When a Tennessee resident dies without a will, it may be difficult for the family to decide who should be the executor of the deceased person's estate. To review, an executor is a person appointed by the probate court to gather the deceased's property, pay off debts, and then distribute the balance to the person's lawful heirs. It is a powerful position that also comes with a great deal of responsibility.
Fortunately, Tennessee law offers some guidance to families in the Cleveland area when a loved one dies without a will. Generally speaking, a court will give first priority to the deceased's surviving spouse.
While this may make perfect sense on the surface, problems can emerge when the surviving spouse is a late-in-life relationship, and there are children from a prior relationship.
If the person died unmarried, or if the spouse is unwilling or unable to serve, then the law simply refers to the next of kin as second in the line of priority. Who the next of kin is actually gets determined by other provisions of Tennessee law, and it is possible that more than one person can rightfully be called next of kin.
Moreover, in some cases, it can be hard to identify who the next of kin is or locate him or her. In the absence of a willing next of kin, a creditor of the estate may apply to be the executor.
Of course, the best way to avoid fights over who should administer an estate is to have a valid will that clearly specifies a person's choice for administrator. For a variety of reasons, though, not everyone gets around to creating a will. Moreover, even with a will, arguments can still erupt from time to time. Legal help may be needed to resolve such issues.