Nashville guardianship lawyers are asked this question nearly every day! The answer is…maybe. Before you begin to worry, let us explain.
By law, parents are the natural guardians of their children, regardless of the parents’ relationship. When unmarried or divorced parents have a formal parenting plan and one party passes away, that parenting plan is no longer valid. In most cases, the child’s permanent custody would revert to the surviving parent.
What If the Surviving Parent is “Unfit?”
If there are concerns about the fitness of a surviving parent, the State of Tennessee has a provision where a third party can step in and apply for guardianship of a minor child. For example, a grandparent may be compelled to apply for guardianship if they feel the surviving parent is not capable of raising the child(ren). Unfortunately, in these circumstances, the burden of proof is on the grandparent (or other petitioner). The third-party would have to prove in court that the surviving parent is unfit, which could result in an expensive and lengthy custody battle.
You Can Still Have a Say
As a parent, you can also take steps to make your wishes for your children known in your will. If you believe that your ex is unfit or unable to care for your children in your absence, you can use your estate plan to spell out your concerns and offer up alternative choices for guardians. After your passing, a judge will be given the opportunity to review your wishes and ultimately decide if choosing a guardian other than the biological parent would be in the child’s best interest.
Even if your ex were to obtain physical guardianship over your child(ren), that does not mean that they have to get any money that you have set aside to care for your child in the event of your death. Many people use trusts to control how any inheritance is managed rather than potentially letting the other parent gain control over the child’s financial assets. A well drafted trust allows you to manage your child’s financial future even after you are gone.
What if parental rights were terminated?
If the surviving parent has previously had their parental rights terminated, they will not be considered for guardianship of the child(ren) after the death of the other parent. In these cases, it is extremely important for the parent who retains rights to have an estate plan that spells out exactly who should raise the child and what resources are to be used to do so if something happens to mom or dad.
Get Informed to Be Empowered
While guardianship questions are rarely black and white, the solution in almost all instances is to create an estate plan. There is nothing more important in life than protecting our children’s future, and a straightforward estate plan can give you the peace of mind that your child will be protected no matter what!
If you have questions or you are ready to get started with creating legal documents to protect your family, please schedule an appointment with our Nashville guardianship lawyer, April Jackson.
In life, there are jobs we seek out and others that are given to us. Being named an Executor (or Personal Representative) of an estate is one of the most important jobs one can be asked to hold by another person. It means there is someone who trusts you fully and believes that you will manage their final wishes properly and without conflict.
That’s not to say the job is easy. Again, you were likely appointed to the role of Executor because your loved one felt you could handle any stress or difficult responsibilities that come with the job.
The good news, however, is that there are ways to prepare in advance so that your life as an Executor is easier when the time comes. Here are some suggestions a Middle Tennessee will lawyer would have you consider:
- Have the hard conversations now. Meet with the person who is naming you as an executor of their estate and ask them to describe exactly how they wish their estate to be administered. Take notes and make sure you get all the details. Knowing the “why” behind the decisions in the will can help you navigate “gray area” choices if they arise.
- Be organized. The job of Executor consists of lots of paperwork, bureaucracy, and time maintaining the estate as it goes through the probate process. Set up a filing system, spreadsheets, and bins, so the Executor job does not infringe on your everyday life.
- Get a lawyer. No matter the size of the estate, it is prudent for all involved parties to have a lawyer. At the minimum, have a consultation with an attorney to make sure there is not something you have overlooked. People often think they can do everything themselves only to be caught at the end by taxes or administrative issues.
- Move quickly once the person passes away. Grief makes people act in unexpected ways, so it is imperative that after the person dies, you move quickly to locate the original final will and file the necessary paperwork with the courts to be recognized as the Executor. At this time, order up to 8-10 copies of the death certificate to save yourself time later. Another uncomfortable thing you will need to do is to secure the assets. All too often, grieving loved ones will go to the home and begin to take items they believe they should have. You will have to be the one who stops this.
- Be upfront with the heirs of the estate. Make sure they all get a clear understanding of how estate administration works. The process is a slow one, which frequently frustrates family members who are grieving. By giving them an explanation or better yet, having a lawyer do it, they will hopefully have patience with you and avoid conflicts.
- Know there will be conflicts. Grieving is an individual process, and you will take the brunt of most of that emotion. If money is involved in the administration, the speed at which money is inherited can be infuriating. Heirs becoming angry with you is even more of a probability if any perceived omissions or secret bombshells are in the will. Hopefully, if that is the case, you knew ahead of time and were prepared.
- Heirloom distribution needs to be deliberate. Once the significant assets and personal items are named in the will, the hard part starts. Deciding who receives the personal items in the home can cause the most conflicts. There is no explanation for the small household items that might have importance to many family members. A sweatshirt, a picture frame, or a dish can hold deep memories that you might be unaware of. Creating an equitable system for if multiple people want an item will ensure this process is done deliberately.
These are only a few ways you can help yourself if you have been named an Executor. If you find yourself struggling with your duties and or you have questions and need some advice, we are here to help. Contact us at (615) 846–6201 to schedule an appointment with our Middle Tennessee will lawyer, April.
In the majority of cases, it’s a biological parent (or parents) who will apply to become their child’s legal conservator when they turn 18. But even parents will ask us if they are able to appoint an “alternate conservator” or someone else who can help with all required responsibilities and duties. Most commonly, we are asked by parents of individuals with special needs if they can appoint one of their other adult children, a stepparent, a sibling, a grandparent, or other relative to serve as co-conservator who could have the same legal rights as the main conservator.
Legally speaking, having a co-conservator is absolutely possible, and it’s something we often consider to help lighten the load. However, the parent or main conservator cannot appoint this person themselves. Instead, the candidate will need to go through a formal legal process with the Tennessee courts where they will petition to serve as a co-conservator. During this process, the court will need to verify that the person is indeed capable of serving in this capacity, and from there, a judge will ultimately approve or deny the request.
When we meet with families to start the process of filing for a conservator over a young adult with special needs, we will typically ask up front if the main candidate for conservatorship wants someone else to serve in a co-conservator role. In general, it’s easier and less expensive to take care of everything all at one time. The bottom line is that every family is different, and it’s important to work with an attorney who will help you create an individualized plan that actually works over the long haul.
Here at the Graceful Aging Legal Services, we want parents and caregivers to feel as secure and supported in their roles as possible, as that ultimately results in the best care for the person with special needs. If you have questions about how to create a Special Needs Plan that takes into account the unique dynamics or challenges in your family, please feel free to contact us at (615) 846–6201 to schedule an appointment.