Are Transfer on Death (TOD) Deeds Valid in Tennessee?

by | Jan 26, 2023 | Estate Planning

In short, no. But that doesn’t mean a person has to go through the full probate process in order to inherit real property in Tennessee.

If someone dies and the only thing they own is real estate and some personal possessions, meaning they have no bank accounts, stocks or bonds, retirement accounts, or other similar assets, a beneficiary can claim title to the real estate in a very simple proceeding versus a full probate process.

Muniment of Title When There’s a Will

A beneficiary in a valid Will can file a Muniment of Title action with the court when the Will is probated. This could be considered a simplified version of probate. It still involves the court, but on a limited basis. The court examines the record and claims made regarding the decedent’s estate and the real property, and if it finds that the decedent only owned real property and no other asset, and the will is valid in Tennessee and the petitioner is the heir of the property, it will issue an order that can be registered with the county’s Register of Deeds. This puts that claim in the public record, just like a deed would. A Tenncare release would also be required.

Affidavit of Heirship When There Isn’t a Will

A person who is an heir at law, according to Tennessee statutes, can file an Affidavit of Heirship to claim ownership of the real property. This would apply if a decedent died “intestate” or without a valid Will. This affidavit would be filed with the Register of Deeds and give the beneficiary the use and enjoyment of the property. Filing one of these affidavits with knowledge that the facts stated in the affidavit aren’t 100% true or might not be true is a felony, so this method is not recommended unless a person has done a complete and thorough legal search of public records and private records of the decedent to ensure that they do not have other heirs or assets. Ignorance of the law or failure to do a legally supported search is not an excuse courts will accept to avoid felony prosecution. A Tenncare release would also be required.

Potential Problems With Using Abbreviated Forms of Probate?

  1. If other assets are discovered later, a person’s right to use the Muniment of Title would not have existed, and may need to be withdrawn and a full probate process started.
  2. If other assets or heirs are discovered that should have been discovered, a person filing an Affidavit of Heirship could be convicted of a felony.
  3. Title companies might not want to insure title for the future buyer of that property. Not having “clear title” makes it impossible to get insurance, and few buyers will be interested in a property with a cloud on its title, which one of these methods might create in the eyes of a title examiner. If you go through the formal probate process, ownership is assured, but filing an affidavit means that your claim is subject to the claims of others for as much as 20 years. That’s a risk title insurance companies probably won’t take.

Help With Probate

There are very limited circumstances where a Muniment of Title or Affidavit of Heirship would be recommended for inheriting or laying claim to real property in Tennessee. Probate attorney in Tennessee, Leigh Cowden, is happy to consult on these issues with anyone having real property in Tennessee. Please complete our intake form to get a free phone call consultation with a licensed attorney at Vermillion Law.