What can you do if a loved one passes away and you did not have a close relationship? Maybe your father is in a second marriage with children and you only spoke with him a few times a year. Or you are recently estranged from a family member or their close circle. You know that you may be entitled to an inheritance but are not sure. You don’t know if they had a will, or what it said if they did, or even what kind of assets they owned when they passed away. How do you find out?
We hear from lots of people who are in this situation due to second families or difficult family disputes that sadly went unresolved. Just because you were not in touch with a loved one toward the end of their life, or have a strong relationship with their spouse or children, does not mean you are not entitled to an inheritance in Tennessee.
There are several steps you can take, or work with a Tennessee attorney to make inquiries and conduct research on your behalf.
First and most important is to determine if your loved one had a will in place, or a trust, that expressed how their assets should be distributed after their death.
If there is a will, may have been entered into court in the county in which your loved one resided. If you are a beneficiary under the will, either because you are named, or because you fall under a category (like “my children”) that the will describes, the Executor should notify you if they are aware of you. Often, the estate executor and immediate family has difficulty naming all next of kin, or locating the address of estranged family members. So, just because you have not been notified does not mean that you are not entitled to an inheritance under the will.
If your loved one’s assets are in a trust, obtaining information about its existence and its terms can be more difficult. However, under Tennessee law, unless the terms of the trust call for secrecy, trustees are required to notify beneficiaries if they can find them, though often they fail to take this step in a timely manner. An attorney can help you make inquiries.
If your loved one did not have a will, their estate will be divided according to Tennessee law. It provides that a surviving spouse and the children of the deceased person are the initial heirs. If the children have also passed away, then *their* children inherit their share. If a deceased person left no spouse and no descendants, then parents are next in line, followed by siblings or their children, and then aunts/uncles or their children. If you are entitled to a share of the estate under this law, you can petition the court to open the estate yourself, if nobody else has done so. Hire a Tennessee estate attorney to help you with that process.
If you simply do not know whether your loved one had a will or not, and no estate has been opened, you can petition the court to open the estate. The estate administrator will then have access to the deceased person’s property, including any safe deposit box in their name. Family members who may be aware of a will or in possession of a will are required to come forward and present it. Sometimes, for a variety of reasons, family members know about a will but do not wish to present it. Once the estate is opened, they may be compelled to produce it. Concealing or destroying a will for the purpose of defrauding an heir of his or her inheritance is a felony under Tennessee law.
A Tennessee estate attorney can help you conduct the research, make the inquiries you need, and petition a court if necessary.
Please contact us today online or by calling 800.705.2121 to discuss your legal options.