Tennessee: Every Legal, Medical, and Estate Planning Document You Need

Here's a complete guide to every critical medical, legal, and estate planning document and relevant state law for STATE. Download these forms and get started with Pillar to organize all of your most important documents in one safe, secure, easy-to-use online storage solution

February 2, 2021

By establishing your estate and medical wishes now, you will be prepared no matter what unexpected situations come your way. Read on to learn about the Tennessee forms, documents, and laws you need to know about to ensure your wishes are followed regarding your medical wishes and the disposition of your property.

Essential Tennessee Medical State Laws & Forms

Medical Records and Death Certificates

How long do doctors keep medical records in Tennessee?

Tennessee requires that hospital records be maintained for at least 10 years from the date of discharge or death of the patient. For minors, hospital records must be maintained for either 10 years from discharge or until they reach majority plus one year, whichever is longer. Mammography records must also be retained for 10 years.

Tennessee statute defines “hospital records” as pertaining to hospitals and any clinic operated under the authority of a local or regional health department. 

Prior to destroying the records, a facility must retain a patient index or abstract that includes the name, date of birth, medical record number, summary of visit dates, physician name, and diagnosis or diagnoses code. 

  • Medical offices may only charge patients the reasonable costs of copying and mailing a patient’s records. Except for worker’s compensation cases, the costs shall not exceed $20 for five pages or less plus fifty cents per page after the first five pages.

How to get a death certificate in Tennessee

Death certificates are an official record of the date of death and cause of death of a deceased person. The probate court, banks, life insurance companies, and other entities related to the wrapping up of affairs may require a copy.

In Tennessee, the Department of Health - Office of Vital Records maintains death records and issues certified copies of the records. 

There are three ways to obtain a death certificate, and more detailed instructions are available from the Office of Vital Records:

  1. Obtain it online through the Tennessee vendor VitalChek
  2. Visit your local county health department in person with a completed application.
  3. Mail an application to: 

Tennessee Vital Records
1st Floor, Andrew Johnson Tower
710 James Robertson Parkway
Nashville, TN 37243

Tennessee Advance Directive Forms & Laws

Tennessee recognizes that the more difficult it is to make advance directives, fewer people will do it. Or remember where they are. As such, Tennessee created a state form that combines the content of the traditional living will, power of attorney, and do not resuscitate order into one document. 

What are living wills, DNRs, and powers of attorney?

  • Living wills are documents that you make during your life to describe what life-saving measures, if any, you want should you be unresponsive and unable to tell the doctors yourself. Common issues addressed are feeding tubes and hydration and length of time you may want to receive these treatments. 
  • Do Not Resuscitate orders (DNRs) indicate whether you do or do not want chest compressions or electric shock to stimulate your heart if it stops beating.
  • A durable power of attorney for health care allows another authorized person to make decisions regarding your healthcare, and this form designates that decision-maker, also called the attorney-in-fact. When a power of attorney form is designated as durable, that means that the agent’s power remains even after your incapacity. 

Tennessee combined the elements of these documents into one form: Tennessee Advance Directive for Health Care. By completing or constructing the above document, you can ensure your wishes are followed, even if you are no longer able to voice them. They also relieve your loved ones of the burden of trying to guess your wishes or make difficult decisions on their own

Medical providers will still honor standalone living wills, powers of attorney, and DNRs.  You can find the laws that address these issues at T.C.A. § 34-6-101 et seq. and § 32-11-101 et seq., also known as the Right to Natural Death Act

How to become an organ donor in Tennessee

To designate yourself as an organ donor, so indicate on your Tennessee Advance Directive for Health Care at Part 4.  You can also register online with Tennessee Donor Services.  

Essential Tennessee Legal & Estate Planning Laws, Documents, and Forms 

What are the Tennessee probate rules and laws?

Probate is an umbrella term for the legal process of settling the estate of a deceased person (the "decedent") with or without a will. Property that passes directly to the new owner by the right of survivorship, trusts, or payable-on-death beneficiary designations are not subject to probate procedures and are called non-probate property. 

Property already within a trust at the time of death is also non-probate property.

Because Tennessee adopted the Uniform Probate Code, much of the probate process takes place outside of court as the executor inventories the estate, determines heirs, and settles the debts before releasing funds or property to heirs. 

In the majority of cases, the court’s primary roles are to give the executor or personal representative authority to act via an order of appointment and to settle any disputes that arise.

When there is dispute among interested parties regarding heirship or the validity of the will, the Court provides more supervision and determines outstanding issues. The personal representative will be responsible for providing many accounting and inventory records to the court throughout administration of the estate in addition to dealing with creditors and distributing any assets.

What if the estate is small?

Pursuant to the Tennessee Small Estates Act, estates consisting of no real estate and probate property valued at $50,000 or less qualify for a simplified procedure using an affidavit rather than opening a case with the probate court. Creditor claims must still be paid.  Some courts have created a standard for that specific jurisdiction.

How can I find out more about the law and court process?

In Tennessee, most judicial districts have a chancery court rather than a probate court for trust and estate cases.  In districts with probate courts, the probate court has jurisdiction over trust and estate matters.  Some of the needed probate forms can be found online at your local county chancery court website.  Complete laws governing the probate process in Tennessee can be found in the the Tennessee Annotated Code in Titles 30-32.

The Tennessee Clerks’ Probate Manual is a helpful resource for people wanting to learn more about probate in Tennessee.  

What are Tennessee state trust laws?

There are two types of trusts: living trusts and trusts created by a will upon death. Laws applicable to both types of trusts can be found in the Tennessee Annotated Code in Title 35.  

Living Trust

A living trust (or inter vivos trust) is a trust that you make while you are alive. Beneficiaries of the trust receive the trust assets upon your death, or at another time determined by the terms of the trust. Property in the trust will be considered non-probate, and will be disposed of according to the terms of the trust rather than by will or probate law.

Testamentary Trust

Trusts can be created by a will upon the death of the Settlor (the person who funds the trust). 

The will directs assets into the trust, and the trust acts as a vessel for holding the assets until they are distributed to beneficiaries. Trusts are commonly used to hold money for children or for disabled people.

What are some benefits of trusts in Tennessee?

In addition to lessening your probate estate and maintaining privacy by keeping your property information out of the court, Tennessee enacted some trust provisions that make trusts particularly appealing in this state:

  • No state taxes are assessed on a trust’s income, capital gains, dividends, or interest.
  • Favorable decanting statute allows trust assets to be moved to another trust with new provisions.
Read more about the biggest differences between a will and a trust and why you might want to avoid Tennessee’s probate requirements when planning your estate.

How to set up a will in Tennessee

The basic requirements to create a valid will in Tennessee are:

  • The testator must be 18 years of older; and
  • Of sound mind
  • The will must be signed or acknowledged  by the testator in the presence of two witnesses; and
  • The two witnesses must sign in the presence of the testator

Holographic (handwritten) wills are considered valid if the will is in the handwriting of the testator and the handwriting must be proved by two witnesses. No witnesses are necessary to the signing of the will. Oral wills are only valid under certain conditions:

  • Testator must be in imminent peril; and
  • Must die of that imminent peril; and
  • Must be declared to be his will before two disinterested witnesses; and 
  • Reduced to writing by or under direction of one of the witnesses within 30 days; and 
  • Submitted to the court within 6 months of the testator’s death

Oral wills are only valid for personal property less than $1,000 unless the testator is in active military service. Read the full statutes regarding the validity of wills in Tennessee at § 32-1-101 et seq.

How to manage your digital estate in Tennessee

Tennessee adopted the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act in 2017. The Act permits users to grant authority in their wills or other writing to their personal representative or other fiduciary to access their online accounts. This can take several forms depending on the discretion of the custodian of the digital accounts. The custodian may provide:

  • Full access to the user’s account;
  • Limited access to perform certain tasks as defined in the will or other writing; or
  • A copy of what the user could have seen had they logged in the day of the request;

A user may designate a recipient in a will, trust, or power of attorney.

Tennessee Estate and Inheritance Taxes

Three types of taxes may be involved when settling the estate of a deceased person: 

  1. Taxes on the transfer of the assets to beneficiaries (estate tax)
  2. Taxes on income created by assets of the decedent’s estate (income tax). 
  3. Final taxes on the income of the decedent up to the date of death (final return)

For information about filing these federal returns, review the IRS publications for filing final returns and for filing estate income taxes.

Tennessee does not impose either an inheritance tax or estate tax. Tennesseans will still be subject to federal taxes. 

For the 2021 tax year, the federal threshold for estate taxes is $11,700,000, meaning estates valued at less than $11,700,000 do not have the estate tax levied against it. Estates that exceed this amount are assessed at progressive tax that caps at 40%. 

Everything You Need to Know About Estate Planning in Tennessee

Tennessee has a number of unique state laws when it comes to your medical records, inheritance taxes, wills, trusts, and estate planning. Navigate the strict probate process and lax estate tax with confidence with your customized (and organized!) Pillar account. You can safely scan, store, and share your most important state documents when you need them with Pillar's secure and easy-to-use online storage tool for you and your family.

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