Memphis Probate Lawyer
Losing someone you love is difficult enough without having to navigate a drawn-out probate process. While no amount of planning can eliminate grief, you can spare your family additional stress and uncertainty by taking steps to avoid probate now. With the right estate planning, you can maintain control over your assets while still providing your loved ones with a smooth transition after your passing.
If you have recently lost a loved one, the prospect of probate can seem daunting. As you grieve and process this loss, you also face the task of sorting out their affairs and settling the estate. While nothing can prepare you for the emotional weight of bereavement, having an understanding of what to expect can help ease your burden in this trying time. Please know that you don’t need to handle this alone. Our Memphis probate lawyers are here to support you each step of the way.
What is Probate, and When is It Required?
Probate is the legal process that deals with their remaining assets and liabilities after someone passes away. Its purpose is to identify property, pay outstanding debts, and distribute the estate to lawful heirs.
The probate process goes through the local probate court to provide oversight and ensure the law is followed. The court oversees the estate and must approve the distribution of assets.
Probate is typically required if the deceased owned assets solely in their name. Common probate assets are those without joint owners or designated beneficiaries, such as:
- Real estate
- Bank accounts
- Personal belongings
You will likely need to open probate if:
- The deceased had sole ownership of any assets without co-owners.
- There is no valid will, or the will is outdated.
- Assets were not placed in a trust or titled to transfer automatically upon death.
Assets with a named beneficiary, like life insurance, bypass probate since they transfer directly to the beneficiary. Trust assets also avoid probate because the trust rather than the individual owns them.
How Does the Probate Process Work?
The probate process involves several main steps under the probate court’s supervision.
Petition to Open Probate
The first step is to petition the probate court to commence probate proceedings. This petition names the executor to manage the estate and identifies the deceased’s legal heirs. It provides preliminary details about assets and requests the court appoint the executor. The court reviews the petition, validates the will, if there is one, and officially appoints the executor to act on behalf of the estate.
Once appointed, the executor must inventory all of the deceased’s assets going through probate. This involves locating and reviewing financial statements, assaying real estate, determining property ownership, and documenting the inventory of probate assets in a filing with the court. The inventory must be thorough and accurate to establish the estate’s starting value. Ongoing accountings will be compared to the initial inventory.
Manage the Estate
The executor has ongoing estate management duties throughout probate. These include providing legal notices to beneficiaries and creditors, collecting any proceeds, paying valid claims and expenses from estate assets, communicating with heirs, filing necessary tax returns, and handling any legal disputes regarding the will or estate. The executor must keep detailed financial records and provide regular status updates to the court.
Distribute Assets to Heirs
Once the executor has addressed all estate matters, they petition for approval to distribute the remaining assets to the deceased’s heirs. Distribution of these assets must align with instructions in the will. The court reviews the distribution petition and proposed disbursements before authorizing the executor to transfer assets to beneficiaries.
Finally, the executor petitions the probate court for a closure order once all probate tasks are complete and assets are distributed. After reviewing the estate accounting and being satisfied that the executor fulfilled all duties properly, the court issues a final decree. This final order closes probate and relieves the executor of any further responsibilities.
A typical probate process takes 6-12 months in Memphis, sometimes longer for large or contentious estates. The process length varies based on the estate’s complexity and whether disputes surface.
Navigating Shelby County Probate Court
The Shelby County Probate Court, centrally located in downtown Memphis, TN, oversees all probate proceedings for the county. The courthouse and dedicated probate judges handle common matters like:
- Reviewing wills and petitions to commence probate.
- Settling any disputes between beneficiaries over the will or estate administration.
- Overseeing the complete administration of estates under their jurisdiction.
- Issuing final closure orders upon completion of probate to discharge administrators of duty.
Throughout probate, the executor will submit various filings for court approval, such as the inventory of assets, accounting ledgers, and petitions for disbursements or to close probate. An attorney well-versed in court protocols can smoothly guide filings through the approval process.
The vast majority of estates proceed without incident. However, experienced probate litigation counsel is key to resolving disputes judiciously in contested cases or when the will is challenged. Probate judges aim to facilitate efficient estate settlement so heirs receive their rightful inheritance.
How to Avoid Probate With Advance Planning
For many, the idea of their estate going through public probate is undesirable. Not only can probate take months to finalize, but it also exposes your personal affairs to the public record. Fortunately, proper estate planning can minimize or avoid probate altogether through trusts and beneficiary planning.
Use Revocable Living Trusts
One popular probate avoidance tool is establishing a revocable living trust to hold your assets. You can transfer most of your property into the trust while still controlling it during your life. Upon death, the trust assets pass privately to your designated beneficiaries per the trust terms. This avoids the need for court-supervised probate.
Name Payable-on-Death Beneficiaries
Another method is to use payable-on-death or transfer-on-death designations for accounts and vehicles. This lets you name beneficiaries receiving those assets directly without probate approval. Joint bank accounts with rights of survivorship also avoid probate by automatically passing to the surviving co-owner.
File a Small Estate Affidavit
For smaller estates, probate may be avoidable if the total value falls under the threshold of $50,000. Tennessee permits a streamlined small estate affidavit process for estates meeting requirements.
Consult a Memphis Estate Planning Attorney
Consult an estate planning lawyer when creating your plan to ensure it accomplishes your goals and wishes. They can help craft customized probate avoidance strategies using trusts, beneficiary planning, and other tools to best fit your needs and legacy goals. With proper guidance, you can minimize probate stress for loved ones and maintain privacy over your affairs after death.
Should You Hire a Probate Attorney?
Hiring an experienced probate attorney provides important guidance and assistance through the process. Based on the Shelby County Probate Court procedures, a lawyer can advise you on the specific probate requirements and timeframes in Memphis. They properly prepare and file all the necessary probate documents to keep your case on track.
Should any disputes arise during probate between beneficiaries or regarding the will’s validity, your attorney can represent you in resolving matters efficiently. They may also be able to serve as the executor, taking on administrative burdens like locating assets, communicating with beneficiaries, paying debts, and distributing bequests.
Take Control With Proper Planning – Contact Pickford Law Today
Losing a loved one is painful enough without having to navigate complex legal probate processes. But with the proper planning and support, probate can be streamlined to ease the burden on your family.
Do not leave it to chance – take control of your legacy while you still can. Meet with our office to thoughtfully prepare your estate plan and discuss options to minimize or avoid probate. This small action can provide immense peace of mind, knowing your loved ones will be cared for seamlessly. Contact Pickford Law today to schedule a consultation.Free Case Review