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What You Need to Know about Dying Intestate in Tennessee

If you have yet to create an estate plan, you have undoubtedly had well-meaning friends and family members urge you to get started on a plan. At a bare minimum, you should execute a well-drafted Last Will and Testament to avoid leaving behind an intestate estate. To motivate you to get going on your estate plan, a Murfreesboro probate attorney at Bennett | Michael | Hornsby explains what you need to know about dying intestate in Tennessee.

What Does It Mean to Die “Intestate?”

In legal terms, a decedent who left behind a valid Last Will and Testament is said to have died “testate.” On the other hand, if a decedent failed to leaveMurfreesboro criminal defense attorney behind a Will (or a trust that distributed the decedent’s estate) the estate left behind is referred to as an “intestate” estate. In a testate estate, the terms of the decedent’s Last Will and Testament determine how the estate assets are distributed. When a resident of Tennessee dies intestate, the Tennessee intestate succession laws dictate how those assets are distributed. Among the many reasons to avoid dying intestate are the following:

    • The state decides what happens to your assets.  Regardless of how you wish to distribute your estate assets, you give up the ability to make those decisions if you leave behind an intestate estate. The people who are most important to you may end up with nothing from your estate.
    • Probate often takes longer.  Probate is the legal process that is usually required following the death of an individual. When an individual dies intestate, no effort was made to avoid probate. Assets that might have been distributed immediately to the intended beneficiaries end up tied up in probate.
  • The possibility of disputes increases.  When a decedent failed to leave behind even a basic Will it is impossible to know how he/she intended to distribute estate assets. Heirs often squabble over the assets and over how the assets can be used. If estate assets need to be sold, heirs often disagree over which assets should be sold. 

Tennessee Intestate Succession 

Like many people, you may not think you have enough of an estate to worry about how it is distributed but you likely own some assets. The monetary value of your assets is not always what is truly important. Whether your estate is made up of modest or high-value assets, don’t you want the opportunity to decide what happens to those assets you own when you die? Moreover, do you really want your family heirlooms to be sold in an estate sale or given to someone who does not treasure them as you do?  Failing to leave behind even a basic Will means that only close family members are likely to receive assets from your estate and you do not get to decide which assets are given to which heir. Furthermore, more distant relatives, close friends, and charitable entities that matter to you will not receive anything from your estate.

In Tennessee, the intestate succession laws dictate that your estate be distributed as follows:

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

Contact a Murfreesboro Probate Attorney 

If you have additional questions or concerns regarding the need to have an estate plan to avoid dying intestate, or you are ready to get started on your estate plan, consult with an experienced Murfreesboro probate attorney at Bennett | Michael | Hornsby as soon as possible. Contact the team today by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your appointment.


Stan Bennett
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