Do you have a will? If you do not have a will and have not consulted an estate planning lawyer, do you know what will happen to your property if you should pass away? You might be unpleasantly surprised to discover the de facto “estate plan” contained in Tennessee’s law of intestate succession. If you need a will drafted or updated, or if you have questions about Tennessee estate law in general, Nashville wills lawyer Randy Ratliff can help. His goal is to help his clients understand all of the options that may be available to them with regard to the protection and dispersion of property that, in most cases, has taken a lifetime of dedication, commitment, and hard work to acquire.
A “Last Will and Testament” represents the final wishes of the testator, who is the person making out the document. In a will, the testator may name an executor to administer the estate after their death, as well as provide for the payment of debts, taxes, and other liabilities of the estate, determine the manner in which the remaining assets of the estate will be dispersed, establish a testamentary trust for any beneficiaries whom the testator believes might lack the maturity or financial acuity to manage an inheritance, and name a guardian for the testator’s minor children. (It is important to note, however, that a court still must decide whether appointing the guardian named in a will is in the children’s best interests.)What Happens in Tennessee Without a Will?
As the wills attorney at our Nashville firm can explain, the law of intestate succession generally requires opening a probate estate and appointing a personal representative. If the deceased person did not specify the person to be in charge of their estate, the court has complete authority over naming the personal representative. Next, the court determines the deceased person’s next of kin and, after the decedent’s final expenses and any debts of the estate are satisfied, disperses the remainder of the estate according to law. If the deceased person was married but had no children, their spouse inherits the net estate. If the deceased person was married and had children, the spouse receives one-half if there is one child or one-third if there are two or more children, while the children equally share the remaining two-thirds. Intestacy laws may not fit the needs of people who have children from a previous marriage or children from multiple relationships, people who live together but are not married, unmarried members of the LGBTQ+ community, or people who own a family business, among other examples.
People who are of sound mind and have the capacity to enter into legal agreements have the right, under Tennessee law, to direct the distribution of their property in ways other than those set forth in the intestacy laws. The only “hard rule” is that a spouse may not be totally left out of an estate. While a testator may attempt to “disinherit” their spouse in a will, the spouse may opt to take an elective share of the estate. The elective share currently varies from 10% to 40% of the net estate, depending upon the duration of the parties’ marriage. Life insurance, retirement benefits, and other payments payable to the spouse on death may effectively reduce the elective share payable from the decedent’s estate.
In addition to a will, there are several other tools that should be taken into consideration in formulating your specific estate plan. These include powers of attorney, living wills, and trusts. Working together with the testator’s tax professional, our firm may also help reduce, as much as possible under current state and federal laws, the tax burden on an estate.Contact a Wills Lawyer in Nashville or the Surrounding Areas
If you are ready to talk to an attorney about writing or updating your will, we can help. Nashville wills attorney Randy Ratliff is here to assist with all of your estate planning needs, including wills, health care directives, and long-term care planning documents. We serve clients seeking an elder law attorney or estate planning guidance throughout Davidson and Williamson Counties, including in Cool Springs, Goodlettsville, Franklin, Antioch, Hermitage, Madison, Joelton, and Brentwood. We can also help people who own small or medium-size businesses develop a business succession plan or an asset protection plan. Call us at 615-656-8282 or contact us online to set up an appointment.