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How Can You Benefit From the TN Small Estates Act?

Cole Law Group, PC
Cole Law Group Blog

What is the Limit of a “Small estate”?

The Tennessee Small Estates Act is found in Tennessee Code Annotated § 30-4-101 et seq. Under this statute, “small estate” is defined to mean an estate in which the value of the property does not exceed $50,000. Additionally, as defined in the statute, “property” is limited to personal property owned by the decedent on the date of death, other than personal property held as tenants by the entirety or jointly with the right of survivorship and/or personal property payable to a beneficiary other than the decedent’s estate (e.g. life insurance payable to a designated beneficiary and/or payable on death bank accounts). Please be advised that real property (e.g. a decedent’s residence or other real estate) is not included in the statute’s definition of  “property.”

Benefits of the Tennessee Small Estates Act

Since the estates are of a more modest size, the Small Estates Act is designed to be less complicated than the normal probate procedure. One benefit of small estate administration is that the entire process is much less complex. The Court does not require as many filings as with a formal estate administration. Additionally, while a full probate administration will take at least four (4) months, small estate administration can be opened and closed much more quickly. As a result, the costs of small estate administration will be significantly less than the costs of a full probate administration. 

The Small Estate Administration Process

After forty-five (45) days from the decedent’s date of death, a Small Estate Affidavit can be filed with the Court. The Small Estate Affidavit includes, but is not limited to, the following information: (1) whether the decedent left a last will and testament; (2) a list of the decedent’s unpaid debts, including the amount owed and the names/addresses of each creditor; (3) a description and value of the decedent’s personal property; and (4) the name, age, addresses, and relationships to the decedent of any devisees (if the decedent left a will) or heirs (if the decedent died without a will). If the decedent left a will, the original will must also be filed with the Court.

The individual or entity who files the Small Estate Affidavit is known as the “Affiant.” An Affiant can be the executor appointed under the decedent’s will, a decedent’s devisee(s) or legal heir(s), or even the decedent’s largest creditor.

Once the Affidavit is filed, the Court will hold a hearing regarding the Affidavit where objections and/or reservations can be made. If there are no such reservations, the Court Clerk will issue a Court Order of Small Estate naming the Affiant and acknowledging the opening of the small estate. The Court Clerk will also issue certified copies of the Affidavit.

Please be advised that an Affiant is considered a fiduciary responsible for the proper management, distribution, and care of the estate assets, much like a Personal Representative or Executor. An Affiant’s duties and responsibilities include gathering the decedent’s assets, ascertaining creditors and paying debts, and distributing the remainder of the decedent’s estate to his or her heirs. In the Affiant’s exercise of such duties, the Court Order of Small Estate and the certified copies of the Small Estate Affidavit will be essential. Upon receipt of a copy of these documents, any person with property of the deceased is to transfer or deliver the property to the Affiant. Once the Affiant has gathered the decedent’s personal property, it is his or her responsibility to ensure that all of the decedent’s debts are paid in accordance with Tennessee law. The Affiant may only distribute the remaining proceeds to the decedent’s heirs once all of the debts have been satisfied. Once the estate administration has been settled, the Court can discharge the Affiant’s duties.

What Should I Do Now?

Please be advised that while small estate administration is much simpler than formal administration, it is always a good idea to have an attorney involved in the process. A Cole Law Group estate planning attorney in Nashville would be pleased to help you navigate the small estate administration process.

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