Thanks to movies and television, many people believe that leaving a will that says, “I leave my entire estate to XYZ” (or simply writing something down on a bar napkin) counts as a valid will. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the rules for wills and estate administration in Tennessee are very specific, and if you don’t follow them, your estate may be divided – or your will contested.
Tennessee recognizes two types of personal property: tangible, and intangible. Tangible personal property is anything you physically touch, like jewelry or heirlooms, or vehicles. Intangible personal property includes non-physical items, like stock options, patents, or retirement accounts.
One common misconception is that money is tangible personal property, when in fact, the opposite is true. Even though you can technically “touch” money, the courts have ruled that cash is an intangible asset. Note, however, that there are exceptions. A coin collection or gold bullion may be considered tangible (State v. Sanders, 923 SW 2d 540 – Tenn: Supreme Court 1996).
Though seemingly minor, this distinction can significantly impact asset distribution among beneficiaries after a person’s death. Inaccurate or vague language regarding tangible personal property in the will could result in confusion and even legal disputes. This is critically important because if you have a will that says “I leave all my tangible property to Beneficiary A,” then Beneficiary A is not getting any of your money.
What about real estate?
Real estate is different. Land and the objects attached to it (like horses or fences or even mineral rights) are considered real property, not personal property. As such, it must be designated separately in a will.
What about my business?
A business and its assets can be designated as real property, tangible personal property, or intangible personal property.
What are Tennessee’s probate laws and how do they affect my will?
Probate law governs the administration of a deceased person’s estate. When someone dies, the probate process begins, which involves a court or a named executor reviewing and validating the will, determining the value of the assets in the estate, paying off any debts or taxes owed, and ultimately distributing the remaining assets to the beneficiaries mentioned in the will.
Tennessee has its own set of probate laws that affect how wills are executed and assets are divided after an individual’s death.
Why should I hire a lawyer to write my will?
Creating a will is an important process that requires meticulous attention to detail. Self-authoring a will can be a costly mistake. Without a thorough understanding of legal terminology and probate law, individuals may make errors that lead to their will being contested in court.
Common examples of errors in DIY wills include:
- Not specifying which assets should go to which beneficiaries
- Leaving assets to pets
- Not creating a legally acceptable version of a will
- Failing to name an executor
- Including legally unenforceable demands
This may result in a lengthy and costly legal battle that depletes the estate and causes additional stress and hardship for loved ones. In some cases, the court may even invalidate the will, resulting in the assets being distributed according to state law rather than the individual’s wishes. In such a situation, that means Tennessee decides who receives the contents of your estate – and in many cases, that recipient will be the State itself.
Wagner & Wagner can help with probate litigation
In the event of a will contest, Wagner & Wagner can help. Our experienced probate litigation attorneys can sort through each claim and determine where assets should go to ensure the wishes of the deceased are met and carried out. We can also ensure that all outstanding debts are paid. Most importantly, we are here to ensure that an estate does not end up in the hands of the State, but in the hands of the beneficiaries and heirs.
We have years of experience assisting clients where a poorly written or worded will has left room for debate. We ensure that all Tennessee probate laws are followed, and can represent you if you have a claim against an estate. We also serve as executors for individuals and business owners with substantial assets and real property. We can assess the value and inventory of all personal and real property, assist with appraisals, and work to make the probate process as smooth as possible.
Wagner & Wagner Attorneys at Law has served the greater Chattanooga area since 1945. We are skilled and experienced probate litigators, and we are here to help. To schedule a consultation, please call or contact us today. Proudly serving Chattanooga, Cleveland, tN, and the surrounding areas.
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