There are a number of prevalent myths that many Tennesseans may have heard when discussing wills in Tennessee. While there may be a bit of truth in every myth, it is important to distinguish the facts from fiction about wills in Tennessee. One of the more common myths that many people ask about is whether the State of Tennessee will take everything from the deceased if he or she dies without a will. This circumstance is very unlikely to occur and only happens in very limited circumstances.
When an individual dies without a will, it is commonly known as dying intestate. “Intestacy” is really just a fancy way of describing how the assets of the decedent should be distributed according to the laws within the state. Similarly, a decedent is another way of describing the deceased individual with intestacy.
Tennessee has specific state statutes describing how assets of the decedent should pass to family members under intestacy. Tennessee Code Annotated Section 31-2-104 describes the process for determining where the assets of the deceased are to be distributed. Depending on the number of heirs, the statute determines the amount in which each individual receives a share of the assets. The distribution starts with the immediate family and only moves beyond the immediate family if there are no remaining members of the immediate family.
Under intestacy, if the decedent has a surviving spouse and no living children, the surviving spouse will receive the decedent’s entire estate. If the decedent has surviving children but no surviving spouse, the surviving children will receive the entire share of the estate. If there are both a surviving spouse and surviving children, the surviving spouse will receive either one-third (1/3) of the entire estate or a child’s share of the entire estate, whichever one is greater. If there are no surviving spouse or surviving children, the estate passes to the decedent’s surviving parents. The distribution continues further down the line of surviving family members depending on who is a surviving heir at law. Only when there are no surviving heirs-at-law would the estate ever pass to the State of Tennessee.
While Tennessee intestacy laws provide a mechanism for passing property upon death, it obviously may not provide the best allocation of the estate for your loved one’s needs. Tennessee wills provide you with the choice of how your estate should be distributed. Unfortunately, it is just one of those things that we all tend to “put off until later”. Considering all that we do to protect our family it is strange how so many people fail to do something that is so simple and relatively inexpensive.
If you need the help of a Tennessee wills attorney, be sure to contact our Nashville office. Our dedicated and experienced Tennessee Wills and Probate attorneys will be happy to answer any questions that you may have.