What is Probate & How Does It Work in TN?

Gavel used for Probate

If you have recently lost a loved one, you may hear the phrase “probate” come up. You find yourself wondering, “What is probate?” When someone passes away, the estate must be transferred to the deceased person’s heirs. Probate is the process of determining how to transfer the estate, along with paying any creditors that may be owed. In Clarksville, probate is managed by the Chancery Court of Montgomery County. Real property is usually the biggest asset tied up in probate and can take months before the heirs have rights to officially claim it. Call us at (931) 444-9360 to find out when you will be able to sell your property.

If the estate is below a certain amount, it is called a “small estate” and probate is not necessary. There are also certain assets that can pass to heirs without probate. These include but aren’t limited to payable-on-death accounts, accounts with beneficiaries named like retirement accounts or life insurance policies, tenancy by the entirety assets, and joint-tenancy assets. A living trust is another way to pass real estate without going through probate. If you don’t want your family to be forced into probate when you pass on, give us a call at (931) 444-9360 so we can talk you through your next steps.

If there is property that does not fit into these categories, even if there is a Will, it is required to go through probate before it can be transferred.


  1. The Will has to be submitted to the county probate court where the decedent lived.
  2. A Petition of Probate will be submitted as well. It requests permission to appoint an executor of the estate. This person is the Personal Representative who will ensure this process is completed correctly. The court appoints the Personal Representative when there is no Will to name one. The court requires that all heirs are notified that probate has begun for the estate.
  3. Letters Testamentary are given to the Personal Representative by the court which grants them the legal authority to act on behalf of the estate.
  4. The probate is published by local newspapers to alert any creditors. They have 4 months from the first publication to make a claim against the estate.
  5. The estate’s assets must be inventoried and listed by the court within 60 days.
  6. The debts of the estate, including any money owed to creditors must be paid. If assets must be sold to pay the debts, the Personal Representative must get approval from the Court for the sale.
  7. The Petition to Close the probate is filed when all taxes and creditors are paid. The Personal Representative must file a “Request For Relief” with Tenncare to ensure they will not be seeking medical cost reimbursement.
  8. An Order is issued by the Court distributing the estate’s assets to the heirs.
  9. A fee may be paid to the Personal Representative based on the difficulty of the process but these are often waived.

This framework models each probate process in Tennessee but there are many issues that arise that make all of them unique. Probate can last from 6 months after the death to years depending on the complexity of the estate. We specialize in guiding Personal Representatives and families through these steps, so they are confident that the best action is being taken. We focus on dealing with the real estate since this is the largest (and most complicated) asset in probate cases. However, we try to offer answers to all the common probate issues and will work with you until you are comfortable.

Call us to learn about our process and how we can help your family through probate. (931) 444-9360

Jordan Crain

Jordan Crain is the founder and acquisitions lead for New Leaf House Buyers. He is a licensed civil engineer and uses this unique skillset to understand homeowner's problems and helps them find a way to get rid of there housing headaches. He lives in Clarksville, TN with his wife and sons where he enjoys hiking at local parks and Land Between the Lakes NRA.

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