A Tennessee resident who dies without a will leaves behind an intestate estate. Tennessee intestate succession statutes determine how such an estate is divided among the descendants of the deceased, who is known as the decedent. Only property that is owned solely by the decedent is governed by intestate succession statutes. Property left in a trust or property that a decedent owns jointly with survivorship rights is not subject to intestate succession.
Opening Intestate Estates
An intestate estate must be opened in the Tennessee probate court in the county in which the decedent resided. The court appoints an estate administrator, who acts like an executor, to gather the estate's assets and distribute them according to the intestate succession statutes. The administrator must publish notice of the court action in a local newspaper so the decedent's creditors have the opportunity to file claims against the estate. The administrator also must file an inventory with the court listing all the estate's assets and their values.
Tennessee intestate succession statutes give a surviving spouse a decedent's entire estate unless the decedent also leaves behind children. In this case, the spouse and the decedent's children share in the estate; the surviving spouse receives either one-third of the entire estate or the same share as one of the surviving children, whichever amount is greater. If a decedent dies single with surviving children, they equally inherit her estate. If a child predeceases the decedent, his children inherit his share. If no children or grandchildren are left behind, any surviving parents of the decedent equally inherit the estate.
Read More: Types of Heirs
If no spouse, children, grandchildren or parents survive a decedent, intestate succession distributes to more remote heirs. Brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles and cousins are next in line to inherit. If no living heirs can be located, a decedent's intestate estate goes to the state of Tennessee through a legal doctrine called escheat. An administrator should make reasonable efforts to locate heirs to avoid the escheat of an estate.
Closing Intestate Estates
An administrator must pay all the intestate estate's legal debts and file all required estate tax returns. Once all debts are paid, the administrator may request permission from the probate court to distribute the net estate to the heirs. After he distributes the assets, the administrator must file an accounting with the court, showing all estate debts and all property distributions. He can then request that the court close the estate. Any and all applicable court fees must be paid up at the time an estate is closed.
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