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.
For the month of November, we want to focus on caregivers. While family caregiving can be rewarding, it also takes a toll. Most family caregivers hope to add a professional service to their loved one’s support system, but figuring out how to do that is just one more thing to add to your already-full plate.
What types of care are there? Who provides these services? How much do they cost? What limits are there? How do I pick the right service for my family?
You’ve got the right questions, and Google is overwhelming. So we called in an expert. Our friend Perry Brown, President of our local Right at Home care team, was kind enough to provide us information about the types of care options available and the most common questions you may have. If you’d like to know more about Right at Home, we encourage you to check out their website here and sign up for their newsletter. If you are ready to talk to someone about in-home care, Perry and his team would be happy to help. You can reach them by phone at (615) 360-0006 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Let’s Look at Types of Care You May Want to Consider
When an older loved one or adult with a disability needs caring support at home, it can feel daunting to know which professional care services are best. Who can help with bathing and meals? Is a registered nurse needed for wound care? Can hospice care happen at home?
The Global Coalition on Aging and the Home Care Association of America state that almost 70% of Americans who turn age 65 will need assistance at some point to care for themselves. These senior care industry leaders also report that “already 40% of adults aged 65+ need assistance with daily living activities.” The fast-growing care needs of the country’s increasingly older population can leave care recipients and their families confused over in-home care options. The complexity of nonmedical and medical services available also may jeopardize a loved one from getting the timely and attentive care they need.
To help simplify the professional in-home care choices, Lorraine Grote Johnson, Director of Care Quality at Right at Home, a leading in-home care agency, notes that it is important to understand the differences between home care and home healthcare. Grote Johnson, a registered nurse for more than 35 years in both hospital and home settings, gives the following overview of common care services available in the home.
In-home caregivers are the extra hand to provide personalized support to a loved one in their own familiar home surroundings. Home care can be part time, full time or live-in assistance ranging from light housekeeping and meal preparation to personal grooming and toileting. At-home caregivers can provide care services such as being a companion who helps write the grandchildren to driving the care client to medical appointments and to complete errands. Home care allows a loved one to stay safe and independent at home as long as possible. Grote Johnson points out that home care staff members are not legally allowed to take on skilled medical care such as dispensing medications and working with tube feedings. Most at-home caregiving services are covered through private pay.
Home healthcare is skilled nursing care that is prescribed and directed by a physician and supervised by a registered nurse. Home healthcare is suited for complex health issues that require a higher level of medical assistance, or when a loved one is recovering from an injury or recent illness. A professional skilled nursing team can accommodate a client’s numerous medical care situations such as monitoring vital signs, medication setup and management, dressing changes, and continence care.
“Generally, home healthcare is delivered by Medicare-certified companies and may include physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy,” Grote Johnson said. “A registered nurse makes a care plan and supervises a home health aide who helps a client with activities of daily living such as bathing and dressing. The RN does supervisory visits in the home at least once every two weeks.”
Medicare and other health service providers that pay for home healthcare determine the number and length of nurse visits to the home. Private pay skilled nursing care has no limit on in-home service hours. Specialized palliative care and hospice care also fit within the realm of home healthcare.
Palliative care is specialized support for people living with a serious illness or transitioning toward death. Palliative care focuses on pain relief, comfort and reduced stress for an ill loved one and balanced overall health for the patient and family members. Palliative care serves not only the dying but also those with chronic diseases such as cancer, congestive heart failure, kidney disease and Alzheimer’s. A specially trained palliative care team includes doctors, nurses, professional caregivers and other specialists who work together to improve the quality of life for the care client.
Originating in Europe during the Middle Ages, hospice, which is derived from the Latin word for “hospitality,” is care that aids the critically ill and dying with medical, emotional and spiritual support. Hospice or end-of-life care is a type of palliative care, but the ailing person is no longer seeking curative treatment. The aim of hospice care is to extend comfort, peace and dignity to individuals in the dying process. Hospice programs also support a patient’s family with counseling and bereavement care. Hospice teams of doctors, nurses, social workers, chaplains and other caregivers provide care in patients’ homes or at a hospice center, hospital or in-patient care facility.
“Hospice typically serves a terminally ill person with a life expectancy of six months or less,” Grote Johnson explains. “In some cases, a hospice patient’s health improves to the point where the individual no longer needs the specialized care. Also, if a person starts to feel better, they may want to negate hospice and start receiving curative medical treatment again. At any point, a hospice client can change their mind about their care.”
Tips for Choosing At-Home Care
Because of the quickly expanding number of at-home services on the market today, Perry Brown, President Right at Home Nashville advises those in need of care and their families to consider the following tips for choosing at-home care:
Select services only from a professional, licensed agency. Make sure you see actual proof of certification and licensing for the agency.
Be certain that the caregiver who works with your loved one is insured and bonded.
Get a detailed care plan or treatment plan upfront. Ask about goals of the suggested services.
Review the caregiver’s qualifications, experience and amount of supervision on the job.
Discuss all financial costs and evaluate options for saving money on home care, including long-term care insurance, a reverse mortgage, Veterans Aid and Attendance benefits, etc. Reference Right at Home’s information on how to pay for home care.
For securing skilled nursing care and home healthcare, Grote Johnson offers additional suggestions. “Choose a company that knows and maintains federal and state regulations,” Grote Johnson advises. “Make sure the company does criminal background checks on their nurses and caregivers and verifies their licenses. Ask whether the nursing staff has gone through a thorough orientation and if they know infection control practices and what to do in emergencies. Also, make sure skilled nursing staff members have critical thinking skills and completed competency testing, and that home health nurses have the proper qualifications, because they are taking your loved one’s life into their hands in what could be life-or-death situations.”
Availability of qualified at-home services varies by locales across the country, so Brown recommends reviewing at-home agencies online, then visiting with the agencies in person. “Be sure to check references of the in-home agency candidates and their specific caregivers,” Brown explained. “Talk to others in the community who are familiar with the agencies and their reputations. In getting the best care possible for your loved one, every question and concern matters.” For additional information about choosing home care, home healthcare, palliative care or hospice care in your area, talk with local medical professionals for referrals, or contact the National Association for Home Care & Hospice, or use the U.S. Administration on Aging’s Eldercare Locator.
As we approach Halloween and Día de los Muertos, it seemed appropriate to get a little more matter-of-fact about deathcare resources. One end-of-life resource that we want to highlight is the option of engaging a “death doula” for those who are facing the end of their lives.
Our guest blogger this week is Ellen Abbott. We met Ellen in her role as Care Manager for Visionary Care Consultants but soon learned that we shared an interest in helping people through some of the most difficult transitions of life. Ellen completed her certification as a death doula in 2019, so we asked her to tell us more about what a death doula is and how they serve those at the end of their lives.
You may have heard recently about a “death doula” or an “end of life doula” and wondered who they are and what do they do? As a death doula myself, I’m happy to tell you!
What is a death doula?. We use midwives to educate and assist families to help bring babies into the world, why not have the same for those who are towards the end of their journey here?
There is a growing movement among end-of-life professionals in the United States to bring back the role of a non-medical person who stands in the gap between doctors, hospice, and the family of a dying loved one. This person guides the family and the client around the maze of the healthcare system, educates on hospice, offers practical information about death and provides emotional support around the entire process.
Who do death doulas serve?
A death doula serves the dying person as well as their loved ones. The goal of a death doula is to make sure that their client’s final wishes and needs are carried out before, during and after their death. This creates a healing and easier transition for the client and family.
When should a death doula be called?
You don’t have to have a terminal diagnosis to hire a death doula. There are some doulas who focus on helping their clients plan so that they know what they want at the end of life, and instructions on what the family needs to know to carry out those wishes. This is extremely helpful to the family and client since the topic of death and final wishes are not popular conversations in today’s world.
How do death doulas charge for their services?
Every death doula is different. Most offer free consultations and then an hourly rate of anywhere from $30-$100 an hour. Some offer packages for legacy planning along with being present for the client at the time of death. In middle Tennessee there is a Death Doula alliance, made up of local doulas that have been trained specifically for this role. They come from all backgrounds but usually from nursing, social work, counseling or clergy.
Over the last century, death has been viewed as a medical failure even though we all know one day we will die. A death doula helps to normalize these conversations and talk about these topics that no one wants to bring up. The death doula starts with the end in mind, to ease client’s fears, knowing they have a plan and someone at their side when the time comes.
If you’re closely related to someone who has recently passed away, it’s likely that you’ll be in line to inherit at least a part of their estate. It can be a complicated process, depending on the circumstances. To make this process easier for you, we’ve outlined some things you need to know as a potential inheritor of a Tennessee estate.
1. Take the time to grieve
If you’ve just lost a loved one, the first thing you need to do is take the time to grieve. This could be overwhelming, especially if you were close to the person who has passed away. You may not even know how to react if you’ve been left a large inheritance. Taking the time to grieve the death of a loved one is important, and you should not be pressured into making decisions. Also, don’t rush through any of the legal processes outlined in this article. There’s no need to hurry to open an estate, and you should make sure that you’re given enough time to make well-thought-out decisions and take care of things properly. All of the necessary information will be available to you once you are ready.
2. Take the time to understand the terms of the will
Another important thing to do is take the time to understand the terms of the will. If there was a will, then you’ll need to know who was named as the executor (aka personal representative) of the estate. You’ll also need to know whether there are any special provisions in the will, like leaving a specific piece of property to a specific person. You’ll want to know where the original will is being kept, as well as the executor’s contact information so you can stay informed about the progress of the estate.
Once the will is probated, there will be a record of it that you can access at any time. You’ll be able to see the contents of the will, as well as the names of everyone who was named as a beneficiary. This is something that you’ll need to keep in mind when communicating with the people who were named in the will.
3. Find out if there is any debt included with your share of the inheritance
Debt follows the person who incurred it, so a person’s debt usually belongs to their estate- not those inheriting from them. However, if your loved one left you anything with a debt tied to it, you may have to figure out how to resolve the debt before accepting the inheritance.
This includes things like car loans, mortgages, or other debts that your loved one may have had when they passed away. Even if you inherit something with debt tied to it, you do not have to inherit debt. You can choose not to accept the item or to sell it and take whatever it is worth after the debt is paid.
It’s important that you know if there is any debt included with your inheritance so that you can plan accordingly. It’s possible that you could get a loan to cover the cost of the debt and then pay it off gradually over time.
In my personal and professional opinion, it usually makes sense to take over a loan on something that will appreciate, such as real estate, but not on any depreciating assets like a vehicle. However, this is something that will have to be decided in consideration of your personal situation.
4. Find out what happens during the probate process
The probate process is the process of opening a probate estate, gathering all assets owned, and distributing the assets from the estate. During the probate process, the executor of the estate will file the will and any other documents that might be necessary with the court and has the responsibility of distributing the assets according to the terms of the will. These documents will become part of the public record. The executor of the estate will open an estate account with the court, and you can check in on it and see what progress is being made as the assets are distributed.
5. Check for Inherited IRA Rules and Taxes
If you inherit retirement accounts from a loved one, you will need to make a decision about how and when to cash out the account.
While spouses can easily “roll” retirement accounts to the surviving spouse, this is not an option for anyone else. As the non-spouse beneficiary of a retirement account, you have two options: (1) take all money out immediately or (2) you can “stretch” the distributions up to ten years.
Because most retirement accounts are “tax deferred” accounts, you will want to explore the tax consequences of any retirement investment accounts that you inherit. If your family member invested into a 401k, IRA, or similar type of account, they did not pay taxes when contributing to their retirement. That means that taxes must be paid when the money is taken out.
The financial institution will usually help you by holding an estimated tax payment but you will still want to make sure you are aware of what you will need to pay at tax time to account for those inheritances, no matter how you took the distribution.
6. Allow time for the Executor to carry out their duties
As soon as you’re named as a beneficiary to a will and the estate has been opened through probate, you can expect that the Executor will begin to take care of things, such as contacting creditors and making arrangements for the sale of any real estate. It’s important that you give them some time to do what they need to do. Expect that it will take about a year for the entire process to run its course. This is a rough estimate and will vary depending on how complicated the estate is, how many assets there are, if any estate tax is due, and whether there are any potential disputes. The Executor will keep you updated on progress and let you know when you can expect to receive the inheritance.
7. Communicate with the Executor
Keep in regular communication with the Executor of the estate. Ask if there is anything you need to do or can do to help. If you have questions, make sure that you ask the Executor and get the answers that you need to the point you understand. You can also ask to speak with the attorney for the estate. If you are having issues with the Executor getting back to you, or you suspect there are difficulties, it may be worth consulting a lawyer on your own.
8. Decide how you want to handle your share
Before you get a check, decide how you want to spend any money that you receive. Maybe you and your deceased loved one had already talked through what they hoped would happen with any funds they left you. Many people have a financial goal that their inheritance will help them reach, such as buying a house or investing in their own retirement. Some families use the money to take a trip together and make memories. Having a plan is the best way to make sure that your loved one’s legacy is honored.
9. Update your Plan
One of the most important things to consider is that receiving an inheritance could cause your own estate planning to need to be updated or revised. If you are currently the beneficiary of a trust or other estate planning document, you should contact your estate planning attorney to determine whether or not you need to make any updates.
If you are looking for a Middle Tennessee probate attorney or to create a Tennessee will, click here to schedule an initial call with us.
After the US Supreme Court issued its decision in Dobbs on June 24, 2022, women’s equality and reproductive freedom were completely diminished by the state of Tennessee. How does the Dobbs decision impact estate planning? Here are some questions to consider:
Question: Will children born outside of my marriage have a claim to my estate?
Our opinion: Yes. Tennessee law dictates that Minors inherit from their parent’s estate.
How would a forced pregnancy affect a man who did not intend to become a parent?
We are not family law attorneys, and if you become aware of a pregnancy by a previous sexual partner, we encourage you to speak to an experienced family law attorney to discuss your options. Please keep in mind that many issues related to child support, pregnancy, and parental rights will be subject to new interpretations of the law under Dobbs.
However, there are laws in Tennessee that protect minor children from being disinherited by their parents.
For example, if a man dies, all of his minor children are able to inherit from him. While he can disinherit unknown, nonmarital adult children through his will, he cannot disinherit minors, even if he has a Will.
So let’s say a man lives in Tennessee and gets a sexual partner pregnant. If he dies while the child is a minor, the mother can petition (on behalf of the child) for a share of the estate. She will have to prove paternity but the child can be acknowledged in multiple ways. This includes communications with the father or testing the paternity via the DNA of the father or his other children.
Yes, you can be proven a father even after you are dead. It doesn’t matter if this child is born before or after the children of your current marriage or relationship- if they are under 18 when you die, they can ask the Court for a share of whatever you left behind.
Question: What is the impact of Dobbs on Estate Planning for those who expect to need fertility treatments?
Our opinion: We don’t know yet.
This is a really tricky area. My best guess is that matters related to artificial reproductive technologies (ART) will be legislated faster than before. We will know more about the impacts on individuals and families as matters work their way through the courts.
As your Estate Planning Attorney I will recommend that we plan for everything, including unborn children
If you’ve ever made an estate plan with an experienced estate planning attorney, you’ll know that we ask some pretty personal questions about your family planning.
That’s because we usually try to make our plans flexible enough so that future children can be included without needing to pay an attorney to update your Will or Trust. However, we will probably need to update documents more frequently given recent changes to the law.
Additionally, we will want to make sure that we try to be specific enough in our drafting to disinherit unplanned offspring from outside of relationships. The same goes for any previously frozen biological material that could potentially grow into a fetus. Yet another impact of Dobbs on estate planning to consider!
As fetal cells attain more rights, estate administration may become more difficult
As cells are legislated to have rights of their own, it will become more difficult to administer estates. For example, let’s say that a man dies after having frozen embryos with his ex-wife. By many state laws, those are now “children” under the legal definition. It would not be unfair for the ex-wife to say she is the mother of children who outlive him and should inherit his estate. If at some point those children were implanted-whether in the ex-wife or someone else- they would have needs as they grew older and the father’s assets could pass to them. However, it’s more likely that these cells would never be implanted or may be implanted but not be carried to term, at which point, who inherits from the embryo?
Question: What else should we be thinking about?
Our opinion: A lot of things will need to go through the Courts before we have final answers. In the meantime, here are some things I expect:
Higher insurance premiums
Higher medical bills
Fewer fertility clinics
More single fathers.
Push to create a biological/DNA database to track parents/putative parents.
Doctors will be unwilling or unable to provide appropriate medical treatment for women undergoing miscarriages. This will make undergoing fertility treatments especially dangerous if you have had problems carrying a pregnancy to term.
By effectively creating a system where there are two patients in one body, the law in many states now creates a conflict in the standard of care. The doctor will not be able to take direction from the pregnant person. This will cause more lawsuits against fertility specialists and other OB/GYNs. More lawsuits mean higher malpractice rates, which mean even higher costs for patients.
Many surrogates will no longer be willing to help couples create families.
Frozen embryos will no longer be intentionally destroyed.
Fertility clinics may become unwilling to create embryos for future use if they will be unable to destroy the biological material.
Many more babies will be available for adoption. So will older children.
Fewer women will consider using ART, because the inherent risks of pregnancy will no longer be treatable.
There will be fewer medical advances for difficult pregnancies due to women choosing not to have children.
Young adults will begin long-term contraception at earlier ages.
These are just some things I’m considering as we enter this new legal landscape.
The implications of the Dobbs decision is completely unknown. However, we do know that it will have a huge impact on Estate Planning. If you’re looking for an attorney in Nashville who can create a thorough will, look no further. Attorney April Harris Jackson will consider everything, including the implications of Dobss on family planning.