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April Harris Jackson

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3 Tools for Estate Planning for Blended Families in Tennessee

a family with children from multiple relationships hug on a beach at sunset in tennessee
If you have a blended family, you really need an estate plan.

Many people do not begin to think about estate planning until well after they have started a career, gotten married, or had children. By the time we reach the point in our lives where we begin to think about what will happen to our belongings and our loved ones after we die, we have often already experienced big life changes. For many of us, that could mean multiple marriages and a blended family. So when we sit down to work out our estate plan, how do we navigate the murky waters of estate planning for blended families? 

Can I use a prenuptial agreement in an estate plan for my blended family?

Just like with other estate planning tools, a lot of couples do not want to think about obtaining a prenuptial agreement. After all, who can blame an engaged couple for not wanting to think about how their marriage might end? However, just like other estate planning tools, prenups have a bad rap. They can be incredibly useful for couples with a lot of assets, or blended families who want to keep certain properties separate. Through a prenuptial agreement, you and your spouse will be able to delegate which property is joint and which is to remain separate. This can make the division of your assets among your blended family a lot easier in the event one spouse predeceases the other. If you are already married but wish you had obtained a prenuptial agreement,  you can achieve the same goal with a marital agreement! 

What is a Life Estate on property in Tennessee?

A lot of the time, when a couple remarries, one spouse will move into a home owned by the other. If this is the case for you, it may be worth considering a life estate.

What is a Life Estate?

A life estate is the ownership of real property for the duration of a person’s life. In other words, a life estate will allow the cohabiting spouse to continue living in the marital home until the end of their life should the owning spouse die or become incapacitated. Just like with any contract, a life estate can contain provisions delegating payment of taxes and upkeep on the property, as well as provisions allowing for the sale of the home should the surviving spouse move out, abandon the property, or remarry. 

two mothers snuggle their toddler and baby while sitting on a park bench. They are considering making an estate plan for their blended family
Blended families are also called step families.

Use a last will and testament when Estate planning for blended families with multiple children

I want to make sure my children inherit from my estate

In some cases, your spouse may not delegate your estate to your children the same way you would. If you have certain assets or a specific amount of money you wish to go to your children, your best bet is to leave it directly to your children in your will. Of course, this can be a difficult discussion to have with your spouse, but it may be the best decision for your family. 

These are just three estate planning tools to consider for your blended family. There are dozens of others that you, your spouse, and your lawyer may find better suit your needs. Blended families are exciting and rewarding, but it is important to maintain your estate plan through one of life’s biggest changes! 

If you’re a blended family with questions about how to create your estate plan in Tennessee, consider contacting an estate planning attorney to discover what is best for your situation.

How to appoint a guardian for a child in your will

How to appoint a guardian for a child in your will

One of your main concerns when drawing up an estate plan in Nashville will be appointing a guardian for a child in case of death. As a parent, you likely consider “what if’s” every day. Estate planning is no different, especially when it comes to your children. There are multiple considerations to keep in mind when thinking of a potential guardian for your children. We will go over a few of these below.

What if I Am No Longer in a Relationship with My Child’s Other Parent? 

Tennessee law presumes that the parents of a minor child are the child’s “natural guardians”. If one parent dies before the other, the surviving parent will usually obtain full custody of the child.  

If parentage has not been legally established, you may want to appoint the child’s other parent as the legal guardian in your estate plan. Naming the other parent will ease the transition through the legal system. A court may need to establish a child’s parentage if they were not married at the time of conception and birth. A court will decide a child’s parentage for custody or inheritance purposes. 

Hopefully, there are no concerns about your child’s welfare if they need to live with their other parent full-time. However, if you have concerns, consider them objectively and put them in writing. Write down the name of the person you prefer to appoint as the guardian of the minor children. The only way to make sure the other parent does not gain custody is to have their parental rights terminated. This is an extreme measure. 

If the surviving parent is the father, a paternity test will be required before petitioning the court for custody. Paternity can be established through a signed birth certificate, an acknowledgment of paternity form, or a blood test. Establishing paternity typically grants a father certain rights in regard to his child. However, paternity is not a guarantee that he will be awarded custody of the child. The court will use its own judgment to determine which guardian would be in the best interests of the child. 

What If I Am Married to My Child’s Other Parent, but Something Happens to Us Both?

Generally, the surviving spouse will be granted custody of any minor children. But what happens if you both die? You must consider who you want to care for your children in the event that neither of you is living. Failing to do so could result in confusion and trauma for grieving children. 

Many people make the mistake of believing that if you die, the guardian of a child will be granted to grandparents, aunts, or uncles. However, if the will does not specify a guardian, the court may be faced with multiple petitions for guardianship from family members and friends. In this scenario, the judge will choose a guardian with no input from you. So, what should you consider when choosing a guardian for your children? 

Who should I consider appointing as a guardian for my children in my will?

Did you know that you can appoint different guardians for your child to manage different aspects of their future? The most obvious guardian is the one who will have custody and take care of your child. This guardian will provide a home and make important decisions for your child. These decisions can be about doctors, schools, and how they maintain relationships with friends and family. 

You may also decide to appoint a separate guardian for your child’s financial future. This person would be in charge of the administration of a trust or other financial planning arrangement. If you want to learn more about leaving property to a minor child, read this article.

Whether you appoint one or multiple guardians, you will need to carefully weigh several important factors such as:

Young woman hugging a child. The child looks a little sad. The adult looks pensive. Appointing a legal guardian for your child in your will is an important decision to make.
Who is the best guardian for your child if you die?

Age and Ability of the Guardian

Your first choice for your children’s custodial guardian might be your parents; after all, they raised you! However, it is important to consider your parents’ age and physical ability to care for your children. This may be especially relevant if your children are younger or have special needs. Similarly, think about your preferred guardian’s emotional ability as well. Appointing your younger sister as a guardian for your child who has yet to finish school or maintain a job may not be the best choice. You will need to choose someone who is both physically and emotionally capable of providing for children. 

Religion and Education 

If you intend for your children to follow certain religious practices or receive a certain type of education, it is important to choose a custodial guardian who holds your values or who you know will follow through with your wishes. Naming a specific church or school that you want your children to attend does not mean that your custodial guardian will have to obey that wish. 

Location of the Guardian of your Child

You will also need to decide if it is important that your children are raised in a certain city or state. In some cases, your desired custodial guardian may not be able to relocate for the sake of your children. In that case, your children may need to move to the custodial guardian’s home or you may need to select somebody else. 

Specify each child’s guardian(s) and their role in your will

Finally, be sure to name all of your children in your will, and specify what role you want each guardian to play for each of them. Your attorney may advise you to select both a primary guardian and an alternate guardian. Most importantly, do not forget to ask your guardian if it is okay to name them in your will. As your children age, you may want to change the legal guardian. Ask a qualified attorney to help you modify your will if you want to do this.

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