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Who Inherits in Tennessee if My Spouse Dies Without a Will?

Posted by Nina Whitehurst | Dec 23, 2019 | 0 Comments

Many married couples in Tennessee think that if one of them dies without a will, the other will inherit everything from the deceased spouse.  That is only true if your spouse is not survived by children.  Whether you intend to or not, if you fail to do some kind of estate planning, you could end up disinheriting your spouse to some extent.

Dying without a will is called dying "intestate".  When a person dies without a will, state law determines who inherits.   Those laws are sometimes referred to as the rules of "intestate succession".  The rules of intestate succession vary widely among states and the results in some cases can be truly surprising.

Take for example a highly traditional family consisting of mom, dad and a couple of minor children of the marriage and no children from previous relationships.  Most married couples under these circumstances would want the spouse to inherit 100% because he or she is going to need all of the deceased spouse's resources (and then some, usually) to raise the children to maturity.  

However, that would not be the case in Tennessee (see chart below).  In Tennessee, unless the deceased spouse had a will that provided otherwise (or did a trust-based estate plan), the surviving spouse would NOT inherit 100% of the decedent's estate.  The children would inherit some portion, up to as much as one-half of the decedent's estate.   That could leave the surviving spouse seriously strapped for money.

The funds inherited by the children usually end up in some kind of court-supervised, blocked account.  The intent is to keep the children's inheritance safe and intact until they reach the age of majority.  If the surviving spouse wants access to any of those funds, he or she must petition the court for permission.  The custodian of the account (who may or may not be the surviving spouse) must provide regular accountings to the court.

If you want to make things easy on your surviving spouse and ensure that he or she inherits everything, you might need a will or a trust to accomplish that, depending on where you live and your individual circumstances.

Take a look at the chart below for a sampling of the laws of intestate succession in Tennessee for the disposition of estates when there is a surviving spouse.  You might find the result surprising. 

 If you die with                                                              Here's Who Inherits in Tennessee

Spouse but no descendants                                         Spouse inherits everything

Spouse and descendants
(regardless of who the other parent is)                         Spouse and your descendants equally share the property, but the spouse's share may not be less than 1/3

Spouse and parents                                                      Spouse inherits everything

If the result does not work for you, give our Crossville, Tennessee office at call at 931-250-8585.  We can help you get your affairs in order to achieve the result that you desire.

About the Author

Nina Whitehurst

Attorney at Law Nina has been practicing law for over 30 years in the areas of estate planning, real estate and business law She is currently licensed in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Oregon and Tennessee. Her Martindale-Hubbell attorney rating is the highest achievable: 5 stars in peer...


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