Trusts are a legal tool that can be used for many purposes including estate planning, asset protection, and income tax minimization. Trusts are a way of managing property with the intention of protecting it so that it can be passed on via inheritance to future generations.
Trusts establish a fiduciary relationship that allows a third party to hold a person’s assets on behalf of that person’s beneficiary or beneficiaries. The person establishing the trust and designating the beneficiaries is known as the “settlor” or “trustor,” and the third party who holds the assets on behalf of the beneficiaries is the “trustee.”
Why do people create trusts?
Why do people create trusts in the first place? How do you know if you need a trust? First, people create trusts to control and protect their assets, especially for after they pass away. Trusts provide legal protection for the trustor’s real and personal property, and can also provide protection from creditors. Second, people create trusts because they are concerned about their money being spent on someone other than who it was intended for. Trusts are established to make sure that the trustor’s assets are distributed according to their wishes. If you have significant assets, especially a significant amount of real estate assets, or you have very specific wishes about how and when you want your assets distributed after you pass away, a trust might be for you. The best thing to do is talk to your attorney, who will help you determine whether a trust is the best way to protect your assets.
A beneficiary cannot just “take” an inheritance out of a trust
Since the purpose of a trust is to protect your assets, beneficiaries cannot just take their inheritance out of the trust as they please. The trustee must follow the terms of the trust established by the trustor.
Minors & age clauses within trusts
People under the age of 18 legally cannot control their own money. A trust may be established for a minor beneficiary in order for them to have financial resources during their minority, but these resources are managed by the trustee according to the terms established by the trustor. For example, a trustor may include that their beneficiary receives a regular allowance from the trust.
However, turning 18 does not necessarily mean that the beneficiary will automatically have unlimited access to the trust. Many trustors include payout clauses that extend the trust for a certain amount of time after the beneficiary turns 18. The policy behind this is that, while an 18-year-old may legally be able to control money and property and enter into contracts, the late teenage and early adult years are still a very developmental stage of life. An 18-year-old very well may not have the maturity and money management skills required to handle a significant amount of assets. Age clauses allow for the beneficiary to continue receiving periodic funds from the trust, but provide another level of protection of the trustor’s assets until the beneficiary reaches an age of presumed maturity, usually when the beneficiary reaches their mid-20s.
Trusts for beneficiaries with special needs
These types of trusts are intended to provide for individuals with special needs while also allowing them to retain government benefits like social security or Medicaid. The Trustee will distribute funds from the trust as needed, or on a regular schedule, to take care of the special needs beneficiary’s living expenses and health care needs.
The terms for receiving an inheritance are set when the trust is created
Overall, money moves from a trust only according to the terms set forth at the creation of the trust. This may mean a periodic payment to the beneficiary distributed by the trustee, lump-sum payment to the beneficiary at a certain age, or both. Assets cannot be removed from the trust unless the terms provide for it. To obtain assets from the trust that are not provided for within the terms of the trust, you likely will have to go to court.
When it comes to estate planning, there are many ways that you can distribute your assets according to your wishes. One of the most popular ways is to create a trust.
There are many types of trusts out there. A trust can be either revocable or irrevocable and it can have unique clauses for receiving an inheritance. Trusts are in many ways the opposite of a will. A will is used to distribute property after someone dies, while a trust is set up while someone is alive and involves giving up control over the assets.
Not sure if a trust is right for you? Discuss your financial and family situation with a qualified attorney first.
As a parent, you want your child to lead a happy and fulfilling life and have healthy marriages of their own. However, it is hard to ignore the possibility of divorce. No matter how much you may love your child’s spouse, your interest is always in protecting your child. So when estate planning, how can you ensure that your child’s inheritance will not be split with their spouse in a divorce?
Division of property in a divorce will depend upon whether the property is considered “separate property” or “marital property”.
What is the difference between separate and marital property? Separate property is the property that belonged to an individual before marriage. This can include monetary assets, cars, real estate, and sometimes even pets. Marital property, on the other hand, is the property that was acquired or shared during the marriage. So what happens if your child puts their inheritance into a joint bank account? To answer this, we need to discuss how Tennessee law views inheritance.
How does Tennessee view “inherited” property in a divorce?
In Tennessee, inherited money or property is generally considered to be separate property. This means that whether your child inherits before or during their marriage, the court will treat the inheritance as exclusively belonging to your child. They are not obligated to share it with their spouse. However, have you ever heard a long-married couple say “what’s mine is yours, what’s yours is mine?” Many couples treat property this way, which can work well unless the couple decides to separate. This brings me to a very important point:
If your child puts an inheritance into a joint banking account shared with their spouse, it would become marital property subject to division at divorce.
How can you ensure that your child’s inheritance will be divorce-proof, no matter how your child handles the inheritance?
One way to ensure the safety of your child’s inheritance is to set up a Family Trust. In general, a family trust is an estate planning tool that protects your family and your assets. A family trust is a three-party relationship between you (the Grantor), your child (the Beneficiary), and the person in charge of maintaining and distributing the assets in the trust (the Trustee). Through a Family Trust, you will be able to determine how and when your assets will be distributed by the Trustee to your Beneficiaries after your death.
In the divorce context, a Family Trust is a great option because the property is held by the Trustee. This means that on paper, the property from the Trustee will not technically belong to your child. So in the event of a divorce, a court will not consider the assets from the trust for division. Family Trusts are generally flexible and easy to set up, and they are even cost-effective. Of course, if a Family Trust is not right for you, your estate planning attorney will be able to provide alternate options to achieve the same goal!
Of course, nobody wants to believe that their child’s marriage will end in divorce. However, estate planning is all about considering life’s “what if” questions. In the end, setting up a trust for your family will allow you and your child the confidence that their inheritance is safe.
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Probate is the legal process of transferring some of a deceased person’s assets to their heirs. Once you or someone you love passes away, there may be questions about what specific assets and property within an estate actually have to go through probate court, and which assets pass directly to beneficiaries. The short answer is that only assets that a person owned that were in their own name, alone, must go through probate.
The Probate Estate
Assets that go through probate make up what’s called the “probate estate.” For example, an individually owned bank account with no named beneficiary or a car titled only in an individual person’s name will pass through probate.
All other assets pass to the named beneficiaries without going through the probate court.
So, what are some specific things that do not pass through probate?
Here are a few examples:
Property held in joint tenancy with a right of survivorship
Any assets or real property held in joint tenancy (with a right of survivorship specified in the deed) by the deceased and one or more other people doesn’t need to go through probate. When one owner dies, the survivor(s) automatically owns the property.
Property held in tenancy by the entirety
If the deceased individual owned real estate with their spouse in tenancy by the entirety, the surviving spouse is automatically the sole owner when the other spouse passes away.
Payable-on-death bank accounts
A payable-on-death bank account is an account that passes to the beneficiary at the death of the account holder, therefore it does not pass through probate. Check with your bank to see whether your bank account(s) have payable-on-death beneficiaries.
Assets registered in transfer-on-death form
Tennessee residents can name transfer-on-death beneficiaries for securities. Assets registered in the transfer-on-death form pass directly to the named beneficiary without needing to go through probate.
Life insurance proceeds
When life insurance policies or annuities specify a beneficiary, the proceeds do not go through probate.
The funds in retirement accounts do not go through probate if the account holder designated a beneficiary.
Assets held inside a Trust by a Trustee do not go through probate.
Learn how to prepare for and navigate probate
Overall, knowing which your assets must pass through probate, and which do not pass through probate, can save you a lot of unnecessary stress and confusion. Designating probate vs. non-probate assets is an important part of your overall estate plan strategy. It is important to take the time to talk to an attorney in order to identify your assets, decide who your beneficiaries should be, and determine what the best method is for those beneficiaries to receive their share.
We invite you to participate in our “Estate Planning Challenge,” which is a daily email campaign where you can identify all of the people, assets, and decision-makers that you will need to consider before meeting with an attorney to further discuss your estate plan.
At some point, everybody thinks about creating a Last Will and Testament. However, many never do. Having a conversation about what will happen to your belongings after your death- and then seeing it on paper- is a daunting task.
So, what happens if you never do it? We’ll give you our best lawyer answer- it depends! When a person dies without a will, they die “intestate.” Every state has different intestacy laws that dictate who will inherit a person’s property when they die intestate. So who inherits your things depends largely on what state you live in, and your family composition. Below we detail what will happen to your estate if you die intestate in Tennessee.
What happens when you die intestate in Tennessee?
Are you married with or without children?
Let’s start with the simplest scenario: if you are married with no children, your spouse will inherit your entire probate estate. However, this will change if you do have children. If you are survived by your spouse and one child, each will inherit one-half of your estate. Additionally, if you are survived by your spouse and more than one child, your spouse will inherit one-third of your estate, with the remainder split evenly among your surviving children.
Let’s say you die without a will in Tennessee while unmarried or widowed with children…
If you do not have a spouse or are widowed, your estate passes to your children. All of your biological and/or legally adopted children inherit equally. In some cases, children are able to prove their parentage by DNA testing after a parent has passed in order to claim part of the estate. All children will inherit equally, so it is important to inform your family of all children who may have a right to inherit from you.
What happens in the tragic case of a child dying before a parent? If your child gave you grandchildren before they passed, then their share of inheritance will pass to those grandchildren. Otherwise, their share will be split among your other children.
Or you die while unmarried without children…
Let’s say you are not married and you have no children, but your parents survived you. Your parents will inherit your entire estate. If neither of your parents survived you, your estate would then pass to any siblings you may have.
I don’t have any close heirs. Who gets my assets if I die intestate?
But wait: I am not married, I have no children, I survived my parents, and I have no siblings. What now? In this case, a probate attorney may need to do what is called an “heir search” which is basically creating a family tree to find your closest relative(s). Your closest blood relatives will receive your estate. In the event that they cannot be found or do not respond to the attorney, your estate may be deposited with the Probate Clerk’s office and ultimately turned over to unclaimed property.
Create a will if you want control over who inherits your estate
Of course, the easiest way to avoid confusion and know for certain where each piece of your estate will end up is to create a valid estate plan including a Last Will and Testament. Thinking about what will happen after death is a daunting task, but in the end, it will save your surviving family more money and stress.
Do you want to get a head start on your Will or need to update your Will? Take our Virtual Estate Plan Challenge! We created this 7-email series to help our Clients and guests organize their thoughts about their wishes for their estate. You can use this information later on when you create your documents. Give it a try!
When one spouse wants to disinherit the other, but they are still married, it can be a complicated process. In most cases, disinheriting a spouse is only possible if you have a valid prenuptial agreement or if you are divorced.
Let’s illustrate this with an example:
Jack and Jill have been married for five years, and have one child together. Their house was purchased by Jill before they were married, and Jack’s name was never added to the deed.
Jill recently discovered that Jack is cheating on her with the Instacart shopper. She and Jack are now separated and have started the divorce process, but she wants to make sure that if she dies before the divorce is final that Jack won’t get anything from her.
What can Jill do?
Jill can disinherit her spouse after the divorce
Unfortunately, Jill cannot disinherit Jack until she files for divorce. Tennessee law does not allow you to disinherit your spouse- even if you write a will that says that! My advice is to get divorced as quickly as possible. Unless divorced, Jack is entitled to his share.
The good news is that once divorce papers have been filed, there will be an automatic injunction that specifies that the pair no longer have spousal rights on the property through marriage. This is primarily to protect things like bank accounts, real estate, relationships with the children, and health insurance coverage. However, all that does is prevent money from being spent by either spouse outside of regular expenses. Jill won’t be able to do anything, like estate planning, until after the divorce has been settled or through special permission from a judge.
In the meantime, there are still a few steps Jill can take:
Utilize her prenuptial agreement
Jack and Jill signed a prenuptial agreement prior to their marriage. In it, they waived the right to inherit from each other. All Jill needs to do now is to rewrite her will to specifically omit Jack.
Divide assets into separate trusts
Jill can establish a trust under her name and place the house in it. Since Jack’s name isn’t on the deed or on the trust, he has no right to the house if Jill were to pass before the divorce is finalized.
Rewrite her will
Jill can rewrite her will so that Jack only gets what he is entitled to by law, called his elective share. In Tennessee, spouses are entitled to a homestead allowance, a year of support, and elective share. The elective share amount depends on how long you are married.
Hire a family law attorney
The divorce will go much quicker with the help of a family law attorney.
Finally, if Jill is preparing for a divorce, she can take advantage of all the legal documents at her fingertips and get a head start on creating the estate plan she desires. Once her divorce decree is finalized, she can meet with her lawyer and sign the document to make it valid.
Are you getting a divorce and want to start over with your own will and estate plan in Tennessee? Are you looking for a referral to a family law attorney? Let us know! We are happy to help you make plans for your new life. Not sure where to start? Give us a call. We offer a complimentary 15-minute call to see if we are the right fit for you and your situation. You can schedule your call by clicking here.
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