FAQ Wills And Probate

Planning for the future is often stressful, especially when it involves our own mortality. These are tough conversations, but they are important to ensure that your loved ones are taken care of according to your wishes. This page provides answers to general questions about wills, probate and other estate planning considerations. Since everyone's asset portfolio is different and family dynamics often come into play, consult with a skilled probate attorney for advice on your particular case.

Can I write my own will?

Technically, yes. However, consider the number and complexity of your assets before venturing out on your own. The internet is full of fill-in-the-blank will documents, but they may not account for all your wishes. If you wish to leave money to charity, for example, a form will not provide clear instructions on how that should happen. If you own a business or have children, a simple form may not be enough. An experienced probate attorney can help you determine what type of will best fits your needs. If you write your own will, and do not comply with the specific requirements for doing so under Tennessee law, your will may not be valid and enforceable in Probate Court.

How do I ensure that my will is valid?

A valid will must be created by someone who is at least 18 years old and of sound mind. It must communicate the intention for the document to act as a will, as well as indicate how you wish to have your property divided upon your death. Many states also require that the will name an executor of the estate, someone who will be tasked with ensuring that your wishes are carried out. Lastly, the will must be signed by you and two witnesses.

What happens if someone dies without a will?

The state rules of intestate succession take over. This is the process many people refer to as probate, where the state courts decide how a person's assets will be distributed upon death. Typically, these rules give property to a person's spouse and children first, then immediate family members. These laws do not take into consideration close friends or charitable organizations, so any property you wish to have passed in this fashion must be addressed in a valid will.

How is a will different from a trust?

An important estate planning device, trusts manage assets during your life as well as distribute them after you die. A trust can be coupled with a will to transfer assets after death or can do so by itself.

What is a living will?

A living will is a separate document that outlines your wishes when it comes to medical care and other important decisions that might arise at the end of your life.

Can my will name a guardian for my children?

Yes. In fact, having minor children is an important reason to have a will. Without one, the courts would appoint a guardian in your stead — possibly not the person you would have wanted.

If my plans change, can I revise my will?

Absolutely. In fact, you should update your will throughout your life. Additions to a will, called codicils, address issues that were not previously found in your will. If you wish to make significant changes, you may want to create an entirely new will and revoke the old one. A knowledgeable probate attorney can help you determine the best course of action.

Can I disinherit my spouse or one of my children?

Nondependent children can be disinherited through a will, as long as the will's language is clear enough to convey your intent. In most states, spouses cannot be disinherited unless they agreed to be left out of the will through a prenuptial agreement. Otherwise, spouses are generally entitled to a portion of all property acquired during the marriage.