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What Happens if Someone Dies Without a Will?

What Happens if Someone Dies Without a Will?

Introduction to Tennessee’s Intestacy Law

Dying without a will is unfortunately very common. If you die without a will, your property will likely go through a court process called probate and will ultimately be distributed according to Tennessee’s intestacy law. Here are some common events that may happen if you die intestate:

  1. Your immediate next of kin, whoever they are, will likely inherit your property first. If you die intestate, everything goes to your next of kin. Your next of kin are the people who have the closest relation to you. Your children are first in line, along with your spouse if you are married at the time of your death. Otherwise, it’s your closest relatives. For example, say you die intestate without a spouse, children, or parents. Your next of kin could be your much younger half-sister or a cousin you’ve never met. Whoever fits the “closest living relative(s)” criteria will inherit everything after the estate pays your debts and taxes.
     
  2. That son- or daughter-in-law you don’t like will get your property before that niece or nephew you do like. Marital property owned by your children is governed by the laws of the states they live in, not you. If they live in a communal property state, they’re sharing the inheritance, 50/50. While the laws are different in every state, property acquired during marriage by either spouse may be marital property, especially if it was used for the benefit of both spouses. 
     
  3. A little bit of money up for grabs can have a cooling effect on interfamilial relationships. In a perfect world, family members would all get along, never be jealous, and always do right by each other. This isn’t a perfect world. Intestacy law doesn’t take into account the relationships the deceased had with anyone or what the deceased orally promised to someone. Even if widowed Uncle Bob told you he wanted you to have his ’65 Thunderbird, without a will, the car is going to his son…who doesn’t even have a driver’s license. When families start fighting over estates, lawyers get a lot of money and the family gets a lot of heartaches, so it’s best to put your wishes in writing so everyone knows what is expected in advance and the Court has authority to enforce your wishes.

If you’ve recently lost a loved one who did not have a will and have questions about their estate’s administration, you should speak to a probate attorney for guidance.  If you need assistance, we invite you to contact us to schedule a consultation.

Who Inherits If I Die Without a Will in Tennessee?

Who Inherits If I Die Without a Will in Tennessee?

At some point, everybody thinks about creating a Last Will and Testament. However, many never do. Having a conversation about what will happen to your belongings after your death- and then seeing it on paper- is a daunting task. 

So, what happens if you never do it? We’ll give you our best lawyer answer- it depends! When a person dies without a will, they die “intestate.” Every state has different intestacy laws that dictate who will inherit a person’s property when they die intestate. So who inherits your things depends largely on what state you live in, and your family composition. Below we detail what will happen to your estate if you die intestate in Tennessee.

What happens when you die intestate in Tennessee?

Are you married with or without children?

Let’s start with the simplest scenario: if you are married with no children, your spouse will inherit your entire probate estate. However, this will change if you do have children. If you are survived by your spouse and one child, each will inherit one-half of your estate. Additionally, if you are survived by your spouse and more than one child, your spouse will inherit one-third of your estate, with the remainder split evenly among your surviving children. 

Let’s say you die without a will in Tennessee while unmarried or widowed with children…

If you do not have a spouse or are widowed, your estate passes to your children. All of your biological and/or legally adopted children inherit equally. In some cases, children are able to prove their parentage by DNA testing after a parent has passed in order to claim part of the estate.  All children will inherit equally, so it is important to inform your family of all children who may have a right to inherit from you. 

What happens in the tragic case of a child dying before a parent?  If your child gave you grandchildren before they passed, then their share of inheritance will pass to those grandchildren. Otherwise, their share will be split among your other children. 

Or you die while unmarried without children…

Let’s say you are not married and you have no children, but your parents survived you. Your parents will inherit your entire estate. If neither of your parents survived you, your estate would then pass to any siblings you may have. 

I don’t have any close heirs. Who gets my assets if I die intestate?

But wait: I am not married, I have no children, I survived my parents, and I have no siblings. What now? In this case, a probate attorney may need to do what is called an “heir search” which is basically creating a family tree to find your closest relative(s).  Your closest blood relatives will receive your estate.  In the event that they cannot be found or do not respond to the attorney, your estate may be deposited with the Probate Clerk’s office and ultimately turned over to unclaimed property

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Who will inherit your assets?

Create a will if you want control over who inherits your estate

Of course, the easiest way to avoid confusion and know for certain where each piece of your estate will end up is to create a valid estate plan including a Last Will and Testament. Thinking about what will happen after death is a daunting task, but in the end, it will save your surviving family more money and stress.

Do you want to get a head start on your Will or need to update your Will? Take our Virtual Estate Plan Challenge! We created this 7-email series to help our Clients and guests organize their thoughts about their wishes for their estate. You can use this information later on when you create your documents. Give it a try!

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Tennessee Elder Law FAQ

Tennessee Elder Law FAQ

There are many questions that our visitors want to know, which is why we provide this Estate Planning and Elder Law FAQ to help you understand what we do and how we work.If you have more questions, feel free to reach out to us. We can be reached via phone or email. ...

Ten New Holiday Traditions for After the Loss of a Loved One

Ten Holiday Traditions to Consider when a loved one dies

When your family adds members, like a new baby or newlywed couple, the holidays can be more joyous than ever. Of course, the flip side of that is that when your family loses someone, the holiday season can become a painful reminder of their absence. 

I am very fortunate to still have both of my parents around, and until recently, my husband did too.  Doing the work that I do, I’m always cognizant that our loved ones won’t always be around. However, when my mother-in-law passed unexpectedly this year, it threw a lot of our plans into chaos. 

We had holiday traditions that will be difficult to carry on, and so I’m thinking about how we can continue existing traditions while acknowledging our loss, or create new traditions that honor the time we enjoyed with her.

Here are a few options that I’ve come up with to explore this year, and as the years go on.  

  1. Go to their favorite places.

My mother-in-law, Lynn, had very eclectic tastes. She loved art museums, coffee shops, bookstores, and any place that had locally made crafts. She is the one who created my candle obsession through various gifts over the years. This year a couple of new places have opened in our neighborhood that I know she would have loved, as well as places that she and I went together that I will probably visit again.

  1. Wear their favorite colors/styles. 

Normally when we think of attending a funeral, we think of people wearing black. I’ll never forget reading Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston in high school, where the main character wears her husband’s favorite color when he dies.   Although I had no clue the toll death can take at that time of my life, thought it was a lovely way to honor him and their relationship.

If you were fortunate to inherit some clothes from your loved one, the holidays may be a good time to take them out.  Smell them. Do they still smell like your loved one who has died? Isn’t that wonderful to be able to smell them again?

         My grandfather died while I was in law school. One of my favorite things that we did together was take walks. He took a walk every day and had a coat rack full of sweaters, coats, and flannel shirts for anyone who wanted to walk with him if the weather was cool. When he passed away, I was able to get a few of the cardigans from his hall tree. They no longer smell like him, but I can’t wear them without remembering all the walks we went on and the ways that those walks helped shape our family.

  1. Make their favorite recipes or eat at their favorite restaurant.

My mother in law loved Chef’s Market in Goodlettsville. It’s where she chose for our rehearsal dinner, and where we got take out from almost every Christmas Eve.  While we may skip Chef’s Market for the holidays this year, I’m going to suggest we start going there on her birthday each year.

  1. Share stories about them. What was their favorite thing about the holidays?

Did they love going to the movies after opening presents? Were they a wonderful or horrible gift giver?  The holidays are a wonderful opportunity to share memories that were made over the years.  

  1. Donate to their favorite nonprofit or help someone they loved.

Helping others is always a great way to think outside of yourself for a while.  Maybe you set up a re-curring donation to a cause they cared about or find a few days to volunteer for an organization stuffing envelopes or making calls.

Even if you don’t have a lot of time or money, you can find a way to be helpful.  If you use Amazon, you can make your purchases through their Amazon Smile website instead and they will donate a portion of your purchase to the charity of your choice.  Kroger has a similar program that is tied to your Kroger Plus account.

  1. Visit their grave, memorial, or a place they love. Don’t be afraid to talk to them. Give them an update on what has happened through the year. 

I know this may seem silly to some people. But in all likelhood there were some things you shared with your deceased loved one that might not be as appreciated by anyone else. Maybe you heard a joke that you know would crack them up, or want to make sure they are caught up on the family goings-on. You can say things out loud, or just think them (like a prayer) but having a way to continue the relationship that was so important while they were living is so comforting.

  1. Save a place for them at the table. Consider putting their picture at their place instead of a place setting.

Just because someone isn’t with us physically at the holidays, chances are that they had an impact on how you celebrate.  Find physical space for your loved on in your holiday celebrations. 

  1. Read their favorite book out loud. 

In Iceland there is a tradition of getting books as gifts on Christmas Eve. Then the family cozies up with their book and hot chocolate for an evening of reading. I think it’s a lovely tradition.  Since Christmas Eve was the part of the holiday that we spent with my in-laws, I might suggest that we adjust this tradition to read her favorite book and drink tea instead.  It’s Tolkien, so we won’t finish, but maybe we’ll put it back on the shelf until next year.

  1. Look through photos of them and favorite memories. 

Even though your loved one is no longer with you, hopefully they weren’t camera shy.  Many families now create photo slide shows for memorial services, and the holidays might be a good time to pull that back up on your computer, go through the photos one by one, and talk about the events happening when the picture was taken.  I bet you’ll learn a few things about your loved one, and get to share some things too!

  • 10. Make a toast to their influence on your life, using their favorite drink. 

Whether your loved one preferred champagne, eggnog, or Coca-Cola, the holidays seem like the perfect time to raise a glass in their honor. Toast to the immaterial things they left you. Did your son inherit their sense of humor? Your granddaughter has their love of science?  They are a piece of you, so now is a great time to honor them.  

The people we love don’t leave us when they pass away, and there’s no reason we should try to leave them behind during the most cherished parts of our lives.

How will the Dobbs Decision Impact Estate Planning in Tennessee?

How will the Dobbs Decision Impact Estate Planning in Tennessee?

After the US Supreme Court issued its decision in Dobbs on June 24, 2022, women’s equality and reproductive freedom were completely diminished by the state of Tennessee. How does the Dobbs decision impact estate planning? Here are some questions to consider: 

Question: Will children born outside of my marriage have a claim to my estate?

Our opinion: Yes. Tennessee law dictates that Minors inherit from their parent’s estate.

How would a forced pregnancy affect a man who did not intend to become a parent? 

We are not family law attorneys, and if you become aware of a pregnancy by a previous sexual partner, we encourage you to speak to an experienced family law attorney to discuss your options. Please keep in mind that many issues related to child support, pregnancy, and parental rights will be subject to new interpretations of the law under Dobbs.  

However, there are laws in Tennessee that protect minor children from being disinherited by their parents.

For example, if a man dies, all of his minor children are able to inherit from him. While he can disinherit unknown, nonmarital adult children through his will, he cannot disinherit minors, even if he has a Will

So let’s say a man lives in Tennessee and gets a sexual partner pregnant. If he dies while the child is a minor, the mother can petition (on behalf of the child) for a share of the estate. She will have to prove paternity but the child can be acknowledged in multiple ways. This includes communications with the father or testing the paternity via the DNA of the father or his other children. 

Yes, you can be proven a father even after you are dead. It doesn’t matter if this child is born before or after the children of your current marriage or relationship- if they are under 18 when you die, they can ask the Court for a share of whatever you left behind. 

Question: What is the impact of Dobbs on Estate Planning for those who expect to need fertility treatments?

Our opinion: We don’t know yet. 

This is a really tricky area. My best guess is that matters related to artificial reproductive technologies (ART) will be legislated faster than before. We will know more about the impacts on individuals and families as matters work their way through the courts.

As your Estate Planning Attorney I will recommend that we plan for everything, including unborn children

If you’ve ever made an estate plan with an experienced estate planning attorney, you’ll know that we ask some pretty personal questions about your family planning.  

That’s because we usually try to make our plans flexible enough so that future children can be included without needing to pay an attorney to update your Will or Trust. However, we will probably need to update documents more frequently given recent changes to the law. 

Additionally, we will want to make sure that we try to be specific enough in our drafting to disinherit unplanned offspring from outside of relationships. The same goes for any previously frozen biological material that could potentially grow into a fetus. Yet another impact of Dobbs on estate planning to consider!

As fetal cells attain more rights, estate administration may become more difficult

As cells are legislated to have rights of their own, it will become more difficult to administer estates.  For example, let’s say that a man dies after having frozen embryos with his ex-wife. By many state laws, those are now “children” under the legal definition. It would not be unfair for the ex-wife to say she is the mother of children who outlive him and should inherit his estate. If at some point those children were implanted-whether in the ex-wife or someone else- they would have needs as they grew older and the father’s assets could pass to them.  However, it’s more likely that these cells would never be implanted or may be implanted but not be carried to term, at which point, who inherits from the embryo? 

Question: What else should we be thinking about? 

Our opinion:  A lot of things will need to go through the Courts before we have final answers. In the meantime, here are some things I expect:

  • Higher insurance premiums
  • Higher medical bills
  • Fewer OB/GYNs
  • Fewer fertility clinics
  • More single fathers. 
  • Push to create a biological/DNA database to track parents/putative parents. 
  • Doctors will be unwilling or unable to provide appropriate medical treatment for women undergoing miscarriages. This will make undergoing fertility treatments especially dangerous if you have had problems carrying a pregnancy to term. 
  • By effectively creating a system where there are two patients in one body, the law in many states now creates a conflict in the standard of care. The doctor will not be able to take direction from the pregnant person. This will cause more lawsuits against fertility specialists and other OB/GYNs. More lawsuits mean higher malpractice rates, which mean even higher costs for patients.  
  • Many surrogates will no longer be willing to help couples create families. 
  • Frozen embryos will no longer be intentionally destroyed.
  • Fertility clinics may become unwilling to create embryos for future use if they will be unable to destroy the biological material. 
  • Many more babies will be available for adoption. So will older children. 
  • Fewer women will consider using ART, because the inherent risks of pregnancy will no longer be treatable. 
  • There will be fewer medical advances for difficult pregnancies due to women choosing not to have children. 
  • Young adults will begin long-term contraception at earlier ages. 

These are just some things I’m considering as we enter this new legal landscape. 

In conclusion

The implications of the Dobbs decision is completely unknown. However, we do know that it will have a huge impact on Estate Planning. If you’re looking for an attorney in Nashville who can create a thorough will, look no further. Attorney April Harris Jackson will consider everything, including the implications of Dobss on family planning.