While unpleasant to think about, it is a simple fact of life that none of us will live forever. A person who dies without a will is said to have died ‘intestate,’ in which case the state of Tennessee decides how the ‘intestate estate’ should be distributed. This may come as a shock, but, ‘intestacy’ is an area where the government may have actually done something that most people would tend to agree with. The state intestacy statute, codified at Tenn. Code Annotated section 31-2-104, divides an intestate estate between the spouse and children of the individual who has passed – or to the other surviving members of that person’s family if they had no spouse or children.
Of course, the legislature’s one size fits all solution to distributing assets after death might not be exactly what you have in mind. In that case, you will want to, at the very least, sign a Last Will and Testament, and you may want to undertake more thorough estate planning.
You may also be visiting this page because a family member or loved one has passed away, and you need to administer their estate – or you stand to inherit from that estate. In any of these cases – planning for your own estate or administering someone else’s – you need the best estate attorney on your side. I have drafted estate documents and represented clients in estate matters throughout east Tennessee, and I can help you as well.
A will is the first document that comes to mind when most people think about how they want their assets divided after their death. These documents can be as simple or complex as is required. Maybe you want to leave most of your belongings to your Wife or children, but want to make sure some friends receive certain specific sentimental items. Perhaps you have a whole litany of people you wish to leave specific sums or items to. Whatever the case, it’s essential that you leave a will, so that your desires are clear, and legally enforceable. Further, a less obvious benefit to drafting a will is that you can ensure it is entrusted to the person you want to serve as executor – and you can also make sure that person is willing to do so.
If a family member or loved one has died, and you have been charged with administering their estate, it may be necessary for you to participate in a legal process known as ‘probate’. Broadly speaking, it is the duty of the executor of an estate to ensure that the ‘testamentary intent’ of the person who has passed is accomplished. That intent would have been described in the individual’s Last Will and Testament. Moreover, prior to the estate being closed, the probate court will want to ensure that all of the individual’s debts have been paid, and that the assets have all been properly accounted for and distributed. Probate deals with quite a few moving parts that seem needlessly convoluted: notice and affidavits to creditors, receipts of beneficiaries, healthcare releases, interim accountings, and so forth. You may find the discharge of your duties significantly less stressful if you choose to hire a lawyer with experience in this area to assist you in your duties.
In some circumstances, Probate can become a contentious process. Parties who stand to inherit – or who believe they should have inherited – will levy accusations of the exercise of undue influence over an individual who has passed, or that the individual lacked capacity when executing their Last Will. While this situation is certainly the exception rather than the rule, retaining counsel as early as possible in a probate administration that is – or may become – contested is absolutely vital.
Drafting and signing a will is not the only option available to a person making plans for the distribution of their estate. Oftentimes, it is beneficial to transfer assets in a manner that does not require submission to the probate process – or to cause as few assets as possible to pass through probate. There are myriad ways to accomplish that goal, which can be discussed at a consultation with an estate attorney. Additionally, many people planning their estate will want to address living wills, healthcare directives, and powers of attorney, to plan for scenarios involving loss of mental capacity, or total incapacitation. These topics don’t make for particularly uplifting conversation most of the time – and for that reason are oftentimes avoided, even if they need to occur. However, it is my experience that in the unfortunate event that a loved one has become mentally or physically incapacitated, their family is exceedingly grateful to know what that persons specific end-of-life directives are, rather than being forced to make those decisions themselves. Schedule a consultation with me to discuss any of these estate planning issues further.