In Tennessee, estate administration is the legal process during which the estate of a decedent is settled and their assets are transferred to others. In Tennessee the Chancery Court serves as the probate court and is in charge of the administration of estates. To begin the process, a petition must be presented to the Chancery Court in the county in which the decedent lived when they died. Tenn. Code Ann. § 32-4-109. Typically the entire process takes 6-12 months. However, complications such as probate litigation and complex assets can cause the process to take significantly longer. Conversely, there are special procedures for small, uncomplicated estates that allow for expedited administration.
Responsibilities of the Personal Representative in Tennessee
A personal representative is a fiduciary who is charged with handling the day-to-day activities of administering the estate. The personal representative is called an executor if the decedent had a will. They are called an administrator if the decedent did not have a will or if someone other than person named in the will is appointed. As a fiduciary, the personal representative is required to act in good faith, with honesty and loyalty, and in the best interests of the estate’s beneficiaries.
The main tasks for which the personal representative is responsible include:
- Notifying creditors. An important part of the estate administration process is paying the debt that the decedent left. In order to do that, the decedent’s creditors must be given an opportunity to present claims. Within 30 days after the appointment of the personal representative, the clerk of the court must give notice of the personal representative’s appointment by publishing two consecutive weekly notices. Tenn. Code Ann. § 30-2-306. Creditors must file claims with the clerk’s office in the manner and within the timeframe indicated in the notice.
- Inventorying probate assets. Unless the decedent’s will waived the requirement and none of the beneficiaries or heirs require it, within 60 days of appointment, the personal representative must file with the clerk of the court an inventory of estate assets. The inventory must include a complete and accurate list of the assets, including any liens or other encumbrances. Tenn. Code Ann. § 30-2-301.
- Paying estate debts, expenses, and taxes. The next step is the payment of debts. The personal representative is required to pay all claims that are valid and that were filed before the claim deadline. However, if there are not sufficient assets in the estate to pay all claims, then they are paid based on a statutory order of priority. First, the fees related to the administration of the estate are paid. Next, reasonable funeral expenses are paid. Next, debts to the federal or state government are paid. Finally, all other debts. Tenn. Code Ann. § 30-2-317
- Distributing estate assets. Once estate debts are paid, the court will approve distribution of assets that remain in the estate. The personal representative must make sure that there remains in the estate money to pay any debts or expenses that are outstanding. Tenn. Code Ann. § 30-2-701
Asset distribution is dictated by the decedent’s will. In there is no will, Tennessee established a framework that dictates how the estate will be distributed. Tenn. Code Ann. § 31-2-101
Closing a Tennessee Estate
After the personal representative has distributed assets, they can submit paperwork to the court to close the estate. First, the personal representative must file an accounting that details the income into the estate during the estate administration process, the money paid out of the estate, and the distributions made or to be made to beneficiaries and heirs. Tenn. Code Ann. § 30-2-601
The personal representative would then have to file a final account unless the requirement is waived by either the will, the heirs, or the beneficiaries. If so, the final requirement is to file a sworn statement that must be signed by each beneficiary or heir. The court will then issue an order officially discharging the personal representative.