LEARNING CAFE RECAP: What is Probate?

Updated: Oct 6


The word probate simply means court supervised estate administration – with or without a will.

If there is a will, that document is presented to the court as “proof” that this is the decedent’s final or last instructions on how his/her estate should be “administered.” If there is no will, a personal representative is appointed to administer the estate in accordance with state law.


After the will is proven (or an administrator is appointed when there is no will), the administration of the estate begins. Either Letters Testamentary or Letters of Administration are given to the personal representative of the estate by the Court. This is their letter of authority to act on behalf of the estate.


Administration is largely an accounting job. The personal representative collects the assets of the estate, accounts for what is in the estate at the time of death, pays the lawful claims against the estate, and pays out the balance as the will directs or as the law provides.

Different assets pass to heirs by different methods, meaning not everything is directed by will. For example:

  1. Life insurance policies or an IRA will pass by beneficiary designation and those designations will override any contradictory provisions in a will.

  2. Joint tenancy with rights of survivorship (example: deed, joint bank account) will pass to surviving owner.

  3. All assets titled in the name of a trust pass under the terms of the trust.

Probate Process Overview

Below is a brief outline of probate process:

  1. Open probate estate by court proceeding.

  2. Identify, organize, and safeguard assets.

  3. Notify creditors and pay them.

  4. Obtain release from TennCare, (required regardless of use of benefits if over age 55).

  5. Transfer assets to estate.

  6. File any necessary tax returns.

  7. Distribute all assets to beneficiaries and obtain signed receipts.

  8. Close probate estate.

From start to finish, the probate process will last approximately six to eighteen months.

Questions? Need help? Just give the office a call at (615) 824-2571.

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