Wills are legal documents that direct how the Estate property of someone who died should be handled. Many assets, such as jointly held property, life insurance proceeds, and property that belongs to a trust, may not pass through the decedent’s Estate at all. Wills pertain to both the property that does pass through the Estate and that which technically passes outside the estate like real estate which is willed to certain heirs. They may dictate which family members, friends, and others should get specific items of property.
Intestate succession is the term used to describe the process of how the assets of an estate will pass when there is no will to be found. Intestate is a fancy way of saying the testator (person who died) didn’t have a will).
The best course of action for anyone who wants to provide for family and loved ones after they die is to prepare a will and other legal estate planning documents with an experienced lawyer.
Which family members get which assets if there is no will
The intestate laws for Tennessee determine who gets Estate assets as follows:
- Spouse, no children. This is the easiest case. If you’re married and you have no children, then your spouse inherits all your assets.
- Children, no spouse. If you have children (any age) but you have no spouse, then the children get your assets in equal shares. Property for minors is normally handled by a guardian or trustee.
- Spouse and descendants. If you were married when you die, and you had descendants (children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren), then your spouse and the descendants divide the property equally with one exception. The exception is that your spouse may be entitled to 1/3 of the Estate. Please keep in mind that if the house was titled in your name and your spouse’s, the house does not get divided because it automatically goes to your spouse.
For example, Joseph and Susan are married. They have four children. Joseph has $150,000 in Estate assets. Susan will inherit up to 1/3, or $50,000 depending on the length of the marriage. The four children will each get ¼ of what’s left – or $25,000 apiece.
Who qualifies for intestate succession in Tennessee
The intestate succession laws also resolve many common but non-traditional family law issues.
- Divorced spouses. They do not inherit, unless their names are on other documents – for example, on a pension fund or if their name is left on your will after a divorce.
- Adopted children. Legally adopted children may be entitled to a child’s intestate share. The adopted child inherits through the adoptive parents and not the natural parents. If the spouse of a natural parent adopts a child, the child inherits through that natural parent and the adopting spouse.
- Stepchildren and foster children. Unless they are formally adopted, they do not receive an intestate share.
- Children born out of wedlock. They inherit through their natural mother. If paternity is established, the children inherit through the paternal father. Children can also inherit through a male if he participates in a marriage ceremony (before or after birth) with the natural mother.
- Grandchildren receive through their parents. For example, let’s suppose Joseph and Susan are married and have four children Tom, Sally, James, and Martha. James is deceased but has two children, Alice and Fred, who are alive. Joseph dies leaving Estate assets worth $150,000. If Susan gets 1/3 or $50,000. Tom, Sally, and Martha each get ¼ or $25,000. Alice and Fred split James’ share – so, they each get $12,500.
- Children born after you die. Posthumous children inherit if they were conceived by the decedent, are born with 10 months of your death, and survive for at least 120 hours after they are born:
- Half-relatives. These relatives get a whole share through their parents. Example: Joseph and Susan are married. Joseph has a child, Samantha, from a prior marriage. Nancy is the child of Joseph and Susan. If Joseph and Susan die in a car accident, Samantha and Nancy each get ½ of Joseph’s Estate. Only Nancy inherits from Susan’s Estate.
Additional Tennessee intestate considerations
If you don’t have a spouse or a line of children (children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren), then the property goes to your parents. If your parents predeceased you, then the property goes to brothers and sisters. Next in line are grandparents and other relatives. If there are no living relatives, then Tennessee gets the Estate property
Parents who owe support cannot inherit until all support arrearages have been paid.
This area of the law is very complex. Especially if there are extended families and some of the children died before their parents. We help beneficiaries and those who have claims to an Estate assert their rights. The experienced probate lawyers at Wagner and Wagner at Law, can explain if you can contest a will or have intestate rights. We fight for clients in Chattanooga and Cleveland, TN, and all neighboring counties. To schedule an appointment, please call us today at 423-756-7923 or complete our contact form.
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