If you die without a will in Tennessee, your assets will go to your closest relatives under state "intestate succession" laws. Here are some details about how intestate succession works in Tennessee.
Only assets that pass through probate are affected by intestate succession laws. Many valuable assets don't go through probate, and therefore aren't affected by intestate succession laws. Here are some examples:
These assets will pass to the surviving co-owner or to the beneficiary you named, whether or not you have a will. However, if you don't have a will and none of the named beneficiaries are alive to take the property, then the property could end up being transferred according to intestate succession.
Under intestate succession, who gets what depends on whether or not you have living children, parents, or other close relatives when you die. Here's a quick overview:
If you die with:
here's what happens:
|children but no spouse||children inherit everything|
|spouse but no descendants||spouse inherits everything|
|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|
In Tennessee, if you are married and you die without a will, what your spouse gets depends on whether or not you have living descendants -- children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren. If you don't, then your spouse inherits all of your intestate property. If you do, they and your spouse will share your intestate property equally, except that your spouse's share cannot be less than 1/3.
Example 1: Bill is married to Karen, and they have three grown children. Bill and Karen own a house in joint tenancy, and Karen is also the named beneficiary of Bill's retirement account. When Bill dies, Karen automatically inherits the house and any remaining retirement funds; those things are not intestate property. Bill also owns $300,000 worth of other property that would have passed under a will, so Karen inherits $100,000 worth -- that is, 1/3 -- of that property. The three children split the remaining $200,000 worth of Bill's intestate property.
Example 2: Barrett is married to Jed and also has a 12-year-old daughter from a previous marriage. Barrett owns a house in joint tenancy with Jed, plus $200,000 worth of additional, separate property that would have passed under a will if Barrett had made one. When Barrett dies, Jed inherits the house outright -- it isn't intestate property. Jed also inherits $100,000 worth of Barrett's property. Barrett's daughter inherits the remaining $100,000 share of Barrett's property.
Example 3: Jill is married to Kevin, and they have four grown children. Jill and Kevin own a large bank account in joint tenancy, and Jill took out a life insurance policy naming Kevin as the beneficiary. When Jill dies, Kevin receives the life insurance policy proceeds and inherits the bank account outright. Jill also owns $600,000 worth of property that would have passed under a will, so Kevin inherits $200,000 worth – that is, 1/3 – of that property. The four children split the remaining $400,000 worth of Jill's intestate property, receiving $100,000 each.
If you die without a will in Tennessee, your children will receive an "intestate share" of your property. The size of each child's share depends on how many children you have and whether or not you are married. (See the table above.)
For children to inherit from you under the laws of intestacy, Tennessee must consider them your children, legally. For many families, this is not a confusing issue. But it's not always clear. Here are some things to keep in mind.
This can be a tricky area of the law, so if you have questions about your relationship to your parent or child, get help from an experienced attorney. If you want to read the laws themselves, you'll find a link to the Tennessee Statutes at the end of this article.
If you die without a will and don't have any family, your property will "escheat" into the state's coffers. However, this very rarely happens because the laws are designed to get your property to anyone who was even remotely related to you. For example, your property won't go to the state if you leave a spouse, children, grandchildren, parents, grandparents, siblings, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, or cousins.
Here are a few other things to know about Tennessee's intestacy laws.
To learn more about intestate succession, read How an Estate Is Settled If There's No Will.
For more about estate planning, go to the Wills, Trusts & Probate section of Nolo.com.