What Happens If Someone Dies Without a Will in Tennessee?

You may or may not have a will in place. In fact, a large portion of the population does not even have a will. Although it is always best to have a will in place for a number of reasons, Tennessee law sets forth where a person’s assets are to be distributed if he or she dies without a will. The legal term for the person who died is the “decedent” while the term for dying without a will is known as dying “intestate.” Accordingly, the laws of intestacy set forth how an individual’s estate, or more simply put things, will be divided upon his or her death. This determination is based strictly on familial relationships. Obviously, not every family situation would be best suited by a distribution of assets based upon the law.

Under the Tennessee laws of intestacy, the statutes set forth which relatives can recover and exactly how much they receive. Obviously, if the decedent had a spouse and/or children, they are given priority.  If a decedent left a spouse without any children, the spouse is to receive the entire estate. If the decedent left a spouse and children, the surviving spouse will receive either one-third of the entire estate or a child’s share of the estate, whichever one is bigger. In other words, the smallest portion of the estate that the surviving spouse could recover would be one-third. If the decedent left only one child, the surviving spouse and child would split the estate with each receiving one-half.

If the decedent did not leave a surviving spouse, priority of the distribution of the decedent’s assets is given as follows. First priority is given to any children with each child to be given an equal share of the entire estate. However, if there are no surviving children of the decedent, the parents of the decedent are to recover in equal shares of the entire estate. If the decedent does not have any surviving parents, the estate is divided up between the decedent’s siblings or the siblings’ children if the sibling is no longer living. If the decedent does not have any surviving siblings or children of the surviving siblings, the estate is divided among the decedent’s grandparents.

In a nutshell, the distribution of any assets is based on the familial relationship with the decedent with those within the immediate family having higher priority. It goes without saying that the laws of intestacy attempt to distribute an estate evenly among those who were closely related to the decedent. While this may work for some families, it obviously does not work best for all families.

The intestacy laws do not account for the specific wishes of the decedent like a last will and testament can. The laws of intestacy do not account for special family situations that may call for a family member to receive more or less than another family member. The laws of intestacy do not account for anyone other than close family members. Similarly, the laws of intestacy account for the distribution of a person’s estate in even portions. However, it can often be difficult to determine how to divide personal property evenly. You cannot divide a car or a tractor three ways. For these reasons, it is important to have a will in place setting forth your wishes for the distribution of your assets after your passing. If you have questions about the laws of intestacy or drafting a will, be sure to contact the Nashville wills lawyers at The Higgins Firm.