Tennessee’s laws regarding wills are specific and exact. If your will is deemed invalid by the court for not meeting one of the state’s many requirements, your possessions will be distributed as though you had left no will at all. Although you can certainly write your own will, it is advisable that an attorney look at it to make sure it conforms to Tennessee’s statutes so your chosen beneficiaries receive exactly what you intended them to.
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Anyone older than 18 years of age can make a will in Tennessee, provided they are of “sound mind,” which means they have an understanding of the implications of what they are doing. You must have two witnesses watch you sign your will and you must watch them sign it as well. If one of your witnesses is also a beneficiary, you will need one additional witness -- two in addition to the one who stands to inherit -- unless that person would have inherited by default according to law if you had not left a will at all. If you are unable to sign your name to your will for some reason, one of your witnesses may do it for you.
Inheritance by Default
If your will is declared not valid by the court because it fails to meet some requirement, or if you do not leave one at all, then Tennessee will distribute your property according to its intestacy laws. The intestacy laws lay out an order of inheritance established by Tennessee statutes. If you are married but have no children, your spouse inherits everything. If you are married with children, your spouse and children share your estate. If you are not married but do have children, your children inherit everything. If you have no spouse and no children, your parents get your estate, followed by your siblings, and if no family member is found, your estate passes to the state of Tennessee.
Handwritten wills are called holographic wills. They are legal in Tennessee, provided that the entire document is in your handwriting and you remember to sign it. Although you do not need witnesses to sign it, after your death two witnesses will have to attest to the court that it is your handwriting in order for Tennessee to validate it.
You can make an oral or noncupative will if you are in immediate danger of dying -- and you really do die. A noncupative will is not valid if you recover and die from some other cause months or years later. You must speak your last wishes to two witnesses and one of them must commit them to writing within a month and submit the document to probate court within six months. A noncupative will only covers assets with a total value of less than $1,000 unless you are in the armed forces and on active duty. Then the limit is $10,000.
Revoking a Will
You can revoke your will by making a newer one or by signing a document stating that you are revoking it. You can also physically destroy it. If you bequeath anything to your spouse in your will and are subsequently divorced, that specific bequest is automatically null and void under the law. If you marry or have children after you write your will, the law considers your entire will revoked. You will have to make a new one.
References & Resources
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