Tennessee Court of Appeals Allows Plaintiff to Bring Claim Against Estate by Intestate Succession

In a recent decision, the Tennessee Court of Appeals addressed the issue of whether a plaintiff lacked standing to assert a claim of inheritance by intestate succession. The case of In re The Estate of Ola Irene Tucker involved a decedent with three children, two of whom predeceased her and one who died shortly after her own death. The plaintiff filed a petition against the estate, claiming that she was the grandchild of the decedent. Specifically, the plaintiff alleged that one of the decedent’s sons was her father, despite the fact that her mother was married to another man at the time the plaintiff was born.

Pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 31-2-105, for purposes of intestate succession, a relationship of parent and child must be established. Under the same statute, a person born out of wedlock is the child of the mother, and is the child of the father if paternity is established before the death of the father, or thereafter by clear and convincing proof. However, the child is unable to inherit through the father or his kin under § 31-2-105 if the father did not openly treat the child as his and refused to support the child.

The defendants argued that the plaintiff was not “born out of wedlock” because her mother was married at the time of conception and birth. They argued that § 31-2-105 did not apply to her, and therefore she lacked standing to assert a claim of inheritance by intestate succession against the estate. The trial court found in favor of the defendants and granted summary judgment against the plaintiff.

On review, the appeals court reversed the summary judgment. The court cited In re Estate of Armstrong in explaining that the Tennessee General Assembly enacted § 31-2-105 for the purpose of allowing a child to inherit from her biological father even if he and the child’s mother were never married to each other. Applying this reasoning to the plaintiff’s situation, the court held that, even though the decedent’s son was never married to the plaintiff’s mother, and despite the fact that the plaintiff’s mother was married to someone else when the plaintiff was born, if the plaintiff can establish that the decedent’s son was her biological father, she qualifies as a child born out of wedlock for purposes of § 31-2-105. Therefore, the court found that the plaintiff did not lack standing to assert a claim of inheritance to the estate by intestate succession through the decedent’s son. The court remanded the case back to the trial court for a determination of whether the plaintiff proved by clear and convincing evidence that the decedent’s son was her biological father.

A skilled attorney can advise you in planning the disposition of your estate, as well as help prevent any issues that may arise. At the Nashville firm of MHPS, our experienced attorneys handle a variety of cases, including probate litigation, personal injury claims, and family law matters. To discuss your estate planning needs with one of our attorneys, call (615) 800-7096 or contact us online.

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