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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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. ...
Knowing a few common terms can go a long way in understanding estate planning. For example, if you’re unsure what a trustee and an executor are, you won’t know who to choose for each (very important) role.
Let’s dive into some estate planning basics!
Common Estate Planning Terms
Planning for your estate after death helps secure the future of your assets and helps you figure out what you want and how to accomplish it. Creating an estate plan gives you peace of mind that your wishes will be respected upon your passing – even if your loved ones may be unhappy about it.
An estate plan can also reduce tax obligations for your family and prevent or minimize family conflicts. A will is a significant part of the estate planning process. Wills outline how you want your assets to be distributed, who should take care of any dependents, and who will carry out your wishes.
When learning about estate planning, there are some terms you’ll need to know, including:
Probate – the court process that validates wills and administers the estate
Executor/Executrix – the person named in a will to manage estate assets
Trust – a legal tool used for managing assets, often in order to avoid probate
Trustee – the person named in a trust to manage trust assets
Personal Representative – the person who administers an estate (this is the umbrella term used in Tennessee for executors, etc.)
Guardian – a person who is named to oversee the needs of a minor child
Beneficiary – someone who is specifically named to inherit
Heir – someone who inherits based on their family relationship
Understanding these terms will help you make decisions that protect your legacy.
Creating a Will and Trust
Creating an estate plan can involve the use of wills and trusts.
A will outlines how you want your assets to be distributed after death, who should take care of your children, and who will handle the administration of your estate. However, the purpose of a will is to go to probate. When drafting a will it’s crucial to consider factors such as family dynamics, non-probate assets, and the potential for disputes.
On the other hand, trusts provide added benefits like privacy and flexibility. When well-funded, it bypasses the need for probate proceedings. Even without lots of funding, trusts enable you to better control how your assets are managed during your lifetime and after you pass away.
Whether you choose to have a will or trust is a personal decision, but setting up a trust can offer advantages such as increased control over asset distribution, continuity in managing your estate affairs, and potential tax benefits. Sometimes, it’s a good idea to have both!
Appointing Executors and Trustees
If your estate plan involves a will or trust, it is crucial to appoint executors and trustees.
An executor (or personal representative) is responsible for carrying out the terms of the will. For example, an executor must distribute assets and handle obligations during the probate process. It is important to choose someone with integrity, conflict-resolution skills, and financial knowledge. Since you won’t be there to smooth out any disputes that arise, choosing a capable peacemaker is a must.
Trustees, on the other hand, oversee trusts. They ensure that assets are managed according to your instructions for the benefit of beneficiaries. It is advisable to select a trustee with expertise in finance who’s committed to fulfilling your wishes. In other words, pick someone you can trust as your trustee.
Good options for executors or trustees may include attorneys or financial institutions, since they are generally impartial and have specialized knowledge. By ensuring reliable individuals or entities fill these roles, you can safeguard your intentions for properly managing your estate.
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Everyone’s heard about it: a celebrity dies and their relatives come out of the woodwork, insisting that they deserve some piece of the estate. Even though most of us aren’t celebrities, it happens in otherwise happy families too, so let’s talk about what you can do to prevent it.
In fact, it happened in April’s family and led her to work with clients to prevent this exact scenario. By planning ahead for the transfer of your estate assets, you can ensure that your loved ones needs are met and that your hard-earned assets are protected for those you intend to get them!
This blog post will help you keep the peace, even after you’re gone.
Identifying and understanding how your assets pass after your death is one of the most important aspects of estate planning. This includes a review of any real estate that you own so that you can transfer it to your heirs.
Other assets to consider when making an estate plan include bank accounts, investment accounts, retirement accounts, and life insurance policies. Assigning beneficiaries for these types of accounts helps transfer assets quickly and smoothly but needs to be done in the context of your plan as a whole.
It’s also important to think about succession plans for any businesses where you have a role as an owner or investor. Valuable belongings, like jewelry, artwork, and sentimental items should be properly allocated in your will, trust, or even before you die as part of your estate plan. By identifying these assets you can create a well-rounded estate plan that safeguards your legacy, alleviates burdens for your loved ones, and ensures the effective execution of your intentions.
Our firm is probably a little different than most when it comes to naming beneficiaries. Most people will leave everything to a spouse and children, which is good because you can’t disinherit your spouse or minor children in the State of Tennessee.
However, outside of that, you’ll hear April tell everyone “No one is entitled to an inheritance.” (Yes, she tried to talk her own parents out of the typical distribution plan.) If you are part of a historically marginalized community, it may be important to you to pass on generational wealth, and that’s a great plan!
But there’s also nothing wrong with bypassing your immediate family in favor of a charitable organization that works towards a mission that you feel strongly about. Since Eliza Hamilton married one orphan and adopted another (in addition to founding the first private orphanage in New York City), it would have made sense for her to donate some of her fortune (were any of it left) to the orphanage upon her passing.
While pets can’t inherit outright in Tennessee, don’t forget that you can set up a pet trust to care for them when you’re gone or leave money to someone as your furry friend’s “caretaker.” You may also have close friends or more remote family members that you want to leave gifts to.
Remember, there are no “wrong” beneficiaries, except maybe Warren Buffett. The Oracle of Omaha has enough already- and he’s leaving it to charity!
Getting legal documentation in order will help prevent misunderstandings and disputes about your assets. Regularly reviewing and updating your choices guarantees your intentions align with evolving circumstances. For example, if your favorite nephew developed a severe gambling addiction, you may not want to allocate as much of your estate to him. When choosing beneficiaries, you want to reflect your values and leave a lasting positive impact on your loved ones and the causes you support.
Tax responsibilities are an inevitable part of life, and they can occur in death too.
Understanding estate taxation and knowing tax thresholds can help you determine the taxes your estate may be subject to. A firm grasp of tax thresholds can help you create a plan that helps you maximize the distributions to your beneficiaries, rather than the government.
For most Tennesseans, taxes will need to be paid on your income from the final year of your life, and withdrawals from any retirement accounts that were tax-deferred, like 401ks and traditional IRAs. However, since 2016, Tennessee does not have an estate tax and the federal estate tax only applies to estates that have multiple millions of dollars. The federal estate tax limit changes sometimes, so you’ll want to consult with an attorney about your tax exposure – and maybe follow our newsletter for updates. *wink*
Some strategies can help you reduce your tax liability, helping your beneficiaries in the long run. For example, making gifts or transferring assets during your lifetime can reduce the value of your taxable estate, but should be discussed with an attorney first.
By aligning your estate planning with tax thresholds, you can ensure your loved ones receive the maximum inheritance possible while preserving and passing on your wealth and intentions to future generations.
Updating and Reviewing Your Estate Plan
Regularly keeping your estate plan up to date is crucial to ensure your goals are met. It’s important to review it every few years so that you can make necessary adjustments based on changes in your life.
Life events like marriages, births, divorces, or financial changes may require updates to beneficiary designations or how your assets are allocated. If Junior’s wife divorced him for his best friend, you’re probably not going to want to give her part of your estate.
If you move, make investments, or start a business venture, it’s also an idea to reassess your plan. You’ll want to have a clear plan in place if you die while owning a business – without a succession plan in place, you have no control over what happens to your business after you die.
A flexible estate plan takes into account evolving family dynamics, financial situations, and personal goals so that your intentions are consistently honored.
Seeking Professional Assistance
Wading through estate planning with no experience is extremely overwhelming. A lot of care is required, in addition to an in-depth knowledge of the laws and your rights. An experienced estate planning attorney brings legal expertise to the table, aiding in the creation and validation of documents like wills and trusts.
Working with a Tennessee estate planning attorney ensures your estate is customized according to your desires and adheres to relevant laws. You’ll be better equipped to organize your assets, plan investments, and ensure a smooth transition for your family. Together you can navigate complexities and come up with an estate plan that honors your legacy.
Preserve Your Legacy with Graceful Aging Legal Services
At Graceful Aging Legal Services, we have caring and knowledgeable estate planners who can help you direct your assets to the people and causes that are most important in your life. For more information about estate planning and how it can help you preserve your legacy, contact us. We’re dedicated to providing you with the guidance and support you need to navigate the complexities of estate planning.