The probate process can be long and drawn-out, costing your survivors time as well as money. Fortunately, Tennessee offers a probate shortcut for "small estates." If the property you leave behind at your death is below a certain amount, your loved ones can use a simplified procedure to transfer your property more quickly and with less hassle.
A small estate proceeding is available in Tennessee if:
(Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 30-4-102 and following.)
You can file an affidavit to begin a small estate proceeding if you are:
(Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 30-4-103.)
Below is an overview of Tennessee's small estate procedure.
To open the small estate proceeding, you'll need to file a small estate affidavit. Check with the probate court in the county where the deceased person lived to find out if the county has a form affidavit available. (Here's a sample.)
This affidavit includes information such as:
You'll file the affidavit along with a certified death certificate with the probate court.
Once the court accepts the affidavit, you can present it to the person or institution holding property that belonged to the deceased—for example, a bank where the deceased person had an account. The inheritor will usually also need to provide a certified copy of the death certificate. After that, the person or institution releases the asset.
Notably, using the small estate affidavit means that you can skip a step of regular probate that can take a few months: giving notice to creditors.
Some people may be required to post a bond that is equal to the value of the estate, as insurance that they will property administer the estate. But some are exempt from having to secure bonds, including (1) anyone who is a sole heir of the deceased person and (2) when all heirs agree to forego the bond. (Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 30-4-103.)
For more help handling an estate in general, see The Executor's Guide, by Mary Randolph (Nolo). For an introduction to how you can plan your estate to help your survivors, try Estate Planning Basics, by Denis Clifford (Nolo).
For more on Tennessee estate planning issues, see our section on Tennessee Estate Planning.