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Attorney Randy Ratliff


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Estate Planning Lawyer Guiding Residents of Nashville and Beyond

The thought of probate conjures up the image of a long, expensive, and complicated process following the death of a loved one. While it may be preferable in many instances to avoid probate, if a loved one passes away without making an estate plan that avoids the probate process, it is likely that the assets and liabilities that they left behind will need to be administered through the probate court system. If you need to talk to a Nashville probate lawyer, Randy Ratliff can help with matters related to the submission of wills to Chancery Court (or another appropriate court), letters testamentary, the appointment of an executor, and the administration of estates. He is an experienced estate planning attorney who has assisted people throughout Davidson and Williamson Counties.

Reduced to its simplest elements, probate is simply the legal process of paying a deceased person’s final expenses and disbursing any property (real or personal) that is left over. The procedure varies somewhat depending upon whether the decedent left a will (died “testate”) or without a will (“intestate”). Under either scenario, someone must be appointed to take care of the matters of the estate. If there is a will, an executor or executrix may be appointed according to the deceased person’s wishes. In the absence of a will, or if the person named as the executor is unwilling or unable to serve, the probate court will appoint a personal representative. Typically, this person is a relative of the decedent and an heir of the estate.

Duties of an Executor or Personal Representative During Probate

One of the first duties of the estate’s representative is to notify creditors of the decedent’s passing so that they may file a claim against the estate. The representative then identifies the decedent’s assets, such as real estate, vehicles, bank accounts, investments, business property, collections, and so on. It is important to note that some assets pass outside probate by operation of law and that some assets may pass through a trust document rather than through probate. For example, under Tennessee law, a family residence is often owned jointly by a husband and a wife. If the property was deeded to a couple as “joint tenants with rights of survivorship” or as “tenants by the entirety,” it passes to the surviving spouse automatically without passing through the decedent’s estate. The same is true of a vehicle or another asset in which there is a right of survivorship for a spouse or another individual. Additionally, a bank account may be “payable on death” (POD) to a spouse or another person, thus passing outside probate. Our probate attorney can help Nashville residents identify which assets may pass outside the probate process.

Once all of the assets and debts are known, and the time for filing claims has passed, the executor or personal representative must disburse what is left to the decedent’s heirs. If there is a will that is “proven” in court as valid, the property passes according to the will, except that a spouse may elect against the will if they would receive a larger inheritance through the election statute. If there is no will, or if the will is declared invalid, the decedent’s property passes according to the law of intestate succession. Under this statutory scheme, a decedent’s property passes to their spouse in total if there are no children, one-half or one-third to the spouse and the rest to the children (depending upon how many children the decedent had), or to other relatives if the decedent was unmarried and had no children.

Consult a Probate Lawyer in Nashville or Surrounding Communities

If you have recently lost a loved one and need to get started on the probate process, compassionate elder law attorney Randy Ratliff is here to help. To schedule an appointment, call us at 615-656-8282 or contact us online. Nashville probate attorney Randy Ratliff regularly assists families in communities such as Antioch, Hermitage, Madison, Goodlettsville, Joelton, Franklin, Brentwood, and Cool Springs. We can also help with matters related to elder care, family law, business succession planning, and advance health care directives.