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Wills

A will is a legal document by which you instruct what is to be done with your property after your death. It must be properly signed and properly witnessed. Any person who is of sound mind and is eighteen (18) years of age may make a will in Tennessee.

What Happens If You Do Not Have a Will?

  • If you die without executing a will, Tennessee law will govern how your property is distributed.
  • If you are married and without children at your death, your estate will pass entirely to your surviving spouse.
  • If you are married and have children, your estate will pass to your children and your surviving spouse.
  • If you are unmarried but have children, your estate will pass entirely to your children.
  • If you are unmarried and without children, your estate will pass to your parents if they survive you, otherwise to your brothers and sisters.

Ultimately, if no family member is ascertained, the estate will pass to the State of Tennessee.

What Should Be Included In a Will?

Generally, your will should:

  • Appoint a Personal Representative (sometimes called an Executor or Executrix) to carry out the terms of your will and the laws that apply to all estates;
  • Provide for how you want your property to be distributed (include real estate, bank accounts, savings bonds, stock, furniture and personal items). You should consult an attorney about the advantages of setting up a trust to minimize taxes and control how and when your property is received by the beneficiary. Note: if you hold any property jointly with right of survivorship, the joint tenant will automatically assume your interest in the property, and therefore, the property should not be listed in your will as an asset of your estate;
  • Appoint a guardian for your minor or incompetent children to ensure their well-being;
  • Address any other personal concerns, such as funeral arrangements and the like.

Is a Handwritten Will Legal?

Yes. A handwritten will is legal in Tennessee, provided that the document is entirely in your own handwriting and is signed by you. This is known as a "Holographic Will." Following your death, the authenticity of your handwriting must be proven by two (2) individuals.

A will is a very technical document. While a handwritten will may work well for you, there is a high likelihood that it may not work well for you. It is strongly recommended that such a document be prepared by an attorney who has experience in this area of law. If your will is invalidated at your death for whatever reason, Tennessee law will govern how your property is distributed as if you had died without a will.

How Do You Revoke Your Will?

Your will does not take effect until your death, therefore you may revoke it at any time. This may be accomplished by:

  • physically destroying it;
  • by signing a document expressly revoking your will; or
  • by signing another will
  • If you get divorced after you sign your will, the will is automatically revoked as to any provision concerning your ex-spouse. If you marry and have children after signing your will, the entire will is automatically revoked. Therefore, it is important to remember that after these events occur, a new will must be drawn.

Other Related Considerations

You may also want to consider consulting an attorney about devising an Advance Directive or Advance Care Plan.

Advance Directives or Advance Care Plans are legal instruments that express your considered decision to refuse medical attention should you become terminally ill and unable to communicate your wishes and allows you to appoint a person to make health care decisions for you should you be unable to do so for yourself.

Advance preparation of these instruments could spare you and your family considerable pain.

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