As many residents of Tennessee have probably heard, creating a trust is one way residents can eliminate, or at least greatly simplify, the probate process.
To review, probate is a court-supervised process through which a person, the executor, collects a deceased person's assets, pays off debts and then distributes the difference according to the terms of the will or the law. Especially if it involves conflict between family members, the process can involve a lot of time, money and stress.
In some cases, it may not be necessary to create a trust in order to steer around Tennessee's probate system. For instance, if a person dies without many assets, that is, with no real estate and with less than $50,000 in other property, then the estate can distribute property by means of what is called a small estate affidavit.
It is also important to remember that many types of assets are exempt from the state's probate process. For example, retirement accounts, proceeds from life insurance policies, and jointly held bank accounts all get paid to the beneficiary, or the joint owner, of the account without regard to the probate process or even the terms of a person's will. Likewise, real estate that is held jointly with rights of survivorship passes automatically to surviving owners should one owner die.
Finally, even if some probate is inevitable, in many cases, an executor will be allowed to proceed without a lot of hands-on supervision from the court. In other words, the personal representative will largely be allowed to do his or her job unhindered so long as he or she does so properly.
Both during the estate planning process and after the death of a loved one, there are ways to minimize the inconvenience of probate. An experienced an attorney can help a family explore their options in this respect.