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Starting the Year By Getting Your Affairs in Order

Starting the Year By Getting Your Affairs in Order

As far as we know, we only live once – and we never know when it’s going to end. It’s important to plan so you can prepare. 

You can start 2024 off strong by getting your affairs in order.

1. Create an Estate Plan

First, decide whether you want a will, a trust, or both. Some people opt for a will and a living trust, but it’s up to you what you choose. If you want an attorney to talk over your options, we’d be happy to do that!

You can also decide whether you want a durable power of attorney for finances (in case you’re not able to make financial decisions). 

2. Plan for Your Healthcare

You can also consider whether you want to create an advance directive for your care. Most advance directives have a living will and durable power of attorney for healthcare.

The living will tells doctors what kind of care you wish to accept or reject when it comes to emergency treatment, and durable power of attorney lists the person you trust for your care should you become unable to communicate. 

3. Organize Your Important Documents

Once you’ve prepared all of your important papers, organize them and put them all in one place.

Here are some examples of papers that you should keep together.

Personal Information

Personal info is needed for identification purposes and is best kept together so your family can be prepared when they need it. 

  • Social security number
  • Date and place of birth
  • Names and addresses of spouse and children
  • Location of important legal certificates (birth/death, marriage/divorce, citizenship, adoption)
  • Employers and dates of employment
  • Education and military records
  • Names and phone numbers of religious contacts
  • Group memberships, awards
  • Names and numbers of close friends, relatives, doctors, lawyers, advisors

Health Information

Emergencies happen – and when you’re not prepared, your family has to scramble to find what your medications are, etc. Keep them all in the same place and be sure that your loved ones know where to look.

  • List of any ongoing conditions and treating doctors’ names
  • Current prescriptions (keep this list up-to-date)
  • Durable power of attorney for healthcare
  • Advance directive 
  • Health insurance info, policy and phone number

Financial Information

Your finances will help family members better understand what financial resources they can draw from to help you with your care, should you need it. 

  • Sources of income/assets
  • Social security benefits information
  • Insurance info (car, home, life, long-term care) with policies and phone numbers
  • Bank and account information
  • Investment income
  • Copy of the most recent income tax return
  • Location of most up-to-date will with original signatures
  • Liabilities, including what’s owned and when payment is due
  • Mortgages/debts, how and when they’re paid
  • Original deed of trust for home
  • Car title and registration
  • Credit and debit card numbers and names
  • Safe deposit box and key number

If you’re looking for a place to keep all of these, let us know. We’re happy to offer LawSafe memberships for a reasonable rate to help keep track of all the not-so-little things that your loved ones may need if there is an emergency or end-of-life event. 

4. Talk with Your Loved Ones

Once you have everything in one place, tell your loved one where to find your information. Be sure to also tell your loved ones about your plans – you don’t want your family to find out after the fact that you’ve selected someone they don’t know as your Personal Representative!

You can also let your doctor know about advance care plans, and, if applicable, give your doctor permission to discuss your care with your family.

5. Review Plans Regularly and Update 

Once you’ve done all the hard work (it takes time getting all that paperwork together), be sure to review your plans annually. If you’ve had a major change happen, you should consider revisiting your plans as well, to make any necessary updates. 

It takes time to get your affairs in order, but it is such a relief to your loved ones when they don’t have to worry about what your wishes are. In fact, this could be your masterpiece! If you’d like to get updates like this one on a regular basis, sign up for our newsletter!

What Happens When You Aren’t Clear About Your Wishes?

What Happens When You Aren’t Clear About Your Wishes?

When you aren’t clear about your wishes, you leave a blank space for your loved ones to try to fill in. This can be incredibly stressful to them – even if you’ve expressed your wishes to them but didn’t write them down – so it’s important to know your wishes ahead of time. Learn what could happen to you if you don’t make your wishes known.

What Happens if You Become Incapacitated in Tennessee?

If you become incapacitated in Tennessee (a temporary coma, for instance,) and have no medical power of attorney set, your loved ones may have to go to court and then a judge will decide who can make medical decisions for you if you’re unable to communicate your wishes.

Trying to determine your wishes after you can no longer express them can be an extremely stressful time for your family, which is why it’s so important to communicate your wishes ahead of time, just in case anything happens to you.

What Happens if You Die without a Will or Trust in Tennessee?

If you die without a will, that is called “intestate.” This means that whatever inheritance you leave behind, including your property, is subject to Tennessee intestate succession laws. Intestate laws typically leave your property to your surviving spouse and/or children, but parents, siblings, nieces, and nephews could become eligible too.

Here’s a quick breakdown of what would happen in Tennessee if you are married or have children:

  • If you have a spouse but no children, the spouse would inherit your entire estate, even if you’re separated
  • If you have a spouse and children, the estate would be divided equally among all parties (except that the spouse can receive no less than 33% of the overall estate).
  • If you only have children, your estate would be split equally among all the children.

Keep in mind that only your biological and adopted children will inherit from you if you do not have a will. If you would like to leave part of your estate to step-children, foster children, godchildren, or other children who are close to your heart, you’ll want to make plans for that in your will or through non-probate beneficiary designations. 

Here’s what would happen if you died unmarried and without children:

  • If you have a parent, the entire estate would go to your parent(s).
  • If you have sibling(s) but no living parents, the estate will be split equally among your siblings. 
  • If you have no parents or siblings, the estate will be split equally among your siblings’ children.
  • If you’ve none of the above, the estate would be split equally among paternal and maternal aunts and uncles. 

You don’t have to die to see how this one might end if you don’t write your decisions out!

Who Makes Funeral Decisions if You Die in Tennessee?

Similar to the above, if no one has been legally designated to make funeral decisions on their loved one’s behalf, it falls to the next-of-kin, which would be the spouse or adult children. Once the family member takes responsibility for making and paying for their loved one’s funeral arrangements, they sign a legal contract that obligates the funeral home to follow instructions from that family member alone. 

Make sure you tell your family what you want so there’s a consensus during a difficult time..

What if there are no next of kin?

If there are no next of kin (as defined above) and no personal representative, any other person willing to assume responsibility and arrange the funeral (including the funeral director) can make funeral decisions, after attesting that a good faith effort has been made. As for your estate, if no family can be found it will ultimately be turned over to unclaimed property.

Don’t leave a blank space for your family members to fill in regarding your end of life wishes. Don’t keep them second-guessing. Instead, leave something that people can read like a magazine to know what you want your life – and death – to be like. 
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Get the Prenup! Safeguarding Your Future with Prenuptial Agreements

Get the Prenup! Safeguarding Your Future with Prenuptial Agreements

Getting married is an exciting time: a celebration of love and commitment, and the beginning of a new chapter together. Along with the joy and happiness, it’s important to consider the practical aspects. 

One is the prenuptial agreement, often referred to as a “prenup.” While prenuptial agreements may not be the most romantic topic to discuss, they can play a vital role in safeguarding your future together and preparing for the difficulties of marriage before you say “I do.”

Do you remember the viral Reddit post of the man who was upset when his partner wanted to share the expenses of having a child? While that couple wasn’t legally married, this is the perfect example of how to negotiate a prenup. An experienced attorney will guide you through lots of questions when discussing your options for a prenup. Think of them as ways to get closer to your future spouse, rather than preparing for a break up. 

Regardless of what personal matters you may want to address within your prenuptial document, here are the primary reasons you should consider getting one. 

1. Financial Security

One benefit of a prenuptial agreement is the financial security it provides. A prenup allows couples to have open, honest conversations about their financial expectations and obligations. 

In outlining each person’s assets, debts, and financial contributions, both parties can feel secure knowing their rights and financial interests are protected. This helps minimize conflicts and misunderstandings during the marriage. Some points to consider about prenuptial agreements include:

  • Protection of pre-marital assets: It can ensure that property or assets acquired by either party before marriage remain in their possession after a divorce.
  • Clarification of financial responsibilities: Clearly stating each party’s financial obligations during the marriage can minimize potential disputes about finances.
  • Division of marital property: A prenup can provide guidelines for the division of marital assets in case of divorce, reducing time spent on legal battles. Consider that you intend to continue making contributions to your 401k after you wed. That account will likely become a marital asset and your spouse will become entitled to part of it, even if they didn’t personally put any money in. However, your intended spouse can waive your rights to the account as part of the discussion and signing of a prenuptial agreement. 

2. Protecting Family Interests

Another benefit of a prenuptial agreement is the ability to protect family members’ interests, particularly children from previous relationships. Addressing the distribution of assets and financial responsibilities in the event of a divorce or death can ensure that children from previous relationships are provided for.

Some thoughts about protecting family interests through a prenuptial agreement:

  • Protection of inheritance rights: This can outline the distribution of assets and inheritance rights so the intended beneficiaries receive their rightful share.
  • Financial protection for minor children: When partners have children from other relationships, a prenup can offer financial security for well-being and education.
  • Stress-free estate planning: Outlining property rights and distribution can simplify the estate planning process and minimize potential family conflicts. If your family or friends have ever started to use the phrase “gold digger” about your new beloved, a prenup is a clear way to make it clear what you want for everyone in your life. 

3. Preserving Business Assets

For business owners, a prenuptial agreement can protect entrepreneurial efforts and keep business operations running smoothly. It can also help shield business assets from division during a divorce.

Considerations for business owners when it comes to prenuptial agreements:

  • Protection of business interests: Establish that the business, including its assets and future growth, is considered separate property.
  • Succession planning: With succession planning, a prenuptial agreement can ensure the smooth transition of the business in case of death or divorce.
  • Financial stability for the business: Outlining the financial responsibilities and obligations of each partner can maintain financial stability and growth.

Prenuptial agreements are not just for the wealthy or those anticipating divorce. They are valuable legal tools for couples looking to protect their individual rights and interests. By addressing important financial and family matters upfront, prenups can build a strong foundation of trust, transparency, and shared goals.

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Talking about prenuptial agreements may feel uncomfortable or unromantic, but they offer benefits for couples preparing to tie the knot. Whether it’s about financial security, protecting family interests, or preserving business assets, a prenup can lay the groundwork for a successful and harmonious marriage. 

If you’re considering a prenuptial agreement, get in touch with an experienced attorney who can guide you through the process. At Graceful Aging Legal Services, we understand the significance of protecting your future together. We’re well-versed in  helping couples create prenuptial agreements that meet their unique needs. 

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Understanding Probate in Tennessee

Understanding Probate in Tennessee

Probate laws in Tennessee play an important role in the orderly distribution of a person’s assets after they die and help to settle their affairs. The probate process typically begins when you hire an attorney who will file a petition on your behalf in the appropriate probate court, initiating the legal proceedings. 

The court then appoints a Personal Representative (aka the executor) to oversee the estate, and their primary responsibility is to manage the assets and debts of the deceased loved one. Notification of heirs and beneficiaries is a critical step to ensure all interested parties are aware of the probate proceedings. 

If you are nominated or appointed as a Personal Representative, there are several things you’ll want to keep in mind to ensure a seamless probate process.

Probate Court Jurisdiction and Venue

In Tennessee, your attorney will file for probate in the county where your loved one lived at the time of their death. This is wherever they consider to be their permanent home. 

Across Tennessee, your probate case may be heard in a different type of court than a friend’s in another county. For example, in Davidson County the Circuit Court hears probate cases while in Rutherford County they are handled in General Sessions Court. Many counties process probate petitions through their Chancery Court. An experienced probate attorney will be able to tell you the procedure in the county where you live. 

Tennessee Intestacy Laws

Intestacy laws in Tennessee come into play when there is no valid will. These laws dictate the distribution of assets when a person passes away without explicit instructions, outlining the order of inheritance among surviving family members. 

Myth-busting: Many people are concerned that if they do not have a will, the government will take their belongings instead of their family. While there are certain exceptions where the government can claim funds that are owed to them, your closest family members will inherit if you do not have a will. 

Validity and Execution of Wills

Tennessee recognizes several types of wills, from handwritten wills to the ones you think of that are typed up and signed in a lawyer’s office in front of a notary. Each type of will has different requirements in order to be “admitted to probate.” This just means that the court needs to make sure that the will is authentic before it is acted on. 

The law is specific about how that authentication can happen. Probate laws delineate the requirements for a valid will and the various types of wills recognized in the state. Ensuring compliance with these stipulations is imperative for a seamless probate process. 

Probate Inventory and Appraisal

Part of the probate process involves creating an inventory of the deceased’s assets and how much those assets are worth. This allows the heirs and beneficiaries to know what to expect in terms of inheritance and for the court to require insurance to protect those funds if needed. 

Many people are concerned about their privacy if the inventory is made a part of the public record, but informal inventories are often used instead of filing as part of the public record. This can be written into your will or agreed to by your family after your death. 

Creditor Claims and Debts

To handle creditor claims and debts, personal representatives must notify creditors and prioritize the settlement of outstanding debts so ensure that the distribution of assets is fair and equitable. 

One primary responsibility of the personal representative is to pay any valid claims of the estate. Your attorney will assist you in notifying creditors, both by mail and in the newspaper, so that they can come forward and file claims if there is money owed. Your attorney will guide you through the process of evaluating whether those claims are valid and paying them (if appropriate). 

Estate Administration and Accounting

Once all assets have been gathered and all creditors have been paid,  it’s time to distribute the funds. An accounting, whether formal or informal, will assist the personal representative in getting the numbers right. Depending on family dynamics and the requirements of the will, the accounting may or may not need to be filed with the Court’s Clerk.

While the term “accounting” sounds scary, all it means is that you are keeping track of what funds come into and out of the estate. Your attorney will assist you in preparing the accounting if one is required by the court.

Will Contests and Disputes

Probate laws in Tennessee address the possibility of will contests and disputes, outlining the grounds for contesting a will and the specific procedures involved in resolving such disputes. 

(Want to disinherit someone? As our team says, “No one is entitled to an inheritance.”)

Probate Taxation in Tennessee

Probate taxation is an overview of estate taxes, potential tax liabilities, and exemptions are governed by Tennessee probate laws. Understanding and following the laws around taxation ensures proper estate planning and compliance. 

Although Tennessee no longer has an inheritance or estate tax, taxes are still an important process of probate and estate planning. As part of the probate process, the personal representative will be responsible for filing the deceased person’s final income tax return, as well as any federal estate taxes. There may also be state tax returns due based on what types of assets the decedent had. 

Your attorney and accountant will assist you with maintaining the deadlines and knowing what these requirements are. 

Closing the Probate Estate

In the final phase of the probate process, assets are distributed to heirs and beneficiaries, and the personal representative or administrator is officially dismissed of their duties. Take some time to celebrate – you’ve made it! 

Common Issues and Pitfalls

The probate process takes a lot of time and effort (and maybe three hundred takeout coffees). The costs include court filing fees, attorney fees and possibly personal representative fees, which adds up.  It’s important to have an attorney who knows the laws and the best way to complete the process efficiently so as much money goes to the people that your loved one wanted to have it.

Most people want to know how long the process will take or have heard horror stories out of other states (looking at you, Florida!).  

In Tennessee, it can take as little as six months, depending on when your person died, how fast the court moves, the assets involved, family dynamics, and other variables.  In most cases, it takes at least a year, and often more. If everyone gets along, it’s not such a bad process, and the attorney will handle much of it for you. 

We also encourage the use of an after-loss professional like Sunny Care Services who can take some of the most frustrating tasks off your plate. 

If you’ve become the Personal Representative for your loved one’s estate and want to prevent a lengthy probate process, it’s a good idea to start planning now. Talk with an attorney who has experience with probate and estate planning. (Psst – that’s us!)

Recent Developments in Tennessee Probate Laws

Probate laws are subject to change, and recent developments, including legislative updates and notable court decisions, can impact the probate landscape. Staying informed about these changes will help you navigate the probate process instead of asking, “Is it over now?” when you’re only halfway through. 

Fortunately, Graceful Aging Legal Services can help you stay informed on such topics with our newsletter. Sign up today!

Smart Money Practices for the Newly Married

Smart Money Practices for the Newly Married

Newly Married

Have you said ‘I do’ recently and are beginning the exciting journey of wedded bliss? Understandably, as a newly consolidated duo, estate planning techniques might not top your list. But did you know the importance financial management and estate planning holds in safeguarding your shared future? Let us guide you to financial serenity and legal obligation smoothening activities.

We understand that marriage is a joyous milestone, and with it comes the excitement of starting a new life together. However, it also brings a range of financial and legal responsibilities that may require careful consideration. As two lives intertwine, so do their finances and assets. Proper financial and estate planning not only allows newlyweds to manage their money effectively but also ensures the protection and distribution of their assets should the unexpected occur. By taking proactive steps now, couples can safeguard their financial interests and pave the way for a prosperous journey together.

Key Financial Factors

Combining finances can foster transparency, build trust, and simplify money management. However, it’s essential to address individual financial habits, expectations, and goals to create a seamless financial partnership. While you may not choose to place all your money into joint accounts, creating a joint account for shared expenses might be a good place to start. Work with your partner to craft a budget that aligns with both of your priorities and allows you to save for future goals. Don’t forget to set aside funds for personal interests, too. 

With marriage also comes the need to reassess insurance coverage. Do your existing policies provide adequate protection for both of you and any dependents? Regardless of outside employment, be sure to take into account the work each spouse does around the home and what it might cost to replace that in the event of an accident or incapacity. Take this time to also review beneficiary designations on these accounts to help safeguard each other’s financial well-being and ensure your policies are set up how you would like them to be. 

Many of us carry debt, and when we get married, it comes too! Addressing existing debts requires planning and coordination. Which debts will be shared and which will be tackled individually? We recognize that managing joint debts can be a delicate task, but it’s an important topic to create a plan for as soon as you can. 

Action Items:

  • Discuss how you want to manage your finances- joint, separate, or a combo?
  • Evaluate and consolidate insurance policies- life, health, home, auto, etc.
  • Review and update beneficiary designations on insurance and retirement accounts
  • Discuss plan to address debts brought into the marriage and how you plan to handle debt during your marriage

Key Legal Considerations

Though it might not feel urgent, now is a great time to create or update your estate plan! Creation of a Last Will & Testament ensures that each spouse’s wishes regarding asset distribution are carried out after their passing. One common misconception is that your assets automatically pass to your spouse after your death; this is not always the case, but a will can help ensure that your wishes are followed. 

Another crucial part of your estate plan are the Power of Attorney documents. Used in the event you are unable to make financial or healthcare decisions for yourself, these documents allow a trusted individual to act on your behalf. While you are not required to name your spouse as your Power of Attorney, it is an easy way to empower them to act in the event of an unexpected emergency. These documents can be written in a way that clearly defines a Power of Attorney’s role and abilities, and they should be reviewed regularly. 

Action Items:

  • Create or update your will or trust to address your new marital status
  • Create or update your powers of attorney

Key Tax Considerations

The last major consideration after getting married is in regards to tax planning. There are a variety of tax filing statuses available for married couples, and if you are married as of December 31, the law says you were married for the whole year for tax purposes. If you are planning to change your name after marriage, be sure to report it to the Social Security Administration as soon as possible. Your name on your tax return must match what is on file at the SSA; if it doesn’t, it could delay your refund! 

Another thing to review are your withholding amounts. Newly married couples must give their employers a new Form W-4 within 10 days of their marriage. If both spouses work, you may move into a higher tax bracket. The Tax Withholding Estimator on the IRS website is a great tool to use as you complete your new W-4. Proper tax planning can lead to substantial savings! 

Action Items:

  • Change your name on all relevant government documents if you plan to
  • Consider whether taxes will be filed jointly or separately
  • Update your tax documents with your employer

Proper financial and estate planning is an essential step for newlyweds to set the stage for a secure and prosperous future together. By understanding and addressing the financial changes that come with marriage, establishing a comprehensive estate plan, and optimizing their tax situation, couples can embark on their journey hand-in-hand, prepared for whatever life may bring. Being proactive today brings peace of mind for tomorrow! 

If you’re ready to take the next step as a couple, click here to schedule an initial call with our office. We’d love to work with you as you create your estate plan and set goals for your life together!