What Happens If I Die without a Will in Tennessee?

If you have yet to create and execute at least a simple Last Will and Testament, there is no time like the present to get started – unless you prefer to have the State of Tennessee decide what happens to your estate assets after you are gone. To encourage you to execute a Last Will and Testament, a Murfreesboro estate planning attorney at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby explains what happens if you die without a Will in Tennessee.

What Is Probate?

When you die, your estate will be required to go through the legal process known as “probate.”

Probate is intended to serve several important purposes, including:

  • Authenticating a Last Will and Testament if one was left behind
  • Identifying and locating all estate assets
  • Identifying and locating heirs of the estate in the case of an intestate estate
  • Notifying creditors to allow them the opportunity to file claims against the estate
  • Paying any taxes owed by the decedent and/or estate
  • Transferring the remaining assets to the intended beneficiaries and/or heirs of the estate

What Does It Mean to Die “Intestate?”

A “testate” estate refers to the estate of a Testator who did leave behind a valid Last Will and Testament upon death. An “intestate” estate refers to the estate of someone who did not execute a Will prior to death. If the decedent left behind a valid Will, the terms of that Will dictate how the estate assets are distributed. A decedent’s estate includes all assets, tangible and intangible, that the decedent owned, or in which the decedent had an ownership interest, at the time of death. Not all those assets are necessarily probate assets. Only probate assets are required to go through the probate process. Non-probate assets bypass probate and can be distributed to the intended beneficiaries and/or legal heirs right away. Common examples of non-probate assets include:

  • Assets held in a trust
  • Proceeds of a life insurance policy
  • Certain types of jointly held property
  • Assets held in accounts designated as “Payable on Death (POD)” or “Transfer on Death (TOD)”
  • Funds held in certain retirement or pension accounts

How Is an Intestate Estate Handled?

If you leave behind an intestate estate at the time of your death, the Tennessee intestate succession laws will determine what happens to your estate assets as follows:

  • Children but no spouse – children inherit the entire estate
  • Spouse but no descendants – spouse inherits the entire estate
  • Spouse and descendants – spouse and descendants equally share the intestate property, but the spouse’s share may not be less than 1/3
  • Parents but no spouse or descendants – parents inherit everything
  • Siblings but no spouse, descendants, or parents – siblings inherit everything

As you can see, when you die without a Will in place, you give up the right to decide who receives any of your estate assets. This means that promises made to more distant relatives (such as a favorite nephew) will not be honored. It also means that a long-time partner that you want to provide for will receive nothing from your estate. The same goes for your best friend and your favorite charity. The way to prevent such an unwanted outcome is to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney now to get started on your Last Will and Testament.

Contact a Murfreesboro Estate Planning Attorney

If you have additional questions or concerns about intestate succession in Tennessee, or if you are ready to get started creating your Last Will and Testament, consult with an experienced Murfreesboro estate planning attorney at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby as soon as possible. Contact the team today by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your appointment.





Dinah Michael