In Tennessee Can you Force an Estate to Distribute Assets to the Heirs?

Posted on Jul 5 2015 3:36PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

I am often asked to become involved in Tennessee probate estates as the attorney for the beneficiaries of the estate.  Often this is done to make sure the estate is running appropriately and sometimes this is done because my clients simply do not trust the executor or administrator of the estate (both are good reasons to hire an attorney to represent the beneficiaries).  When I am involved in this role for an estate, the most common question I get from my clients is about the timing of when the estate assets will be distributed to the heirs or beneficiaries of the estate. 


Often I cannot answer this question to my client’s satisfaction because if I am not the attorney for the estate, it is hard for me to control how promptly and efficiently the estate is handled.  However, Tennessee law is clear that once an estate is open longer than eighteen (18) months, T.C.A. § 30-2-710 provides that a beneficiary or heir of the estate can file a petition in the Court where the estate is pending to compel payment from the estate to the beneficiaries.  T.C.A. § 30-2-710 provides as follows:


(a) Any distributee or legatee of the estate may, after the expiration of eighteen (18) months from the grant of letters, apply to the probate or chancery court of the county in which administration was taken out, to compel the payment of the distributee's or legatee's distributive share or legacy.

(b) The application shall be by petition or bill, shall set forth the claim of the applicant as legatee or distributee, shall allege that the assets of the estate are more than sufficient to pay the debts, charges, and other claims, if any, entitled to priority, and be verified, by affidavit.

(c) The proceedings under the application shall be conducted as other equitable actions, and heard and determined summarily as soon as practicable.


It is required that the petition must set forth specific allegations that there is money that can be distributed after the debts and claims against the estate are paid.  This petition must be supported by an affidavit.  If the beneficiary or heir does not know this to be true, then they may not be successful in filing such a petition.  Regardless, this petition is a tool to get this process started and at least try to speed things along with the Court. 


Once the petition is filed, the court must then determine if it is appropriate to distribute certain assets of the estate to the beneficiary or heir.  This statute can be used to try to force a distribution from an estate that has been delayed over eighteen months.  Often my clients want to take action short of the eighteen months referenced in this statute.  The best thing to do short of the eighteen months is to have an attorney involved in the estate on behalf of the beneficiaries and heirs.  This attorneys can keep in communication with the estate attorney and often this fact alone will ensure the estate runs smoothly and promptly.  The estate attorney will know that there is another attorney looking over their shoulder and that often helps to make sure the estate stays on track.


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

TAGS: Probate Process, Probate Assets, Tennessee Probate Law
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Jason A. Lee is a Member of Burrow Lee, PLLC. Contact Jason at 615-540-1004 or jlee@burrowlee.com for an initial consultation on wills estate planning and probate issues.

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Tennessee Wills and Estates Blog
Jason A. Lee, Member of Burrow Lee, PLLC
611 Commerce Street, Suite 2603
Nashville, TN 37203
Phone: 615-540-1004
E-mail: jlee@burrowlee.com