Notes On Probate.

So…as of yesterday…I’m 99% sure I’m done with everything associated with the Probate Courts in Knoxville to finally close Dad’s docket. I mailed off the last bit of everything yesterday to my lawyer and as far as I can tell, the rest is in in his hands to get it where it needs to be to finalize everything.


This has been such an annoying and frustrating process. And Dad’s situation? Was actually kinda easy. He owned his house and car. He had no debt. And the amount of money in his various bank accounts fell well below the amount that the Tennessee Department of Revenue cares about, so no taxes had to be paid. He only had two beneficiaries. In other words, this process could have been a lot worse. Yet still? It took over a year and made me cry on several occasions. I thought I’d put together a list of pointers if – GOD FORBID – you ever find yourself having to deal with someone’s estate in probate.

  • It’s never easy. I bet 10 different people told me this would be “easy” based on Dad’s situation. And either I really am the idiot they all acted like I was, or their definition of “easy” has been distorted from years working in this industry. I prefer to assume the later.
  • You can never have too many copies of anything. Get at least 20 of everything that is official, like letters of administration and death certificates. Dad didn’t have a will so I had to be declared the Administrator, which is different from someone who is the Executor. If you’re the Executor of the will? Make sure you have 20 copies of whatever it is you need that states that officially. Non-official documents? Make at least 5 copies of those and make sure you NEVER send off your last one. Most people will send official documents back when they’re done if you need them, but you don’t want to have to wait on a bank.
  • Find a lawyer that will actually help you .  I could write pages about ways my lawyer actually made this worse, but I’m trying not to focus on that. Just make sure you have a lawyer that will answer questions, especially via email so you can have record to go back later and make sure you’re doing everything right. In theory, you don’t need a lawyer. I wish I hadn’t had one, now. It was a waste of money he was so unhelpful. But, I’ve heard stories from people who have had lawyers who stayed in touch, answered questions, and always repeated the same information. My lawyers liked to tell me different things at different times which does nothing to help someone who is already confused.
  • Understand this: Everyone will treat you like you are stupid. I felt like everyone from lawyers, to probate clerks, to revenue officers, to title companies and medical billing departments – thought I was the dumbest person on the planet. And here’s how someone explained it to me: They all do what you’re trying to do: Sell a house, get a tax exemption, pay your bills – they handle those things every day. To them? It’s common sense what you’re doing and if you screw it up somehow? It’s because you’re stupid. Just go into it knowing that you are going to feel very stupid OFTEN. And you’ll find yourself proposing the situations to family to make sure you aren’t the only one who wouldn’t have known what to do. They will reassure you that it’s not common knowledge. It will not help.
  • The internet is helpful. There were several times when my lawyer didn’t answer my questions or return my phone calls. So, I googled. I was surprised how many times I found good advice/answers to my situation. Sometimes just a translation of some of the legal language on probate documents was all I need. “Oh! So that just means I need to sign below? Why didn’t they just SAY THAT?” Sometimes there were even copies of the forms I was filling out with arrows telling me exactly what to do. Seriously – if you can’t afford a lawyer? Don’t panic. It didn’t really help us as much as I had hoped. Google was much more helpful.
  • Remember: someone you loved died. This sucks no matter how proficient you are at legalese. Allow yourself several rants against THE MAN who makes you do such stupid things after someone you love dies. Those rants probably won’t make any sense, but they will make you feel better. Trust me.
Dad's Globe...Given New Life By My Brother
A lamp my brother made out of some of Dad’s old stuff

Like it’s not hard enough, losing someone. I’m thankful it’s over and we’re just waiting for the official “CLOSED!” sign on the docket so I can finally wash my hands of all of this depressing legal crap. It turned Dad’s death into something more of a legal proceeding and I’m glad to be rid of that irreverent feeling. It’s no longer any sort of business transaction or court session. One year later and it’s finally back to being what it was truly all along: the death of a very wonderful father. Case closed.

10 thoughts on “Notes On Probate.”

  1. You made it! And now I (a lawyer married to a lawyer) am going to go start writing a will, damn it. We have no excuse for not having one, and you just reminded me of why we absolutely should.

  2. Ah man. I am so glad everything’s coming to a close for you. I hope now things will settle down and you can focus on you again.

    Thank you for sharing all this so someone else in a similar situation can have something to fall back on.

    And thank you for reminding me that I need to get my arse in gear and get that will made.


  3. I’m sorry this has been such a difficult process for you. I’m particularly sorry that your lawyer was so unhelpful. In my experience, a lot of lawyers don’t want to give you answers in writing because they want to be able to deny or fudge if they were wrong later. I would say the deepest fear of most lawyers is to make a mistake or look dumb in front of a client.

    I’m glad that you are finally through (hopefully!) and I do appreciate this list. As an only child, I know I will someday be doing this twice.

  4. Weirdly the funeral director (who was awesome under the circumstances) was the one who advised us about getting more copies of everything – particularly the death certificate- than you think you will possibly ever need. My mom died without a will and even though my father is still alive there were bank accounts, a car in her name and even something as little as cancelling her AOL account required one. Since she died at Sloan Kettering and we live in NJ getting any additional certificates requires a trip to lower Manhattan.

  5. I’m sorry that this process has been so frustrating for you. I worked as a Legal Assistant for attorneys who specialized in estate planning, so I know how easy the probate of an estate can be if you have a good lawyer. My advice to anyone who finds themselves in a situation similar to yours would be to make friends with the attorney’s assistant or secretary. They will not be able to answer your legal questions, but they will be able to tell you where you are in the process, what the next step is, and what will need to be done to accomplish that step. They will also be able to nag the attorney to return your calls, and their billable rate is much lower than that of the attorney 🙂

  6. I’m so happy for you that it’s almost over. I dealt with the estate thing and had the nice twist of a stepmother who wanted to go to court over it all. Legal things are so awful when you’re trying to grieve. You deserve a beer (or two!) now.

    Oh, and that lamp is just beautiful. What a special keepsake.

  7. As a recently graduated law student hoping to go into family law, it is always good to remember things like this. I promise I WILL be one of those GOOD lawyers. 🙂

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