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What happens if you die without a will in Tennessee?

What happens if you die without a will in Tennessee?

From Clear Estate

Even under the best of circumstances, the death of a loved one is a difficult and traumatic time. However, when your loved one dies without a will (formally known as “dying intestate”), it becomes an even more stressful time, with many legal hurdles to navigate. In this article, we guide you through this process and inform you how probate in Tennessee works when there is no will.

What happens in Tennessee when someone dies without a will?

When someone dies without a will, what happens to their assets is determined by the intestacy laws of the state in which they died. In Tennessee, these laws divide the deceased’s property into three groups. These are:

  • Exclusive property. Property owned only by the deceased; this is the only type of property that will need to go through the probate process under Tennessee intestacy laws.
  • Joint property. Under Tennessee’s survivorship regulations, anything owned by the deceased jointly with a spouse, partner or other party passes immediately to the surviving co-owner.
  • Trust property. Any assets already placed into a trust with a named beneficiary are not covered by Tennessee’s intestate succession laws. This would include anything in a 401(k) or other pension funds with a named beneficiary.

What then happens to any exclusive property is determined by who survives the deceased.

Tennessee Intestacy Law: If the Deceased Has a Surviving Spouse and/or Descendants

There are three possible scenarios here:

  • First, if the deceased has a surviving spouse but no children. In this case, all exclusive property passes directly to the spouse.
  • If there are surviving children but no spouse, the estate is divided between all children.
  • If one of these children has died, their share will pass to their own surviving descendants, if any.
  • Lastly, if there are surviving children and a spouse, the spouse receives whichever is greater, either one-third of the estate or a child’s equal share. The balance of the remaining assets is then to be shared among the children.

Tennessee Intestacy Law: If There Are no Surviving Spouse or Descendants

  • If someone dies intestate in Tennessee with no surviving spouse or descendants, the first beneficiaries would be their parents, if they still live. The estate will be divided between both parents if they’re alive or pass in entirety to one survivor.
  • If no parents are alive, the estate then passes to any siblings.
  • The probate court will seek out the closest surviving cousins if no siblings exist.
  • Finally, if no relatives of any degree can be found, the entire probate estate passes to the state of Tennessee.


– Dying intestate is when you die without a will. Over 67% of Americans don’t have an estate plan in place.

– For assets not owned jointly, under a trust, or 401k’s with listed beneficiaries – The Tennessee intestate law is enacted.

How to probate an intestate estate in Tennessee

Usually, when a person dies with a will, an estate executor is named who manages the probate process.

However, the process is slightly different if the deceased has died intestate. Instead of an estate executor, an interested party (usually a child or spouse) asks the court in the district where the deceased died to name them as the estate administrator. The court then issues them with “Letters of Administration.”

Once the Letters of Administration have been issued, the administrator can act the same way any estate executor would. They typically open a checking account in the estate’s name, place any funds from the estate into it and use the account to pay for any estate expenses. However, before they can open the account, they must obtain a taxpayer identification number from the IRS.

The estate administrator must then notify any creditors of which they are aware. The county clerk will also usually place a notice in the local press to inform any creditors, who then have four to 12 months to press their claim. The administrator is then required to settle any debts when creditors come forward.

In the first 60 days after receiving the Letters of Administration, the administrator is required to submit an inventory of assets to the court and notify any heirs under the terms of Tennessee’s intestacy laws. When debts and taxes are paid, the administrator pays out any remaining assets to those entitled, and the probate process is complete.

How Long Does Probate in Tennessee Take Without a Will?

As long as the estate is uncontested, which can lead to lengthy legal processes, probate for the estate of a person who died intestate in Tennessee will not take longer than six to 12 months. This allows time for creditors to present their demands and for the estate administrator to pay any taxes or other expenses.

If you’re currently dealing with an estate without a will and find yourself struggling, don’t hesitate to reach out. Schedule a free consultation with one of our estate professionals to find out how we can help you navigate this process.

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