Tennessee Intestacy Laws

The following are excerpts from Tennessee’s intestacy laws. Please reference the full body of the Tennessee Code at the site maintained by the Tennessee State Courts for any changes to those laws that may not be reflected below.


You can also open the Tennessee Intestacy Evaluator℠ to see the distribution of a Tennessee intestate estate based upon any person’s unique family and financial circumstances.

Tennessee Intestate Laws

Title 31. Descent And Distribution
31-1-101. Title definitions
As used in this title, unless the context otherwise requires:
(1) “Child” includes any individual, adopted or natural born, entitled to take as a child under this title by intestate succession from the parent whose relationship is involved and excludes any person who is only a stepchild, a foster child, a grandchild or any more remote descendant;
(5) “Heirs” means those persons, including the surviving spouse, who are entitled under the statutes of intestate succession to the property of a decedent;
(6) “Issue” of a person means all the person’s lineal descendants, adopted as well as natural born, of all generations, with the relationship of parent and child at each generation being determined by the definitions of child and parent contained in this title;
(7) “Parent” includes any person entitled to take, or who would be entitled to take if the child, adopted or natural born, died without a will, as a parent under this title by intestate succession from the child whose relationship is in question and excludes any person who is only a stepparent, foster parent, or grandparent;
(9) “Property” includes both real and personal property or any interest therein and means anything that may be the subject of ownership.

31-1-102. Effect of divorce, annulment, and decree of separation
(a) A person who is divorced from the decedent or whose marriage to the decedent has been annulled is not a surviving spouse unless, by virtue of a subsequent marriage, the person is married to the decedent at the time of death. A decree of separation that does not terminate the status of husband and wife is not a divorce for purposes of this section.
(b) For purposes of this title, a surviving spouse does not include:
(1) A person who obtains or consents to a final decree or judgment of divorce from the decedent or an annulment of their marriage, which decree or judgment is not recognized as valid in this state, unless they subsequently participate in a marriage ceremony purporting to marry each to the other, or subsequently live together as husband and wife;
(2) A person who, following a valid or invalid decree or judgment of divorce or annulment obtained by the decedent, participates in a marriage ceremony with a third person; or
(3) A person who was a party to a valid marital dissolution agreement or a valid proceeding concluded by an order purporting to terminate all marital property rights.

31-1-104. Descent of homestead
(a) Unless the homestead has been converted to cash by order of the court pursuant to 30-2-209, and distributed outright and in fee, the homestead exempt in the possession of or belonging to each head of a family shall, upon that person’s death, any provision by will to the contrary notwithstanding, go to the surviving spouse during the surviving spouse’s natural life, with the products of the homestead, for the surviving spouse’s own use and benefit and that of the surviving spouse’s family who reside with the surviving spouse, and, upon the surviving spouse’s death, any provision by will to the contrary notwithstanding, it shall go to the minor children of the decedent, free from the debts of the father, mother, or children. Upon the death of the minor child or children, or their arrival of age, the land may be sold, and the proceeds distributed among the heirs of the deceased head of a family as if the head of the family had died intestate.
(b) Upon the death of the head of a family, without surviving spouse or minor children, the land shall be subject to sale for the payment of the debts as may be legally established against the person’s estate as in other cases, and the remainder distributed among the person’s heirs.

31-2-101. Intestate estate
When any person dies intestate, after the payment of debts and charges against the estate, the deceased’s property passes to the deceased’s heirs as prescribed in the following sections of this chapter. Any part of the estate of a decedent not effectively disposed of by the deceased’s will passes to the deceased’s heirs in the same manner.

31-2-102. Dower and curtesy abolished
Dower and curtesy, as formerly known, are abolished. This section shall neither abridge nor affect rights that have vested before April 1, 1977.

31-2-104. Share of surviving spouse and heirs
(a) The intestate share of the surviving spouse is:
(1) If there is no surviving issue of the decedent, the entire intestate estate; or
(2) If there are surviving issue of the decedent, either one-third (1/3) or a child’s share of the entire intestate estate, whichever is greater.
(b) The part of the intestate estate not passing to the surviving spouse under subsection (a) or the entire intestate estate if there is no surviving spouse, passes as follows:
(1) To the issue of the decedent; if they are all of the same degree of kinship to the decedent they take equally, but if of unequal degree, then those of more remote degree take by representation;
(2) If there is no surviving issue, to the decedent’s parent or parents equally;
(3) If there is no surviving issue or parent, to the brothers and sisters and the issue of each deceased brother and sister by representation; if there is no surviving brother or sister, the issue of brothers and sisters take by representation; or
(4) If there is no surviving issue, parent, or issue of a parent, but the decedent is survived by one or more grandparents or issue of grandparents, half of the estate passes to the paternal grandparents if both survive, or to the surviving paternal grandparent or to the issue of the paternal grandparents if both are deceased, the issue taking equally if they are all of the same degree of kinship to the decedent, but if of unequal degree those of more remote degree take by representation; and the other half passes to the maternal relatives in the same manner; but if there is no surviving grandparent or issue of grandparent on either the paternal or maternal side, the entire estate passes to the relatives on the other side in the same manner as the half.

31-2-105. Establishment of parent-child relationship to determine succession
(a) If, for purposes of inheritance under a will or trust or by intestate succession or contract, a relationship of parent and child must be established to determine succession by, through, or from a person:
(1) An adopted person is the child of an adopting parent and not of the natural parents, except that adoption of a child by the spouse of a natural parent has no effect on the relationship between the child and that natural parent; and
(2) In cases not covered by subdivision (a)(1), a person born out of wedlock is a child of the mother. That person is also a child of the father, if:
(A) The natural parents participated in a marriage ceremony before or after the birth of the child, even though the attempted marriage is void; or
(B) (i) The paternity is established by adjudication before the death of the father or is established thereafter by clear and convincing proof, but only if an assertion of paternity is made that seeks the adjudication within the earlier of:

(a) The period prescribed in the notice published or posted in accordance with 30-2-306; or
(b) One (1) year after the father’s death.

(ii) The paternity established under this subdivision (a)(2)(B) is ineffective to qualify the father or the father’s kindred to inherit from or through the child unless the father has openly treated the child as the father’s, and has not refused to support the child.

(b) In no event is a parent permitted to inherit through intestate succession or under a will or trust or by contract until all child support arrearages together with any interest owed, at the legal rate of interest computed from the date each payment was due, have been paid in full to the parent ordered to receive support or to the parent’s estate if deceased.
(c) Nothing in this section prevents a child from inheriting from a parent through intestate succession.

31-2-106. Representation
If representation is called for by this title, such representation shall be per stirpes.

31-2-107. Kindred of half blood
Relatives of the half blood inherit the same share they would inherit if they were of the whole blood.

31-2-108. Afterborn heirs
Relatives of the decedent conceived before the decedent’s death but born thereafter inherit as if they had been born in the lifetime of the decedent.

31-2-110. Escheat
If there is no taker under this chapter, the intestate estate shall escheat to the state of Tennessee under the provisions of chapter 6 of this title.

31-3-120. Individual failing to survive decedent by one hundred twenty (120) hours
(a) An individual who fails to survive the decedent by one hundred twenty (120) hours is deemed to have predeceased the decedent for purposes of the homestead allowance, year’s support allowance, exempt property, elective share and intestate succession, and the decedent’s heirs are determined accordingly.
(b) A devisee who fails to survive the testator by one hundred twenty (120) hours is deemed to have predeceased the testator, unless the will of the decedent contains language dealing explicitly with simultaneous deaths or deaths in a common disaster or requiring that the devisee survive by a stated period of time in order to take under the will.
(c) If it is not established by clear and convincing evidence that an individual who would otherwise be an heir or devisee survived the decedent by one hundred twenty (120) hours, it is deemed that such individual failed to survive for the required period. This section is not to be applied if its application would result in property of any nature escheating to the state.

31-6-101. Escheat generally
(a) If a decedent, whether or not domiciled in this state, leaves no one to take the decedent’s estate or any portion of the estate by the decedent’s will and no one other than a government or governmental subdivision or agency to take the decedent’s estate or a portion of the estate by intestate succession, under the laws of this state or any other jurisdiction, the estate escheats as of the time of the decedent’s death in accordance with this chapter.
(b) Property passing to the state under this chapter, whether held by the state or its officers, is subject to the same liens, charges and trusts to which it would have been subject if it had passed by will or intestate succession.