What if one dies without a will?

On Behalf of | Dec 30, 2021 | Estate Planning |

It is never easy to face the prospect of one’s own mortality. On top of that, one might reasonably be reticent about the prospect of offending certain family members or friends with their decisions regarding the dispersals of their estates. For this reason, some in Tennessee may think avoiding ever creating a will in the first place is their best option.

This idea comes from the assumption that if one does not prepare a will, the matter of deciding the distribution of their estate falls to their assumed beneficiaries. Yet is that truly the case? Unfortunately, those who subscribe to this line of thinking might inadvertently exclude parties they hope to benefit from their estate from actually doing so.

Intestate succession in Tennessee

When one dies without a will, the state classifies their estate as “intestate.” Section 31-2-104 of the Tennessee Code details the disposition of intestate estates. Here it states that one’s surviving spouse receives their entire intestate estate if they leave behind to living descendants. If they do have descendants, their surviving spouse’s interest in the estate reduces to the greater amount of either one-third of their total estate or a single descendant’s share of the estate (after the equal distribution of assets among the surviving descendants).

Should one not leave a spouse behind, their intestate estate passes as follows:

  • To their descendants
  • To their parents (in equal portion)
  • To their siblings or their siblings’ descendants (in equal portion)
  • To their surviving paternal and maternal kindred (in equal portion)

Any allowance for non-relatives?

One thing one notices about this law is no allowances exist for anyone not directly related to the decedent. Yet one may wish for a non-relative (such as a friend or colleague, or a charitable organization) to benefit from their estate. Such a desire is only legally valid if stipulated in a will.


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