What Happens to My Estate if I Die Without a Will in Tennessee?

If you reside in Tennessee and die without a will, the distribution of your estate is governed by state law. Tennessee Code (T.C.A. 31-2-104) sets out the rules for which family members would receive your property. Here’s the problem: those rules may or may not reflect what you would have wanted.

If you leave no descendants of your own but were married at the time of your death, then your estate will go to your surviving spouse.

However, if you pass away without a will and are married with children, your entire estate will not pass to your spouse as many clients often request in their will. Instead, your estate would be divided between your spouse and each of your children, with the spouse’s share not to drop below one-third (1/3) of the estate.

If you are unmarried and leave no descendants of your own when you die, your estate would pass to your parents, if they are still living, and to your siblings (or their children) if your parents have already passed away. If you left no siblings, nieces, or nephews either, then your estate would be distributed to your grandparents, or – if they have passed away – to your aunts and uncles (or your cousins if your aunts and uncles have passed away).

If you want to decide for yourself who will receive your estate when you pass away, rather than letting the state legislature’s flow chart described above make all the decisions, you need to have a Last Will and Testament in place. But there are also other important reasons to execute a Will.

First, in a will, you also appoint a person to administer your estate. That person (called an Executor in Tennessee) is responsible for paying debts out of your assets, and distributing your remaining property according to the terms of your will. Without a will, the court will appoint an administrator of the judge’s choosing to perform this role.

Second, the probate process is much simpler with a will than without. Courts will defer to your wishes expressed in the will where possible, but will have to step in and make those decisions if there is no will.

Lastly, a will can help you achieve peace of mind knowing that your loved ones will be taken care of exactly as you would like. It makes it that much less likely that your loved ones will fight among themselves – or in court – over your property. And a will allows you to prepare a final word to your loved ones. Your will is the last message your family will hear from you. It is important for it to speak clearly to express your views.

Preparing a will with an attorney is not as complex or as daunting as it may seem. An attorney can usually obtain all the information they need to prepare your will and talk you through some basic estate planning in an initial consultation lasting no more than an hour. Then return a few days later to sign the document. If you are not in a condition to travel to the law office, inquire about whether they will send someone to you. Many law firms provide that service as well as providing proper witnesses (not just anyone can be a witness to your will!) and a notary service.

Please contact us today online or by calling 800.705.2121 to discuss your legal options.

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