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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. ...
What Happens When You Aren’t Clear About Your Wishes?

What Happens When You Aren’t Clear About Your Wishes?

When you aren’t clear about your wishes, you leave a blank space for your loved ones to try to fill in. This can be incredibly stressful to them – even if you’ve expressed your wishes to them but didn’t write them down – so it’s important to know your wishes ahead of time. Learn what could happen to you if you don’t make your wishes known.

What Happens if You Become Incapacitated in Tennessee?

If you become incapacitated in Tennessee (a temporary coma, for instance,) and have no medical power of attorney set, your loved ones may have to go to court and then a judge will decide who can make medical decisions for you if you’re unable to communicate your wishes.

Trying to determine your wishes after you can no longer express them can be an extremely stressful time for your family, which is why it’s so important to communicate your wishes ahead of time, just in case anything happens to you.

What Happens if You Die without a Will or Trust in Tennessee?

If you die without a will, that is called “intestate.” This means that whatever inheritance you leave behind, including your property, is subject to Tennessee intestate succession laws. Intestate laws typically leave your property to your surviving spouse and/or children, but parents, siblings, nieces, and nephews could become eligible too.

Here’s a quick breakdown of what would happen in Tennessee if you are married or have children:

  • If you have a spouse but no children, the spouse would inherit your entire estate, even if you’re separated
  • If you have a spouse and children, the estate would be divided equally among all parties (except that the spouse can receive no less than 33% of the overall estate).
  • If you only have children, your estate would be split equally among all the children.

Keep in mind that only your biological and adopted children will inherit from you if you do not have a will. If you would like to leave part of your estate to step-children, foster children, godchildren, or other children who are close to your heart, you’ll want to make plans for that in your will or through non-probate beneficiary designations. 

Here’s what would happen if you died unmarried and without children:

  • If you have a parent, the entire estate would go to your parent(s).
  • If you have sibling(s) but no living parents, the estate will be split equally among your siblings. 
  • If you have no parents or siblings, the estate will be split equally among your siblings’ children.
  • If you’ve none of the above, the estate would be split equally among paternal and maternal aunts and uncles. 

You don’t have to die to see how this one might end if you don’t write your decisions out!

Who Makes Funeral Decisions if You Die in Tennessee?

Similar to the above, if no one has been legally designated to make funeral decisions on their loved one’s behalf, it falls to the next-of-kin, which would be the spouse or adult children. Once the family member takes responsibility for making and paying for their loved one’s funeral arrangements, they sign a legal contract that obligates the funeral home to follow instructions from that family member alone. 

Make sure you tell your family what you want so there’s a consensus during a difficult time..

What if there are no next of kin?

If there are no next of kin (as defined above) and no personal representative, any other person willing to assume responsibility and arrange the funeral (including the funeral director) can make funeral decisions, after attesting that a good faith effort has been made. As for your estate, if no family can be found it will ultimately be turned over to unclaimed property.

Don’t leave a blank space for your family members to fill in regarding your end of life wishes. Don’t keep them second-guessing. Instead, leave something that people can read like a magazine to know what you want your life – and death – to be like. 
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10 Easy Home Changes for Aging in Place You Can Make Today

10 Easy Home Changes for Aging in Place You Can Make Today

So you’re getting older.

Don’t worry; it happens to all of us – or at least that’s the goal!  But aging doesn’t mean that you have to limit your independence or immediately check into a nursing home. It just means that you need to make a few adjustments to ensure that your home remains comfortable and safe.

Today we will go over ten simple changes that can help you avoid a Steve Urkel move and make your home an age-friendly environment.

Why Aging in Place is Important

Aging in place refers to the ability to live in your own home safely and independently, regardless of your age or ability level. It allows you to maintain your familiar surroundings and go about your everyday routines with just a few helpful changes to your home. Aging in place enables seniors to maintain their autonomy and dignity while also reducing the financial burden associated with moving to assisted living facilities.

Before You Start: Assess Your Accessibility

The first step in creating an age-friendly home should come before you ever need one. Before you need a home that’s accessible to older individuals, identify potential hazards. This includes assessing the layout, identifying tripping hazards, and evaluating essential areas such as the bathroom, kitchen, bedrooms, and living room. 

Your modifications will depend on your individual requirements. Consider your mobility, vision, hearing, and other specific needs. By understanding your needs, you can tailor your modifications to best suit your requirements for a safer living environment.

For example, if you notice you’re having trouble hearing the TV, you should consider investing in a door light. That way, if someone rings the doorbell, you won’t have to rely on hearing alone.

Ten Simple Changes You Can Make

1) Make the Bathroom a No-Slip Zone

The bathroom is a high-risk area for slips and falls. Installing grab bars near the toilet, shower, and bathtub can greatly enhance safety. Additionally, consider adding a shower bench or chair and a handheld showerhead for added convenience.

2) Keep Everything in Your Kitchen Within Reach

In the kitchen, ensure that commonly used items are within easy reach. Consider installing lower countertops and adjustable cabinets. Adding non-slip flooring and bright lighting can also make a significant difference in accessibility. Strong magnetic bars can keep knives in reach (just be sure the magnets are super strong so the knives don’t fall off the wall)!

3) Don’t Fall Out of Bed

In the bedroom, make sure the bed is at an appropriate height for easy entry and exit. Install handrails or use bedside grab bars to assist with mobility, or put a mobility device like a rollator next to your bed to help you get in and out of it. Adequate lighting near the bed and a clear pathway to the bathroom can also make a big difference for nighttime trips.

4) Clear a Walking Space in the Living Room

In the living room, arrange furniture to create clear pathways and remove any clutter that may pose a tripping hazard. Consider using sturdy, comfortable chairs with armrests to assist with standing and sitting. Adequate lighting and easy-to-reach light switches can also guarantee that you see any tripping hazards before they happen.

5) Install Grab Bars and Handrails in High-Traffic Areas

Installing grab bars and handrails throughout the home can greatly improve mobility and stability. Place them in key areas such as staircases, hallways, and entryways. Opt for sturdy, non-slip options that can support your weight.

6) Make Sure the Flooring is Non-Slip

Selecting the right flooring can significantly impact mobility. Non-slip flooring options include vinyl, cork, and rubber. Remove any loose rugs or carpets that may pose a tripping hazard, and ensure flooring transitions are smooth and level. Using cord covers near the wall (out of the walkway) will help prevent tripping over electronic cords.

7) Widen Doorways and Hallways

Widening doorways and hallways can improve accessibility for individuals with mobility aids such as walkers or wheelchairs. You may need to consult a professional contractor to assess the feasibility of making these modifications in your home.

8) Clear Up Your Entrances

Ensure that outdoor pathways and entrances are clear of obstacles. Repair any cracks, potholes, or uneven surfaces that may pose a tripping hazard. Install handrails or ramps as needed to facilitate easy entry and exit. 

Reminder: this is something you should be doing if you have one fall (or even before that). Don’t wait until you’ve had several falls to implement these tips!

9) Light Up the Room

Good outdoor lighting is essential for safety. Install motion-sensor lights near entrances and along pathways to ensure visibility at night. Consider adding solar-powered lights for energy efficiency.

10) Explore Smart Home Support

Smart home technology can greatly enhance accessibility and convenience. Consider installing voice-activated devices, smart thermostats, and automated lighting systems that can be controlled remotely.

Bonus: Medical Alert Systems/Cell Phones

Medical alert systems typically consist of a wearable panic button that can be easily activated in case of emergencies. When the button is pressed, it sends a distress signal to a monitoring center, where trained professionals can assess the situation and dispatch help if needed.

Just by adding a simple necklace or wristband to your daily outfit, you and your loved ones can enjoy the peace of mind that comes from knowing help is just a button press away.

Another option is cell phones. If you have a loved one with mobility issues, a simple daily check-in can add to your peace of mind. (Pro tip: you can totally check-in without “checking in” – it doesn’t have to be super serious. Sending fun GIFs and saying, “I thought you’d like this!” is a great way to ensure someone’s OK without sounding like a worrywart.)

When in Doubt, Ask a Professional

Occupational therapists specialize in assessing individuals’ abilities and recommending appropriate modifications to promote independence. Consulting with an occupational therapist can provide valuable insights and personalized recommendations for what your home needs.

For more extensive modifications, such as widening doorways or installing ramps, we recommend consulting with professional contractors. Contractors who are licensed and experienced in accessible home modifications can provide valuable insight and knowledge about what works.

Financing Home Modifications

Of course, modifying your home isn’t always cheap. Review your insurance coverage to determine if any modifications may be covered, and contact your insurance provider for more information. Some insurance policies may include provisions for home modifications that improve accessibility.

There are also various grants and financial assistance programs available to help individuals fund home modifications. Research local and national resources to find potential sources of financial aid. Non-profit organizations (like Rebuilding Together Nashville) and government agencies may also offer grants or low-interest loans. (Want more info? Check out this link from Rebuilding Together!)

Embrace Aging in Place to Enjoy Your Golden Years

As we age, it is important to adapt our lifestyle to align with the changing needs of our bodies. This doesn’t mean that your lifestyle will become limited – it just means that it might look slightly different. Just think: the only thing that stands between you and successful aging in place is a bit of redecorating.

As you prepare to age in your home, you may also want to make sure you have a plan in place for your estate. Graceful Aging Legal Services is here to help you with estate planning, probate, and conservatorships. We can help you put your paperwork together and figure out what you need to truly embrace your aging in place. Contact us today to see what we can do for you!