A recent Tennessee Court of Appeals decision demonstrates that unpaid child support may be claimed against a decedent's estate no matter how delinquent the child support is. In re Estate of Miller, 2013 Tenn. App LEXIS 37. In
Miller, a married couple had a daughter in 1972. In 1975, the couple divorced, and the mother was awarded child support.
However, the mother (ex-wife) testified that she never received any of the payments. In 2010, the father passed away. On March 14, 2011, the ex-wife filed a claim for unpaid child support plus interest against the deceased husband's estate in the amount of $68,145.24. Note that at the time of the claim, the daughter was 38 years old and the obligation of paying child support had extinguished in 1990.
The probate court dismissed the claim stating that the ex-wife's testimony was unreliable. However, the Court of Appeals reversed the decision and remanded to determine the claim. In their decision, the court of appeals noted that judgments for child support are enforceable without limitation of time.
Lictenwalter v. Lichtenwalter, 229 S.W.3d 690, 693 (Tenn. 2007).
When filing a claim against a decedent's estate, one must do so in a timely manner. In Tennessee, creditors have four months from publication of "Notice to Creditors" to file a claim against an estate. If the estate challenges the claim for unpaid child support, then claimant must produce the Order for Child Support and prove nonpayment. If the claimant is able to carry that burden, then the estate must produce proof of payment.