Getting a Copy of a Last Will and Testament in Tennessee

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In Tennessee, a will becomes a public record only after the testator (the person creating the will) dies. At that time, the will is read in open court. Once a will becomes public record in Tennessee, anyone can view it. However, the terms for viewing it differ from court to court.

Who Can Create a Last Will and Testament?

A will is a legal document that outlines how a testator’s assets will be distributed after their death. It typically names one or more individuals as executors, who are responsible for carrying out the instructions set out in the document, among them distributing assets to named beneficiaries.

A will can also be used to define guardianship for minor children and make other arrangements according to the testator’s wishes.

A will is typically made by a person who is 18 or over and of sound mind, meaning they are capable of understanding the nature and consequences of the document. They also understand the extent of their assets and are aware of the people to whom they are leaving those assets.

Who Can See a Living Testator’s Will?

When the testator is still alive, the will is not yet public. However, it may be shared with one or more parties if the testator wishes:

  • Executor:‌ The testator chooses an executor who will be responsible for carrying out the instructions in the document after the testator's death.
  • Beneficiaries‌: The testator may let the beneficiaries, who are named in the will, know about the existence of the will and where it can be located.
  • Attorney:‌ If the testator was assisted by an attorney in the creation of the will, they will typically be given a copy of it.
  • Family members:‌ The testator may inform close family members about the will, where it is kept and what instructions it contains.

It is recommended that the testator keeps the original will in a safe and secure place, such as a safe deposit box, and inform his/her executor and attorney of its whereabouts.

Probating a Will in Tennessee

Probating a will is the legal process of proving its validity in court. This typically involves:

  • Filing the will with the court:‌ The original will, along with any supporting documents, is filed with the probate court in the county where the testator lived at the time of death.
  • Sending notice to interested parties:‌ The Tennessee county court issues notice to all interested parties, such as beneficiaries named in the will, to give them an opportunity to contest the will if they believe it is not valid.
  • Appointing the executor:‌ The county probate court appoints the executor who is responsible for administering the deceased person's estate, according to the will’s terms.
  • Inventorying and appraising of assets:‌ The executor prepares an inventory and appraisal of the decedent’s assets and debts.
  • Payment of debts and taxes:‌ The executor uses the assets of the estate to pay the deceased person's debts and taxes.
  • Distribution of assets:‌ The remaining assets are distributed to the beneficiaries named in the will.

The Tennessee probate process can take several months to a year or more depending on the complexity of the estate, any disputes that arise, and how backed up the probate court is.

When Does a Will Become Public Record in Tennessee?

In Tennessee, the testator can, if they are still living, deposit (file) the will with the probate court, as can their representative, in a sealed wrapper. The court will secure the will for a fee of $5. While the testator is still alive, they can revoke, amend, withdraw or deposit a substitute will at any time.

If the testator is no longer alive, their representative, next of kin or other authorized person may deposit the will. After the death of the testator, and upon submission of the death certificate, the will is opened in court. It is at that point that the will becomes public record.

How to View a Will in Tennessee

In Tennessee, viewing a will as public record typically involves visiting the probate court in the county where the will was filed and making a request to see it. The individual searching for this information will:

  • Locate the probate court:‌ The interested party must know the county where the deceased person lived at the time of their death in order to find the correct county courthouse. The Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts has a list of the probate courts and subsequent county clerk’s offices in the state.
  • Visit the probate court‌: Once the interested party knows the location of the probate court, they can visit the court clerk’s office to request the will. The courthouse will most likely have a public records section. Some counties will have court records online — Shelby County has an online database with records that date back to 1970.
  • Provide the necessary information:‌ The requestor must provide some basic information, such as the decedent’s name, date of death and the name of the executor or personal representative named on the will.

Once the party requesting the will provides the necessary information, they are typically able to view it. However, some courts may require a small fee or may have a specific time or date for viewing. How to view a will as public record can vary from court to court.

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