Tennessee Court of Appeals Finds that Tennessee Estate Must be Opened to File Suit on Behalf of Deceased for Promissory Note Breach of Contract

Posted on Sep 1 2014 8:52PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

The Tennessee Court of Appeals in the recent decision of Doris Guyear, Heir of Leroy Guyear, deceased v. Joey Blalock, et al No. M2012-01562-COA-R3-CV, 2014 WL 3697564 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2014) discussed efforts to collect on a promissory note that was owned by a deceased individual.  In this case, the owner of the promissory note died and his widow desired to collect on the promissory note as his heir.  She therefore filed a complaint in the name of his estate to collect on the promissory note.  The problem was, there was no estate opened.  The wife then amended the complaint on several occasions to try to fix the problem by being listed as the “next friend” of the deceased and ultimately as a “partner” of the deceased.  However, the plaintiff never actually opened up an estate for her husband in order to properly proceed with the lawsuit to enforce the promissory note that her husband owned.


As a result, the question addressed by the Tennessee Court of Appeals was whether the wife could bring a suit for the promissory note of her deceased husband without formally opening up an estate.  Ultimately, the Tennessee Court of Appeals found that the spouse could not bring this cause of action for breach of contract for the promissory note in her individual capacity or in the capacities that she attempted.  Rather, the spouse was required to open up an estate in order to properly bring this lawsuit for breach of contract.  The Court specifically stated as follows:


The proper way to establish the respective rights of Leroy Guyear's heirs to his property would have been through the administration of his estate. If Doris Guyear had been appointed as the administrator, then she would have had the right, and perhaps even the duty, to sue on behalf of his estate in order to collect any debts that were owed to her late husband. See, State v. Anderson, 84 Tenn. 321, 338 (1886); Carr v. Lowe's Executor, 54 Tenn. 84, 90 (1871); State v. Fulton, 49 S.W. 297, 301. The trial judge alerted Ms. Guyear to the necessity of opening the estate and becoming its administrator if she wished to bring suit in its name, but she chose not to do that for whatever reason, and rather to amend her complaint by bringing it in her own name and as her late husband's “next friend.”

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TAGS: Executor/Executrix, Tennessee Probate Law Comments [0]

What is the Purpose of Naming a Trustee in a Tennessee Will?

Posted on Aug 24 2014 9:59PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

A lot of people do not completely understand the different positions that are often identified in a Tennessee will.  One such position that is identified in many wills is the position of a trustee.  Often wills provide for assets to be paid to certain individuals including minor children.  This often occurs when people designate a minor child as a direct beneficiary in a will (such as to a son or daughter).  Or money or property can be left to adult children but if those adult children are deceased when the person who wrote the will dies, then potentially their minor children (grandchildren) could obtain assets (this is often done when there is a per stirpes designation in a will). 


For this reason, it is almost always important to name a trustee in your will even if a trustee is unlikely to ever actually be needed.  The trustee is the person who would hold the money or assets on behalf of the minor individual until the time the assets are distributed to the beneficiary at the appropriate time.  This is a very important position.  Essentially this is the individual who makes all decisions about when the minor children can have access to any of the money left to them in trust.  Oftentimes, a minor child will still need money to be used for their benefit like to buy them clothing, school supplies, a car or to pay for their education.  This should be an individual that you absolutely trust. 


Often in wills a trust that is established for minor children or minor grandchildren will terminate at a certain age.  Many people provide that the trust will terminate once that person reaches 25 or 30 years old.  I recommend that you do not allow the trust to terminate at 18 years of age because in my opinion 18 year olds should not be getting a large chunk of money.  It is best to keep the trust active for an extended period of time beyond age 18 so the money is not squandered.  When the child reaches a more advanced age, they are more lik...

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TAGS: Trustee, Wills Comments [0]

After Someone Dies What Happens to Their Creditor Debt in Tennessee? Who is Responsible to Pay the Debt?

Posted on Aug 9 2014 2:51PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

An individual who dies who owes money to creditors is largely still responsible for that debt after they are deceased.  Specifically, their estate owes the money to the creditors.  Many people are confused about this.  It is important to note that if nobody else was a co-signor or legally responsible for the debt, then family members, even spouses are not necessarily responsible for the debt.  Be very careful when receiving creditor collection calls after your loved ones passing because often they will try to get others to pay the debt of the deceased – often these individuals are not actually legally responsible for this debt.  


Required Notice to Creditors:


If a probate estate is opened up for a deceased person, then the creditors are put on notice of the opening of the estate and they have a certain amount of time (generally 4 months) to file a claim against the estate. See T.C.A. § 30-2-306.  This is a formal requirement and requires an actual filing of the claim in the Tennessee probate estate.  Any and all known creditors must be specifically sent notice of the opening of the estate. See T.C.A. § 30-2-306.  Additionally, an advertisement must be placed in a newspaper on two consecutive weeks to put additional creditors on notice. See T.C.A. § 30-2-306.  If the creditors do not file a claim with the estate within the appropriate statutory time period then their claim can be completely waived.  Additionally, if a probate estate is not opened up in a timely fashion then creditors can actually open up an estate in order to make sure they collect on the amount of money that is owed to the creditor.  Of course this only makes sense if there are actual assets in the estate.  


Creditor Claims Are Extinguished After 12 Months Post-Death:


One other very important thing to know is that if an estate is not opened up until greater than 12 months after death, then you are not required to provide a notice of creditors and the creditor claims against the estate are considered to be expired (except for TennCare).  For this reason, it is extremely important that if you have a claim aga...

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TAGS: Probate Process, Creditor claims, TennCare, Notice Requirements, Tennessee Probate Law Comments [0]

In Tennessee What is an Executor/Executrix, What Do They Do and Who Should you Select?

Posted on Aug 3 2014 9:54PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

An executor or executrix is someone that you designate in your will to administer your estate.  Often times, this individual is now called your “personal representative”.  This is a very important position and you need to be very careful in selecting who you want to handle these duties.  Basically, you need to make sure that you select someone for this position that you absolutely trust.  The most common selections for people to serve in this role are (1) spouse and (2) a child (once the children are older).


The executor or executrix is ultimately the individual responsible to move forward with the probate of your will, if necessary.  This individual is required to comply with Tennessee law and deadlines for administering your estate.  This includes putting creditors on notice, filing appropriate paperwork with the Probate Court and eventually distributing your assets as you desire in your will.  In almost all circumstances I recommend that an executor or executrix in Tennessee should hire an attorney to assist them in these matters to make sure that they comply with their duties under Tennessee law.


It is important to note that there are many statutes that govern the responsibilities of an executor or executrix.  This is why a Tennessee attorney should be consulted to ensure compliance with those statutes.  If Tennessee law is not complied with, the executor or executrix can be found personally responsible for any losses or inappropriate distributions from the estate.  This can sometime be a very large amount of money.  It is simply not worth it to handle these duties without representation.  That is the classic “penny wise but pound foolish” scenario. 


Follow me on Twitter at @jasonalee for updates from the Tennessee Wills and Estates blog.
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TAGS: Probate Process, Executor/Executrix, Tennessee Probate Law Comments [0]

New 2014 Tennessee Statute Increases Number of Estates that Are Not Required to File Inheritance Tax Return

Posted on Jul 28 2014 10:17PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

The Tennessee Legislature in the 2014 Tennessee Legislative Session passed Public Chapter No. 808 which greatly increases the number of Tennessee estates that do not need to file any kind of inheritance tax return.  This new bill amended T.C.A. § 67-8-409.  Prior to this amendment, estates where an individual died before January 1, 2014 were exempt from filing a Short Form Inheritance Tax Return if the gross value of the decedent’s estate did not exceed $100,000.00 and the trial court waived the requirement.  With this new amendment, estates where the deceased died on January 1, 2014 or after, no Short Form Inheritance Tax Return is required as long as the gross value of the estate is $1,000,000.00 or less (and the Court provides a waiver in the Order).  For those who die in 2015, the amount estates can be valued before the requirement to file an inheritance tax return will be $2,000,000.00.  The court can simply waive the filing of the Inheritance Tax Return upon a statement of the gross amount of the estate (this is generally done as a matter of course in Tennessee).


As I have previously discussed the Tennessee Inheritance Tax will be abolished effective January 1, 2016.  This new amendment to Tennessee law further attempts to eliminate the necessity of filing Inheritance Tax Returns with the Tennessee Department of Revenue. 


Follow me on Twitter at @jasonalee for updates from the Tennessee Wills and Estates blog.
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TAGS: Tennessee Inheritance Tax, Taxes Comments [0]

Can a Non-Resident of Tennessee Serve as a Trustee of a Tennessee Trust?

Posted on Jul 13 2014 7:22PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

In most circumstances the answer to this question is, Yes.  T.C.A. § 35-50-107 addresses this issue specifically and provides in subsection (a)(2)(D) as follows:


(2) The following nonresident persons or corporations may serve as fiduciaries, whether the appointment is by will, deed, trust agreement, court order or decree or otherwise:


(D) Any person may serve as trustee of a trust, regardless of the residence of the trustee;


As a result any resident or non-resident may serve as a trustee of a Trust even if the trustee does not actually live in Tennessee.  This statutes applies when there is an actual person who is serving as a trustee as opposed to a corporate entity of some kind (although there are rules that can allow this as well).  Further, there are specific requirements for non-resident trustee’s to comply with but with the help of a Tennessee attorney, these rules are not too difficult to follow. 


Follow me on Twitter at @jasonalee for updates from the Tennessee Wills and Estates blog.
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TAGS: Tennessee Probate Law Comments [0]

Tennessee Raises Amount Allowed For “Small Estate” Probate to $50,000.00 From Prior $25,000.00 Maximum

Posted on Jul 6 2014 9:40PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

The Tennessee Legislature in the 2014 legislative session passed Public Chapter 829 which raised the amount eligible for the small estate process in Tennessee from $25,000.00 to $50,000.00.  This statute went into effect immediately upon signing on April 29, 2014.  This bill also made other various technical changes to probate law but the most important change for most people was the change to the small estate monetary amount. 


As a result, a Tennessee small estate can now be opened under T.C.A. § 30-4-101 et al as long as the estate totals $50,000.00 or less.  The Small Estates Act” of Tennessee was passed in 1972 and has provided a way for individuals to pursue an easier, shorter and more efficient probate estate when the amount of value in the estate is minimal.  Prior to this new statute small estates could only be opened up when the value of the property of decedent did not exceed $25,000.00.  I still recommend that you have an attorney involved to assist you with the small estate process although the attorney fees for a small estate should be much less than for a full probate estate in Tennessee. 


Follow me on Twitter at @jasonalee for updates from the Tennessee Wills and Estates blog.
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TAGS: Probate Process, Probate Assets, Tennessee Probate Law Comments [0]

In Tennessee Should You Add Your Children to Your Bank Accounts When You Need Assistance Later in Life?

Posted on Jun 29 2014 10:06PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

A troubling amount of elderly individuals in Tennessee add one or more of their children to their bank accounts as joint owners with right of survivorship in order to have them assist in paying bills and taking care of other matters late in life.  This is certainly a tempting option because it can be a simple way to allow someone to help an elderly individual late in life so their financial matters are taken care of by someone.  However doing this is fraught with danger.


When an individual is added to a bank account with right of survivorship, then upon the elderly individuals passing, the entire account passes to them pursuant to the right of survivorship terms.  This can cause an unequal distribution of assets among children for instance (even if the will clearly states that everything should be split between your children equally, this money in the account passes outside of that requirement). 


Another major problem is if the “co-owner” on your account obtains a judgment against them by a creditor then the creditor can often collect against your account.  This is a significant risk.  For instance, if one of your children gets into an automobile accident and unfortunately severely injures someone but they have insufficient insurance coverage to pay for the damages, then the injured party could obtain a judgment against them and execute against your account to pay the judgment. 


Additionally, the account will be considered part of your child’s assets for purposes of bankruptcy or other purposes.  As a result, there is a tremendous risk in adding even responsible, financially stable individuals as owners of your bank account.  I recommend doing this in almost all circumstances because the downside consequences are so significant.  There are other options like having a properly completed Power of Attorney completed that will allow your children to assist you with your finances later in life.  Also, if you are trying to avoid probate for those accounts, then you can list them as a P...

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TAGS: Wills, Power of Attorney Comments [0]

Are Bank Accounts with a “Right of Survivorship”, “Pay on Death” or “Transfer on Death” Designation Part of a Probate Estate in Tennessee?

Posted on Jun 8 2014 9:31PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

Bank accounts with a ”right of survivorship”, “pay on death” or “transfer on death” designation are generally not part of your probate estate in Tennessee.  These accounts pass pursuant to the specific contract terms for the account.  This is very important to remember when constructing a comprehensive estate plan.  Sometimes people add one or two of their children to their bank accounts late in life in order to help with paying the bills.  This can have a very significant unintended consequence.  If the children were actually added as joint owners on the account with right of survivorship, then the money in that account will pass directly to them upon death.  It will not pass pursuant to the terms in your will.  This could certainly conflict with your intentions to split things equally among your children.    

As a result, when planning how your assets will be distributed to your heirs or children, it is important to keep this information in mind.  If you desire to have your assets split equally among your children, for instance, then make sure the bank accounts do not unintentionally pass a significant amount of money to one of your children simply because they have been added to the account.  People sometimes have their will drafted correctly where it shows all of their assets should be split equally among their children.  However, they do not take into consideration how their bank accounts are listed or owned.  This can cause an unintentionally uneven distribution of assets after your death (this can also happen with 401k assets and Life Insurance policies).  This is why it is important to have a comprehensive discussion with a Tennessee estate planning attorney about your assets and how you want your assets to be passed to your loved ones upon your death.

Follow me on Twitter at @jasonalee for updates from the Tennessee Wills and Estates blog.

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TAGS: Retirement plans - 401k etc., Probate Assets, Tennessee Probate Law Comments [0]

Can a Nonresident of Tennessee Serve as an Executor of a Tennessee Estate?

Posted on Jun 1 2014 7:00PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

The short answer to this question is yes, in most circumstances.  T.C.A. § 30-1-116 provides as follows:


No nonresident person, bank or trust company may be appointed as the personal representative of an estate of a decedent, except as provided in § 35-50-107.


As a result, we need to look at T.C.A. § 35-50-107 to determine the answer to this question.  This statute in subsection (a)(2)(B) provides as follows:


(2) The following nonresident persons or corporations may serve as fiduciaries, whether the appointment is by will, deed, trust agreement, court order or decree or otherwise:

 (B) Any resident or nonresident person may serve as a personal representative of the estate of a decedent;


As a result, any nonresident person can serve as the personal representative (executor, executrix or administrator) of an estate of a decedent.  This applies as long as the personal representative is an actual person and not a corporate entity...

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TAGS: Probate Process, Executor/Executrix, Tennessee Probate Law Comments [0]

What is the Statute of Limitations for a Tennessee Probate Estate to be Opened to Prosecute a Claim Against the United States Government?

Posted on May 19 2014 9:37PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

Tennessee has a specific statute that provides there is no statute of limitations for opening up an estate in Tennessee in order to prosecute a claim against the United States Government.  Specifically, T.C.A. § 30-1-110(3) provides as follows:


The time within which administration may be granted shall be as follows:

(3) Prosecuting Claims against Government. A special administration may be granted for the purpose of prosecuting any claim against the government of the United States, without any limitation of time.


As a result, if an estate needs to be opened in Tennessee for the purpose of prosecuting a claim against the United States Government, this can be done at any time after the decedent’s death.  Obviously, there may still be an underlying statute of limitations for the claim against the United States Government, but there is no limitation of time for the actual opening of the estate under Tennessee law.  An example of a claim that has been brought against the United States Government to which this statute would apply would be the “Black Farmers Discrimination Litigation”.  In order to get a paid out settlement in the Black Farmers Discrimination Litigation case in Tennessee (or elsewhere) for a deceased person, an estate must be opened up in Tennessee.


Follow me on Twitter at @jasonalee for updates from the Tennessee Wills and Estates blog.
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TAGS: Statute of Limitations, Tennessee Probate Law Comments [0]

Do Tennessee Courts Recognize Handwritten Wills?

Posted on May 11 2014 10:28PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

The short answer to this questions is simply yes, you can have a handwritten Will in Tennessee.  That is as long as it complies with the requirements for a holographic Will under Tennessee law.  The requirements for a holographic Will are found in T.C.A. § 32-1-105 which states,


No witness to a holographic will is necessary, but the signature and all its material provisions must be in the handwriting of the testator and the testator's handwriting must be proved by two (2) witnesses.


Therefore, if someone is going to have a handwritten Will in Tennessee, the important or “material” provisions in the Will must be entirely in the testator’s handwriting.  Additionally, the individual who made the Will must actually sign the Will.  Ultimately, the handwriting of the person who made the Will must be proved in Court by two witnesses.  If all these requirements are met, then a handwritten Will can be deemed valid in Tennessee.


Now I need to get on my soapbox.  Just because you can do your own handwritten will does not mean that this should be done.  I do not recommend that anyone prepare their own handwritten Will.  There are simply too many mistakes that can happen in this process.  There are many unintended consequences when people try to “save money” and do their own handwritten Will.  Tennessee law is filled with examples of significant mistakes that were unintentionally made by people who try to draft their own wills.  Unfortunately, at the point these mistakes are discovered, it is too late to correct the mistakes.  As a result, I recommend that everybody in Tennessee should have a Will done by a competent Tennessee Wills attorney.  It is not that...

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TAGS: Holographic Will, Wills, Will Contest Comments [0]
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