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Surviving Spouse Rights Tennessee

Surviving spouses in Tennessee have several important rights, including:

  • Exempt Property
  • Homestead Exemption
  • Elective Share
  • Intestate Share
  • Support Allowance

Learning about the widow’s rights available to a surviving spouse is one of the first steps in navigating the probate process in Tennessee.

Surviving Spouse Rights In Tennessee When There Is No Valid Will – Intestacy

When a decedent dies without a valid last will, the decedent has died intestate.  An intestate estate is controlled by Tennessee law.  The share of the surviving spouse in an intestate estate varies depending on whether or not the decedent had surviving issue.

  • Decedent had no surviving issue:  If the decedent had no surviving issue, the surviving spouse is entitled to the entire estate.
  • Decedent had surviving issue:  If the decedent had surviving issue, the surviving spouse has the right to the greater of 1/3 of the estate or child’s share.

Surviving Spouse’s Right To An Elective Share

Under Tennessee law, the surviving spouse is always entitled to a percentage of the deceased spouse’s estate.  The surviving spouse is entitled to this percentage regardless of whether the surviving spouse has been disinherited by the decedent’s will.

Amount of the Elective Share

The amount of the elective share is based on the length of the marriage.  Tennessee law entitles the surviving spouse to the following percentages:

  • Marriage less than three years:  10 % of the estate
  • Marriage between three and six years:  20% of the estate
  • Marriage between six and nine years:  30% of the estate
  • Marriage more than nine years: 40% of the estate

Deadline to File For Elective Share

The surviving spouse has the later of six months after the will is admitted to probate, or nine months from the date of decedent’s death to seek an elective share.  This spousal elective share is subject to the reduction for expenses paid for the decedent’s funeral, estate administration, and statutory allowances.  If the decedent, prior to death made any transfers with a fraudulent intent to avoid the surviving spouse’s award under the elective share, the transfers will be voidable.

Surviving Spouse Allowances And Exemptions

Surviving spouses have additional rights and exemptions under Tennessee law, including:

  • Exempt personal property and a personal motor vehicle have value, collectively, not over $50,000
  • A reasonable support and maintenance allowance from the estate for maintenance during the one year period after decedent’s death.  This support allowance is based on the surviving spouse’s previous standard of living, taking into consideration the condition of decedent’s estate.
  • Homestead exemption, which is a life estate of $5,000 in the homestead.

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