  Generally speaking, probate is, in our opinion, preferable to a trust when it comes to settling an estate transfer in the State of Tennessee.  We advise our clients to not fear probate, but to carefully consider its pros and cons.

Contact us if you need help with the Probate or Estate Administration process.  We’ll be happy to meet with you and answer any questions you may have.