In Tennessee, probate is a court-supervised process to transfer property from a decedent’s estate to those legally entitled to receive such property according to the provisions of the decedent’s will or Tennessee law. In Tennessee the Chancery Court has jurisdiction over probate matters. Tenn. Code Ann. § 16-16-201. To initiate probate, a petition must be filed with the Chancery Court in the county where the decedent was a resident at the time of their death. Tenn. Code Ann. § 30-1-102 and § 32-2-101.
The court appoints a fiduciary called the personal representative to manage the estate during the administration process. If the decedent left a valid will, the personal representative is referred to as an executor. If the decedent did not leave a valid will, the person is referred to as the administrator. The estate administration process includes caring for the decedent’s property, paying bills and taxes, and ensuring that the decedent’s beneficiaries and heirs receive their proper inheritance based on the terms of the will and the law.
Personal Representative Appointment in Tennessee
Even if there is a will in which the personal representative was nominated, that is not enough for the person to legally have the role. The person must first petition the court and the court must approve the petition. The court will only appoint someone who is eligible based on statutory requirements. Tenn. Code Ann. § 30-1-106.
Personal Representative’s Responsibilities
Once appointed, they must quickly move forward with the tasks necessary to settle the decedent’s estate.
- Inventory the assets. One of the first tasks is to identify estate assets, take control of them, and inventory them. Most of the assets might be confined to one locations, such as in the decedent’s residence, or it may be in multiple locations. It also may include multiple financial accounts such as bank accounts and brokerage accounts. Unless the decedent’s will waived the requirement, within 60 days of appointment, the personal representative is required to file with the clerk of the court an inventory of estate assets. The inventory must include a complete and accurate of the assets, including any liens or other encumbrances. Tenn. Code Ann. § 30-2-301.
- Pay estate debts. One of the most important responsibilities of the personal representative is to make sure that debts owed by the decedent are paid. After the clerk of the court publishes a notice alerting creditors that a personal representative has been appointed, creditors must file claims with the clerk by the deadline indicated in the notice. The personal representative is required to review the claims and pay only those that are valid and filed by the deadline. If there is not enough money in the estate to pay all claims, then the personal representative is required to pay them based on the statutory order of priority. Tenn. Code Ann. § 30-2-317. Estate debts are paid from estate assets.
- Asset distribution. Asset distribution can begin only with permission of the court. The court will not authorize it until debts and expenses have been either paid or money put aside to pay them. Tenn. Code Ann. § 30-2-701. Distribution means that the property is delivered to the recipient and title is transferred to the recipient. The personal representative must follow the terms of the will or Tennessee state law. Tenn. Code Ann. § 31-2-101. Each recipient must acknowledge receipt of the asset by signing a receipt. Tenn. Code Ann. § 30-2-707.
There is a misconception that personal representatives are not compensated. This is not necessarily true. Under Tennessee law, personal representatives are entitled to receive “reasonable” compensation as determined by the court. In determining what is fair and reasonable, the court will look at the extent of the personal responsibilities rendered, the promptness and adequacy of the services, and the value of the benefits conferred.” In re Estate of Schorn, 2015 WL 1778292 (Tenn. Ct. App.)
In Tennessee the length of administration depends on several factors such as the number of beneficiaries, the type of assets, and whether there is litigation during the process. Generally it takes 6 months to a year.