The Tennessee Supreme Court Access To Justice Initiative


What Does My Lawyer Need to Open an Estate?

When a loved one dies, you have to deal not only with grief and loss but also with practical matters like incoming bills, real estate upkeep, and a house full of things. Unless the person who died had arranged their affairs so that all property passed to a named beneficiary or joint owner upon their death, you will likely need to open an estate and have a court appoint someone to be the official person in charge of winding up the financial affairs of the person who died.

You will need to contact an attorney to assist with this process. What documents and information should you have ready when you contact a lawyer to make the best use of your time?

Death Certificate

Your lawyer will need a certified copy of your loved one’s death certificate. The certified copy of the death certificate will need to be filed with the court. It also contains information that will need to be included in the papers that your lawyer will file with the court on your behalf.

Last Will and Testament

If your loved one died with a Last Will and Testament, your lawyer will need the original signed and witnessed Last Will and Testament. Even if all you can find is a handwritten will, let your lawyer review it.


If your loved one died without a Last Will and Testament, you will need to provide a list of names and addresses of all close relatives of the person who died. List the spouse of the person who died, even if the couple was estranged or separated. List any children, including adopted, deceased, or estranged children. If any children are deceased, include any of their children. If the person who died had no children, list any of their living parents. If the person had no children and had no living parents, list any siblings. If any siblings have died, list their children in their place.

Assets and Debts

To determine the best course of action, your lawyer will need a list of the assets and debts of the person who died. Assets include real estate, bank accounts, life insurance policies, investment accounts, automobiles, and business interests. Your attorney will want to see how those assets are titled to see if they even need to be administered through an estate or if they passed upon death. Debts include any outstanding loans, including mortgages and car notes, and bills, such as credit card or medical bills. If someone is jointly responsible for these debts, please let your lawyer know.


Opening an estate requires paying the court a filing fee. Filing fees may vary from county to county and will depend upon the type of estate you need to open. For most estates, you will also have to pay a publication fee to run a notice to creditors in the local newspaper.

When you gather this information and are prepared to call a lawyer, be sure to call an attorney with experience handling probate in Tennessee. The attorneys at the Tennessee Center for Estate and Elder Law, PLLC have this experience and are available to discuss your particular situation. Contact us at 615-869-7450.