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Determination of Rightful Heirs

Trusts and Estates Lawyer Assisting Residents of Nashville and Other Tennessee Cities

Only people who are determined to be the rightful heirs of a decedent are entitled to inherit the deceased person’s property, be it real property (such as a home or land) or personal property (bank accounts, stocks or bonds, vehicles, or household furnishings). With some estates, identifying heirs is quick and easy; the person who passed away may have been married to the same spouse for many years, and they may have had one child together. Other times, the process of determining and locating the rightful heirs of an estate can be very difficult. Nashville estate planning lawyer Randy Ratliff can help with the determination of rightful heirs, as well as other estate administration needs, including probate proceedings.

When a person dies with a properly drawn will, he or she is said to die “testate.” In such cases, the testator’s heirs should be easily determined from the will. However, not all wills are drafted with an equal amount of clarity. For example, a will that leaves the testator’s residual estate “to my children” without specifying the names of the children invites the possibility that an unexpected heir, such as a child born out of wedlock, could file a claim against the estate. Another complication could arise when a person identified as an heir predeceases the testator, and that individual’s heirs – who may not be known by the executor of the will - are entitled to his or her share of the testator’s estate. Additionally, there could be a mistake or ambiguity in identifying an heir in a will, such as a charity whose legal name is not the same as what is reflected in the testator’s last will and testament.

Other Challenges in Determining the Rightful Heirs in an Estate

When there is no will, a person dies “intestate,” and his or her property passes according to the statutory law of his or her state of residency at the time of death. (The laws of intestate succession also apply when a will is declared invalid.) The goal of intestate succession is to mirror, as closely as possible, what the “average person” would likely choose to do with his or her property upon death. The surviving spouse usually gets a large share of the estate, with the exact amount being decided based on the length of the parties’ marriage and the number of children whom the testator had (with the surviving spouse or with someone else).

If the decedent did not leave a spouse or child behind, the determination of his or her rightful heirs can grow more complicated. Depending upon the situation, grandchildren, parents, siblings, or other relatives may be entitled to share in the estate. Only if no heirs can be found will the deceased person’s property escheat to the state. The process of determining heirship can be complicated and expensive, so it is very important to draft one’s estate or asset protection plan carefully to avoid this unfortunate circumstance later.

Resolve Your Estate Planning Concerns with a Nashville Attorney

There are many ways to avoid the problem of needing to tediously determine the rightful heirs of an estate, and advance planning is always helpful. Through careful drafting of documents, heirs can usually be identified in a way that leaves no doubt in the years to come. Attorney Randy Ratliff assists people throughout Davidson and Williamson Counties, including in Antioch, Brentwood, Cool Springs, Franklin, Goodlettsville, Hermitage, Joelton, Madison, and Nashville, with a variety of estate planning needs, as well as with representation in elder law matters. To schedule an appointment with a lawyer, call us at 615-656-8282 or contact us online. We will be glad to explain the many different estate planning options that may be advisable for your particular situation, possibly including not only a will but also a revocable or irrevocable trust, powers of attorney, health care proxies, living wills, or family settlement agreements.