Will your property go to Tennessee if you don’t have a will?

The short answer is “probably not.”  But don’t let that mislead you into thinking you don’t need a will in Tennesse. If a Tennessee resident dies without a will but is survived by one or more heirs, the deceased person’s property goes to the deceased’s heir(s) and not to the state.  Heirs can include a surviving relative who is a spouse, child, grandchild, sibling, parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, cousin, niece or nephew of the deceased.  Surviving relatives of a more remote degree, such as a great-great grandchild, can sometimes be heirs too.

In determining the heirs, it all depends on which leaves happen to be left on the family tree when the deceased person died. If there are no heirs and no will, the deceased’s property does get turned over to Tennessee.

The legal term for this is “escheat” and it is something that very rarely happens. The Tennessee law which determines the heirs is complicated and confusing.  It can lead to nasty legal disputes among those who think they might be heirs and are willing to spend big dollars fighting about it.  The potential heirs who lose this fight lose big.  Their legal costs come out of their own pockets, and they become worse off than when the whole thing started.  And for the heirs who win, it is a bittersweet victory when their legal costs have eaten up their inheritance. The law can also lead to unintended results.

Modern families are complicated.  They may involve committed but unmarried partners, blended families with children from multiple relationships, children born out of wedlock, or step-children who were raised by the person who has died but never adopted.  The deceased may think he knows who his heirs are and assume the law will protect them.  But the deceased may be wrong and someone important to the deceased may be left out.  Is that fair?  No.  But is it legal?  Yes.  And could the deceased have avoided this by doing a will?  Yes. Spare your loved ones some uncertainly and expense.  Do a will to express who you want to get your property when you die, and how and when you want them to get it.  They’ll thank you for it later.  And you will have the last word, not the state of Tennessee.

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