Talking to your parents about aging, illness, and death is hard. It’s one of the hardest conversations you can have–but it’s also one of the most important. The feelings that might come up during the conversation, if uncomfortable, are better than the feelings that would otherwise come up when an emergency happens and there is no plan in place for taking care of them (or even a consensus among relatives on how to move forward). As we always say in our office: “it is better to have a plan and not need it than to need it and not have it.”
With that said, directly asking a loved one “hey, what would happen if you died today?” might not be the best way to start the conversation. So let’s consider some better alternatives to open the conversation about estate planning.
1. Tell your loved one what you’re doing for your own estate planning
Telling your loved one about your own estate plan, or your wishes to create your own estate plan, might make them consider making one themselves. Tell them what is in your Last Will and Testament, whether you have a Trust, and who you have chosen to act as your Power of Attorney. Hearing about your concerns for your own aging and death, and hearing how you’ve decided to navigate the future, will give them an idea of where to start, which is often the hardest part. Many people also struggle to decide on an estate planning attorney. It is important that the Nashville attorney they hire aligns with their needs. Hearing about your own process of hiring an attorney, and how you determined which one would be the right fit for you, can help them navigate the difficult world of hiring a Tennessee Wills and Estate Planning lawyer.
2. Talk about other situations that have happened that worried you or made you curious
Many of us know at least one person who has suffered the loss of a loved one and then had to endure the resulting feud among the family. These feuds happen so frequently that a significant number of fictional stories are based on them. Unfortunately, plenty of them could have been avoided if a clear plan had been put in place. And these feuds rarely start right after the death—many of them start much earlier, when the loved one’s health began to decline and someone had to step up to take care of them. Estate planning does not just mean deciding what happens after you die; it also means deciding what happens if your health begins to decline. If there is no plan in place for declining health, it will be up to the family to decide what happens. Even the closest of siblings can begin to resent one another if they feel that their parents’ care is not being handled properly.
Although it is fictional, the feud in This is Us between the siblings regarding their mother’s care is an accurate portrayal of what can happen in these situations. The siblings argued on what kind of medical treatment their mother should receive, and again on where she should live and who should look after her. Although all of the siblings had the best of intentions and loved each other and their mother, the feud nonetheless happened. The mother sensed the feud would escalate once her diagnosis advanced, and so she decided to name her daughter (her most level-headed child) as her healthcare power of attorney. Although the siblings still butted heads with one another, the daughter was able to carry out her mother’s wishes.
There are plenty of other examples in books and TV of families feuding over a loved one’s care or death. Talking about these hypothetical situations might make it easier to begin the conversation about aging and death.
3. Ask what would happen to their children, pets, and home if they were in a medical emergency
While discussions about aging and death might be intimidating, discussions about medical emergencies might be easier to handle. Medical emergencies can happen to anyone at any time. Our office even recommends that eighteen year olds get power of attorney documents in place, as it is important for them to have someone able to speak to medical professionals on their behalf in the event of an emergency. Since medical emergencies can happen to anyone, loved ones who do not like having their age pointed out might be more receptive to the conversation. If you know your loved one is anxious about having a stroke or falling down stairs, and tends to avoid or shut down conversation about either of those scenarios, it might be a good idea to use another medical emergency in your conversation (like a car accident, for example). While it is important for your loved one to confront their anxieties, it is not always our place to force them into a confrontation. Using a more neutral example (like the car accident) instead of one they constantly worry about might be a good way to ease them into the conversation.
4. Ask if they can show you where their estate planning documents are
After signing estate planning documents with our clients, we tell them to please let their family know their wishes and how to find the original documents. After all, the estate planning documents are only as good as the family’s ability to find them. In the event of a medical emergency or death, the signer of the documents will not be able to locate them. If no one else knows where they are or how to find them, the documents become effectively useless. It is therefore of the utmost importance that loved ones know where to locate the original documents. If you know or suspect that your loved one already has a plan in place, ask them where the documents are and how they plan to transfer the documents into the right hands in the event of an emergency or death.
For more information on how to talk to your loved ones about aging, illness, and death, we encourage you to check out The Conversation Project.
Tennessee law permits you to write your own will. Some people choose to handwrite theirs. Online services are another popular way to create a Will and other important documents inexpensively. As long as the Will meets the legal requirements, it is likely to be admitted to probate court in Tennessee.
However, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Believe me, I love a bargain too- it can be really tempting to find a low cost option for something that is expensive and, well, a little scary. Most people have never met with an attorney before and the idea is intimidating. It’s understandable.
However, a fellow probate attorney once said “online services are a probate lawyer’s best friend.” This is the prevailing thought among probate attorneys, because we see so many Wills that were not prepared by attorneys, and ultimately end up costing the family more in court costs than it would have cost to meet with an attorney and prepare the Will and other important documents.
I like to compare it to pest control. You know that if termites invade your house, it will end up costing tens of thousands of dollars to repair the structural damage they can cause. Would you prefer to pay $150 per year up front to prevent an infestation, or let them do the damage and then pay to fix it?
So let’s look at some of the issues that cause self-created Wills to have problems when we go to court. Here are some of the main pitfalls that we see with DIY wills:
1. Improperly Executed
Unless you have legal training specific to estate law, you may not be familiar with the exact requirements of the type of document you are trying to create. Tennessee law provides for several types of Wills, and each of them have different requirements for signing. Some of them will require witnesses to come to court, which you may want to avoid. Fun fact: No Tennessee law requires a Will to be notarized. Guessing you didn’t know that!
2. Improper use or misunderstanding of terms
A Will uses a lot of terms that we don’t use in everyday life. These words are used to communicate information to the Judge when the Will is probated. However, if you are writing your own Will or using a form, you may not know the effect that these words have in practice. While our attorneys try to use more commonplace language when writing Wills, we need to be able to get your point across. Words like “fiduciary,” “per stirpes,” “per capita,” “ademption,” and “executrix” are not terms we use, but as experienced estate planning and probate attorneys, we know how to use them correctly to carry out the plan you have in mind. In DIY documents, you may ignore terms that you don’t understand that seem to be boilerplate, or may not fully understand the effect that they will have when your plan is carried out.
3. Missing essential elements
I’ll never forget the day that I had to tell someone that they were unable to help their parent because the Power of Attorney that had been created online did not give them authority to do what needed to be done. I wanted to help, but my hands were tied. In another situation, someone hand wrote their Will but left out an essential part. Because we didn’t have any specific instructions from the Will, we had to go to Court multiple times for Court approval to do things that we were pretty sure they wanted. Those court hearings cost the estate more money than it would have to have an attorney help with the original Will.
4. No contingency plan
One of my least favorite things to do is talk to parents about contingency plans. Usually this means asking who would inherit from you if your children died before you did. No one wants to even think about that. But for estate planning purposes, it’s very important to always have a back up plan. We hope for the best and plan for the worst. And that means discussing uncomfortable things.
5. Plans that are not logistically sound
In a social setting one time, someone mentioned to me that they had created their Will online. They were open to sharing about the experience and mentioned that they had named their parents as their beneficiaries in their Will. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it requires some additional thinking through things. Parents are older than their children, and in most situations the children will outlive the parents. At Graceful Aging Legal Services, PLLC, we want to help you create a plan that needs to be reviewed but hopefully requires few revisions except at big transitions in your life. If you pass away without making changes, we want your planning to go the extra mile for you. Let’s say that you name your parents as beneficiaries of your Will, but no back up beneficiaries. You figure you can update it later- but never get around to it. Eventually you pass with no named beneficiaries, which defeats the purpose of making a Will. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you avoid situations like this and worse.
6. No probate-avoidance planning
Another thing people are confused about is thinking that a Will helps avoid probate. It doesn’t. The purpose of a Will is for a probate court to know what you want when you die so they can carry out your wishes. In a meeting with a good estate planning attorney, you will talk about your goals for your assets when you die and create a plan. Oftentimes we are able to guide clients how to avoid probate. One of my favorite things is when someone comes to us for probate and we are able to tell them that good planning means that they don’t need to go to court.
7. Validate of the Will is easier to challenge
Although having options to create a Will yourself may be beneficial to some, it also creates opportunity for bad actors- or the perception that people are acting with impure motives. Imagine a scenario where your neighbor asks you to draft a will off the internet for them to sign. You may be called into Court to testify about how the Will was created, your neighbors medical condition at the time the Will was created, to what extent you helped, and if you inherited anything you’ll be looked at with additional scrutiny. Having a lawyer involved not only protects the Will and the Will-maker, but also the family and friends involved. We know how to prevent claims of undue influence and ensure the Will document is valid.
When you write your own Will, you don’t know what mistakes you might make. Unfortunately, by the time the Will is submitted to probate, you won’t be around to make clarifications. The Court will have to go by what is written in the Will. Your family will be stuck with what you wrote, or risk the Court finding that your Will is invalid and throwing out all of the work you did to create it in the first place. If your family thinks that you didn’t mean what you wrote, they will have to pay additional costs to help the Court figure out what you meant. When that happens, lawyers get more of your money and your family gets less.
We prefer to work with families who get along, and are on the same page when it comes to their loved one’s estate. It makes the probate process (if there is one), easier both emotionally and financially. We don’t like to make money correcting mistakes or with families who have been left in a difficult position. If you find yourself in this situation, we’re happy to help but we’d much prefer that you not be there in the first place.
If you have an online will or were thinking about it, sign up here for our virtual estate planning challenge to think through all of the things you need before you even meet with an attorney.
How can I help my parent/partner/loved one get their affairs in order? A lot of people call us wanting to help grandma start the process, not realizing grandma needs to call/give consent before we can do much of anything.)
So you’ve been to your primary care provider and they’ve told you it’s time to see a specialist. Or maybe they’re changing practices or retiring! Or maybe you’re looking at our list of recommended doctors appointments and realizing you need to make some new appointments as you get older. Whatever the case, now you’re tasked with finding a new doctor – and it might feel daunting. We’ve got some tried and true recommendations to make this task just a little easier for you.
Don’t be afraid to ask for a recommendation!
Start with the doctor you trust – who do they recommend you visit? Maybe that’s a specialist within a greater healthcare system (Vanderbilt, St. Thomas, etc.) or maybe it’s someone who has expertise in your specific diagnosis. But don’t stop there! Next, if you’re comfortable, reach out to your family and friends to see if they have a provider whom they really like. Why do they like their doctor? If you trust their opinions, this might be a good resource for you.
If you’re able, consider the possibility of driving to get a good doctor. Sure, they’re on the other side of town, but if they come highly recommended and you’re only going 1-2 times a year, it might be worth the traffic!
Lastly, be sure to consider any deal breakers. This looks different for everyone, but it could include transportation factors, a specific focus in their practice, or you’re looking for a doctor of a specific gender (like a female OB/GYN). Take my example – my husband and I are child-free, so I was very pleased to find a gynecologist who doesn’t also help with childbirth. It means she is able to focus on what matters to me and isn’t away delivering a baby when my appointment time comes around.
Check out their internet presence.
Most offices these days have a website, listing their hours, providers, and even patient ratings of the physicians. Do you like what you read there? Or is there something that makes you think twice? If there are comments, take the time to read those, as they may give you a deeper understanding of the provider’s demeanor and care (rather than just a 5 star rating).
Additionally, use this website to confirm the doctor’s licensure. You can also view any disciplinary matters on your particular doctor in their Practitioner Profile on this website.
Contact the provider’s office.
The last thing you want is to show up and find they only accept a certain type of insurance coverage! Call the office and ask if they take your insurance; you can find your information on your insurance card. Keep in mind that the staff may need to look up the information, but “I don’t know” is not an acceptable answer here. If the person who answers isn’t sure, ask to speak to someone in the billing department to verify your coverage.
Don’t forget to also ask if you will need a referral to their office from your primary care provider. Some specialists will accept self-referrals, but your insurance company might think otherwise!
What about a copay?
Oftentimes, your insurance card will list a copay amount for various types of providers. If not, be sure to log in to your insurance company’s website and verify the copay, or call the number on your card to speak with a representative. Specialist visits typically have a higher copay amount than a regular PCP appointment; you will want to be prepared.
Remember: just because you see a doctor once doesn’t mean you have to continue seeing them. Just like any professional, you should find someone that you are comfortable with – which isn’t a reflection on the doctor or their skills, sometimes it’s something that you just have a gut feeling about and want to find a better fit. Feel free to tell the doctor this. If you can articulate what you want, tell them and ask if they have a recommendation. They probably know other doctors in their area!
You and your provider are a team, and by working together, you should be able to ensure you are taken care of for years to come! You have the ability to direct your healthcare and make decisions for your future; hooray for being proactive!
As a child, our parents are responsible for making sure we get our regular check ups and vaccinations, but as an adult- throw in figuring out health insurance- things get so much more complicated!
Scheduling doctor appointments is a necessary task that can come with a lot of headache and uncertainty. How often should we go? Where do you find a primary care physician????
Just like you get your car a check up before you go on a long trip, it’s important to regularly check in with appropriate medical professionals in order to prevent a bigger health crisis down the road. Which screenings do we need throughout our life and at what intervals? Let us help you relieve some of that stress by following these scheduling and screening tips!
Read on for a list of appointments you should make this year, and remember to ask if your insurance is in-network when you schedule! We’ve got a handy tool at the end of this article to help you keep track of your appointments.
Appointments for All Adults 18+
Primary care physician (PCP)
Who: Everyone. Seeing a PCP on a regular basis is the best way to monitor your wellness. Your PCP will be able to help you make an informed decision on what appointments you should add to your annual list.
When: Every 6 months
When: Annually or if pregnant/trying to conceive
Who: People with female reproductive systems. It is recommended that you begin annual gynecologist visits as a teenager or after you become sexually active. Regardless of sexual activity, it is recommended that your first visit be by age 21 at the latest. If you have a new sexual partner, an STI test is recommended. If you regularly have more than one sexual partner, it might be wise to have a STI and Pap test every 6 months.
When: If you have healthy vision, schedule a visit once in your 20s, twice in your 30s, and once at age 40. Those with existing vision needs should follow their eye doctor’s recommendations on frequency of visits. If you develop any vision difficulty or eye problems, a check up is recommended.
Who: Everyone, especially if you spend a lot of time in the sun, are fair-skinned, or have family history of skin cancer.
When: As recommended. Your PCP should be able to help you decide when to get vaccinations or boosters. Vaccine recommendations frequently include:
Annual flu vaccine comes out around September
HPV vaccine and meningitis for young adults
Covid 19 vaccine and appropriate boosters
Appointments for Adults ages 40 +
Gynecologist – Mammogram
Who: People with breasts
PCP – Rectal Exam/PSA blood test
Who: People with prostates
Gastroenterologist – Colonoscopy
When: Regular screenings are recommended for those between the ages of 45 and 75. If your colonoscopy shows no signs of cancer, you can typically wait 10 years before scheduling another one.
If you’re 50+, add this l screening to your list:
Who: Adults who have smoked 1 pack of cigarettes per day for 20 years or 2 packs per day for 10 years and currently smoke, or adults who have quit smoking within the last 15 years.
If you’re 60+, add this screening to your list:
When: Age 65 and up
Who: Cisgender women and People assigned female at birth
If you have a family history or risk factors of any particular diseases, talk with your PCP to decide if you need earlier, more regular, or other specific screenings. Remember, prevention is better (and cheaper) than the cure!
Need a New Year’s Resolution? Schedule all of your doctor appointments before the end of January so that you can cross that task off your to-do list and feel good about prioritizing your wellness
The ACA covers 100% of preventative health care. Visit Healthcare.gov for more information.
Add travel time to your appointments in your calendar
Remember to wear short sleeves to doctors appointments so they can easily take your blood pressure
We know keeping up with all of these appointments and screenings can be overwhelming. If you’re a visual organizer like us, please use our fillable guide to make sure all of your appointments are scheduled. Hang the guide on your fridge or in your office so that you’ll never miss an appointment!
Cheers to taking care of ourselves and advocating for our health in 2023!
Ten Holiday Traditions to Consider when a loved one dies
When your family adds members, like a new baby or newlywed couple, the holidays can be more joyous than ever. Of course, the flip side of that is that when your family loses someone, the holiday season can become a painful reminder of their absence.
I am very fortunate to still have both of my parents around, and until recently, my husband did too. Doing the work that I do, I’m always cognizant that our loved ones won’t always be around. However, when my mother-in-law passed unexpectedly this year, it threw a lot of our plans into chaos.
We had holiday traditions that will be difficult to carry on, and so I’m thinking about how we can continue existing traditions while acknowledging our loss, or create new traditions that honor the time we enjoyed with her.
Here are a few options that I’ve come up with to explore this year, and as the years go on.
Go to their favorite places.
My mother-in-law, Lynn, had very eclectic tastes. She loved art museums, coffee shops, bookstores, and any place that had locally made crafts. She is the one who created my candle obsession through various gifts over the years. This year a couple of new places have opened in our neighborhood that I know she would have loved, as well as places that she and I went together that I will probably visit again.
Wear their favorite colors/styles.
Normally when we think of attending a funeral, we think of people wearing black. I’ll never forget reading Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston in high school, where the main character wears her husband’s favorite color when he dies. Although I had no clue the toll death can take at that time of my life, thought it was a lovely way to honor him and their relationship.
If you were fortunate to inherit some clothes from your loved one, the holidays may be a good time to take them out. Smell them. Do they still smell like your loved one who has died? Isn’t that wonderful to be able to smell them again?
My grandfather died while I was in law school. One of my favorite things that we did together was take walks. He took a walk every day and had a coat rack full of sweaters, coats, and flannel shirts for anyone who wanted to walk with him if the weather was cool. When he passed away, I was able to get a few of the cardigans from his hall tree. They no longer smell like him, but I can’t wear them without remembering all the walks we went on and the ways that those walks helped shape our family.
Make their favorite recipes or eat at their favorite restaurant.
My mother in law loved Chef’s Market in Goodlettsville. It’s where she chose for our rehearsal dinner, and where we got take out from almost every Christmas Eve. While we may skip Chef’s Market for the holidays this year, I’m going to suggest we start going there on her birthday each year.
Share stories about them. What was their favorite thing about the holidays?
Did they love going to the movies after opening presents? Were they a wonderful or horrible gift giver? The holidays are a wonderful opportunity to share memories that were made over the years.
Donate to their favorite nonprofit or help someone they loved.
Helping others is always a great way to think outside of yourself for a while. Maybe you set up a re-curring donation to a cause they cared about or find a few days to volunteer for an organization stuffing envelopes or making calls.
Even if you don’t have a lot of time or money, you can find a way to be helpful. If you use Amazon, you can make your purchases through their Amazon Smile website instead and they will donate a portion of your purchase to the charity of your choice. Kroger has a similar program that is tied to your Kroger Plus account.
Visit their grave, memorial, or a place they love. Don’t be afraid to talk to them. Give them an update on what has happened through the year.
I know this may seem silly to some people. But in all likelhood there were some things you shared with your deceased loved one that might not be as appreciated by anyone else. Maybe you heard a joke that you know would crack them up, or want to make sure they are caught up on the family goings-on. You can say things out loud, or just think them (like a prayer) but having a way to continue the relationship that was so important while they were living is so comforting.
Save a place for them at the table. Consider putting their picture at their place instead of a place setting.
Just because someone isn’t with us physically at the holidays, chances are that they had an impact on how you celebrate. Find physical space for your loved on in your holiday celebrations.
Read their favorite book out loud.
In Iceland there is a tradition of getting books as gifts on Christmas Eve. Then the family cozies up with their book and hot chocolate for an evening of reading. I think it’s a lovely tradition. Since Christmas Eve was the part of the holiday that we spent with my in-laws, I might suggest that we adjust this tradition to read her favorite book and drink tea instead. It’s Tolkien, so we won’t finish, but maybe we’ll put it back on the shelf until next year.
Look through photos of them and favorite memories.
Even though your loved one is no longer with you, hopefully they weren’t camera shy. Many families now create photo slide shows for memorial services, and the holidays might be a good time to pull that back up on your computer, go through the photos one by one, and talk about the events happening when the picture was taken. I bet you’ll learn a few things about your loved one, and get to share some things too!
10. Make a toast to their influence on your life, using their favorite drink.
Whether your loved one preferred champagne, eggnog, or Coca-Cola, the holidays seem like the perfect time to raise a glass in their honor. Toast to the immaterial things they left you. Did your son inherit their sense of humor? Your granddaughter has their love of science? They are a piece of you, so now is a great time to honor them.
The people we love don’t leave us when they pass away, and there’s no reason we should try to leave them behind during the most cherished parts of our lives.