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.
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.
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.