If you or a loved one pass away without a will in Tennessee, yours or the deceased’s estate will be subject to the state’s intestate succession laws. The state devised these laws based on what the most logical wishes of the standard person would be, but for you, they may be far from perfect.

Typically, when a person’s death triggers intestate succession laws, the property of the deceased goes first to the surviving spouse, then to surviving children, then to parents/siblings/nieces and nephews, etc. To help you better understand what to expect in the event that you or a loved one die without a will, Smart Asset covers the basics of Tennessee’s intestate succession laws.

Surviving spouse’s rights to property

Tennessee, like most other states, gives widows and widowers unshakeable rights to property. However, just how much a surviving spouse stands to receive depends on whether the deceased had children, whether of the marriage or a former relationship.

If the deceased does not have any surviving children, the whole of the estate goes to the surviving spouse. However, if the decedent did have children, the state will divvy up the estate equally among all parties. That said, Tennessee takes the stance that surviving spouses should receive at least one-third of all the deceased’s property within the estate.

Children’s right to an estate

If a person dies unmarried but with surviving children, all the property within the estate will go to the children. However, as previously mentioned, if there is a surviving spouse, the state will distribute the property evenly among the children and the widow/widower. The exception to this, however, is if the decedent has more than two surviving children. By intestate success laws, a surviving spouse must receive at least one-third of the property within the estate. Once that one-third goes to the spouse, the executor will distribute the remainder of the property evenly among the children.

The state of Tennessee does not differentiate between adopted children and biological children, and therefore grants the former the same rights as the latter. However, the same is not true of foster children or stepchildren. If you or a loved one passes away without a will, any surviving foster or stepchildren will not have any rights to yours or the decedent’s property.

The state affords illegitimate children the same rights as biological children. However, it is up to the child or the child’s surviving parent or guardian to prove paternity.