Intro to Probate: Small Estates

By Arthur Fowler - 11/29/2015

Tennessee has a process for Small Estates that avoids the normal probate process. Small Estates can be testate or intestate estates. A small estate is an estate where the value of the decedent’s personal property does not exceed $50,000. Personal property does not include property jointly owned or property that passed to a designated beneficiary. A Small Estate does not address real property. T.C.A. § 30-4-102. To open a Small Estate, the person (beneficiary, heir, personal representative, creditor) opening the Small Estate must wait 45 days after death before submitting a Small Estate Affidavit to the probate court. The person submitting the Small Estate Affidavit is called the Affiant. The Small Estate Affidavit shall set forth the following facts:

  • If there is a Will, the original shall be presented to the court for examination by the clerk and deposited with the court for safekeeping.
  • A list of unpaid debts left by decedent and the name and address of each creditor and the amount due that creditor.
  • An itemized description and the value of all of decedent’s personal property, the names and addresses of all persons known to have possession of any of decedent’s property, and a schedule of all insurance on decedent’s life payable to the decedent’s estate.
  • The name, age, address, and relationship, if any, of each devisee, legatee or heir entitled to receive any of decedent’s property.
  • Statement, subject to the penalty for perjury, that the affidavit is not false or misleading and that the affiant is mindful of all duties imposed upon the affiant by this chapter.

Bond may be required in a Small Estate unless a waiver applies under T.C.A. § 30-1-201(a)(1).The probate court clerk will issue certified copies of the Small Estate Affidavit that will take the place of Letters Testamentary or Letters of Administration. T.C.A. § 30-4-104.To complete the Small Estate process, the Affiant can either wait one year from the date the Small Estate Affidavit was filed at which time the probate court will automatically close the Small Estate or file a motion stating that estate taxes have been paid or there are no estate taxes due and an affidavit that each debt of the decedent is paid.