Persons Born Out of Wedlock Must Prove by Clear and Convincing Evidence that Deceased was Father to Inherit Under Intestate Succession in Tennessee

Posted on Dec 13 2015 4:11PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

A recent Tennessee Court of Appeals decision, In re: Estate of Ole Irene Tucker, 2015 WL 7068134 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2015), discussed how a person qualifies as a person born out of wedlock for purposes of inheriting from a deceased individual in an intestate situation (a situation without a will).  In this case, an individual claimed to be a grandchild of a deceased individual.  A dispute arose as to whether this individual was actually the child of her purported father (who was the son of the deceased).  The question before the Court was whether this individual had standing to make a claim under the Tennessee intestate succession laws against the estate.  The trial court issued an order finding that this individual lacked standing and could not inherit under Tennessee law because she was not considered a person born out of wedlock under T.C.A. § 31-2-105. 


On appeal, the Tennessee Court of Appeals discussed the statute that governs this issue, T.C.A. § 31-2-105.  This statute provides as follows:


(a) If, for purposes of intestate succession, a relationship of parent and child must be established to determine succession by, through, or from a person:

(1) An adopted person is the child of an adopting parent and not of the natural parents except that adoption of a child by the spouse of a natural parent has no effect on the relationship between the child and that natural parent; and

(2) In cases not covered by subdivision (a)(1), a person born out of wedlock is a child of the mother. That person is also a child of the father, if:

(A) The natural parents participated in a marriage ceremony before or after the birth of the child, even though the attempted marriage is void; or

(B) The paternity is established by an adjudication before the death of the father or is established thereafter by clear and convincing proof, but the paternity established under this subdivision (a)(2)(B) is ineffective to qualify the father or the father's kindred to inherit from or through the child unless the father has openly treated the child as the father's, and has not refused to support the child.

(b) In no event shall a parent be permitted to inherit through intestate succession until all child support arrearages together with interest thereon at the legal rate of interest computed from the date each payment was due have been paid in full to the parent ordered to receive support or to the parent's estate if deceased.

(c) Nothing in this section shall be construed to prevent a child from inheriting from a parent through intestate succession.


The Court then reviewed the prior case law and found the following:


Applying In re: Estate of Armstrong, Ms. Allen is a person born out of wedlock if Ewell Stephens Johnson was her biological father and he and Ms. Allen's mother were not and never had been married to each other at the time of Ms. Allen's birth. This is so even though Ms. Allen's mother was married to another man when Ms. Allen was born. If Ewell Stephens Johnson was Ms. Allen's biological father, she qualifies as a child born out of wedlock for purposes of Tenn. Code Ann. § 31–2–105, and we, therefore, find and hold that she does not lack standing to assert a claim of inheritance to the Estate by intestate succession through Ewell Stephens Johnson. We, therefore, remand this case to the Trial Court for a determination of whether Ms. Allen proved by clear and convincing evidence pursuant to Tenn.Code Ann. § 31–2–105 that Ewell Stephens Johnson was her biological father.


As a result, as long as an individual establishes to the trial court that by “clear and convincing evidence” the deceased is their biological father, then an individual born out of wedlock can still inherit under Tennessee intestate succession laws.  This shows that there certainly is a path under Tennessee law to establish standing in an intestate matter for a person who was born out of wedlock.  However, they must prove their relationship by clearing and convincing evidence in compliance with T.C.A. § 31-2-105.


Follow me on Twitter at @jasonalee for updates from the Tennessee Wills and Estates blog.

TAGS: Intestate, Intestate Succession, Minor Children, Tennessee Probate Law
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Jason A. Lee is a Member of Burrow Lee, PLLC. Contact Jason at 615-540-1004 or jlee@burrowlee.com for an initial consultation on wills estate planning and probate issues.

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Tennessee Wills and Estates Blog
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E-mail: jlee@burrowlee.com