Your last will and testament spells out your instructions for your estate after your death. To ensure that your will complies with Tennessee law is enforced by the courts, and will not be invalidated, it should be drafted only by an experienced lawyer helping clients with estate planning.
When someone dies without a will – or without a comparable, legally-recognized estate planning document – he or she is said to have died “intestate.” In Tennessee, the “intestacy” laws allow the courts to decide what happens to your property and assets if you should die without a will.
When your will is created, your estate planning lawyer can ensure that it’s valid and that it adheres to all of the applicable legal requirements and guidelines. With a properly drafted will, you and you alone will determine what happens to your assets and property after your death.
If you keep reading, you’ll learn why you should have a will, what it takes to have a will invalidated in Tennessee, and you will also learn how a Clarksville wills lawyer can draft a will on your behalf that will be enforced and not invalidated by a Tennessee court.
What Does a Last Will and Testament Accomplish?
Your last will and testament conveys your instructions regarding how your assets and property are to be divided and distributed when that time comes. If you are the parent of children who are still minors, your will can also name a person to be their guardian in the event of your death.
A last will and testament may be part of a comprehensive estate plan that includes powers of attorney, advance medical directives, and/or a “living” will that addresses end-of-life issues. An estate planning lawyer can set up a personalized estate plan that’s right for you and your family.
A precisely-drafted last will and testament will thwart most efforts to have your will invalidated, and it ensures that your estate will be handled according to your wishes and with minimal legal interference after your death. Still, it’s possible that someone may attempt to contest your will.
How Can a Will Be Invalidated?
The statute of limitations deadline for filing a legal challenge to a will in Tennessee is two years. Anyone who contests a will in this state must demonstrate that he or she would inherit a share of the decedent’s estate if the will were set aside.
If that person is not named as a beneficiary, and if that person would not inherit anything from the estate if Tennessee’s intestacy law applied, then that person has no legal standing to contest the will and cannot take any legal action.
On What Grounds May a Will Be Contested?
However, if someone qualifies to challenge a will, the legal grounds for contesting a will in Tennessee include:
- Incorrect execution of the will: Wills in Tennessee must be in writing, signed by the individual making the will (the “testator”), and witnessed and signed by two witnesses. If a will was incorrectly executed, a court may invalidate it.
- Undue influence on the testator: When someone benefits by pressuring or intimidating a testator into signing a will – that might not otherwise have been signed – it’s undue influence. If proven, undue influence may invalidate a will.
- Lack of capacity: A testator must be 18 years old or older and “of sound mind” in order to sign a valid last will and testament in the State of Tennessee.
How Can You Protect Your Will From Legal Challenges?
The way to ensure that your will is safe from legal challenges is to have it prepared by the right Tennessee estate planning attorney. Your attorney will ensure that you are of sound mind, that your will is correctly executed, and that you have not been a victim of undue influence.
It’s important to draw up a “self-proving affidavit” along with your will. A self-proving affidavit is a legal document, signed by the witnesses, which affirms that the testator signed the will in their presence, was of sound mind, and that the witnesses signed in the presence of one another.
Without a self-proving affidavit, when your will goes to a Tennessee probate court, the court will need affidavits from the witnesses at that time, or they will have to appear in court and swear to the validity of the will. You really do need to have a self-proving affidavit along with your will.
Another effective step that you can take to protect your will is adding a forfeiture provision that automatically disinherits anyone who challenges the will.
What Can Happen If a Court Invalidates Your Will?
If a Tennessee court invalidates a last will and testament, and the decedent had a previous will, that previous will governs the division and distribution of the estate’s assets, presuming that the previous will was itself valid.
If a Tennessee court invalidates a last will and testament, and the decedent did not have a valid previous will, the estate’s assets and property will be divided and distributed according to Tennessee’s intestacy laws.
Can You Invalidate Your Own Will?
Tennessee law allows you to revoke your own will or any part of your will by establishing a new will, by executing a document of revocation, or by having the document “burned, torn, cancelled, obliterated or destroyed” with the intent to revoke.
In some cases, Tennessee law also allows a testator’s subsequent marriage and birth of a child to constitute the revocation of a will. If you prepare a valid will in Tennessee, and you subsequently marry and have children, the will you prepared may be entirely or partially revoked.
After establishing a will – or a comprehensive estate plan – with the advice and guidance of a Clarksville estate planning attorney, you should review it with your attorney every two to three years to ensure that it still reflects your wishes and that you’ve done nothing to invalidate it.
If you’ve already established a will or an estate plan, but your family status has changed since you signed the documents, or if you’re not sure whether your will or estate plan is still valid, schedule a consultation with a Tennessee estate planning lawyer right away.
When Should You Begin Planning Your Estate?
Estate planning is a must for anyone who intends to provide for loved ones in the future. A comprehensive estate plan also includes advance directives – financial and medical powers-of-attorney – to manage circumstances that may arise with no warning.
While there’s every reason to begin the estate planning process promptly, good estate planning doesn’t happen on a whim or in a rush, either. It takes thoughtful consideration, and it takes some time. Still, no one knows what the future holds, so the time to begin planning your estate is now.
If you have no will or estate plan in place, it’s easy to learn more. A Tennessee estate planning attorney will answer all of your questions and provide the estate planning advice and services that you and your loved ones need.