As a parent, you want your child to lead a happy and fulfilling life and have healthy marriages of their own. However, it is hard to ignore the possibility of divorce. No matter how much you may love your child’s spouse, your interest is always in protecting your child. So when estate planning, how can you ensure that your child’s inheritance will not be split with their spouse in a divorce?
Division of property in a divorce will depend upon whether the property is considered “separate property” or “marital property”.
What is the difference between separate and marital property? Separate property is the property that belonged to an individual before marriage. This can include monetary assets, cars, real estate, and sometimes even pets. Marital property, on the other hand, is the property that was acquired or shared during the marriage. So what happens if your child puts their inheritance into a joint bank account? To answer this, we need to discuss how Tennessee law views inheritance.
How does Tennessee view “inherited” property in a divorce?
In Tennessee, inherited money or property is generally considered to be separate property. This means that whether your child inherits before or during their marriage, the court will treat the inheritance as exclusively belonging to your child. They are not obligated to share it with their spouse. However, have you ever heard a long-married couple say “what’s mine is yours, what’s yours is mine?” Many couples treat property this way, which can work well unless the couple decides to separate. This brings me to a very important point:
If your child puts an inheritance into a joint banking account shared with their spouse, it would become marital property subject to division at divorce.
How can you ensure that your child’s inheritance will be divorce-proof, no matter how your child handles the inheritance?
One way to ensure the safety of your child’s inheritance is to set up a Family Trust. In general, a family trust is an estate planning tool that protects your family and your assets. A family trust is a three-party relationship between you (the Grantor), your child (the Beneficiary), and the person in charge of maintaining and distributing the assets in the trust (the Trustee). Through a Family Trust, you will be able to determine how and when your assets will be distributed by the Trustee to your Beneficiaries after your death.
In the divorce context, a Family Trust is a great option because the property is held by the Trustee. This means that on paper, the property from the Trustee will not technically belong to your child. So in the event of a divorce, a court will not consider the assets from the trust for division. Family Trusts are generally flexible and easy to set up, and they are even cost-effective. Of course, if a Family Trust is not right for you, your estate planning attorney will be able to provide alternate options to achieve the same goal!
Of course, nobody wants to believe that their child’s marriage will end in divorce. However, estate planning is all about considering life’s “what if” questions. In the end, setting up a trust for your family will allow you and your child the confidence that their inheritance is safe.
To learn more about trusts and other estate planning tools that Elder Law Attorneys in Tennessee use, follow us on Facebook or Instagram!
Probate is the legal process of transferring some of a deceased person’s assets to their heirs. Once you or someone you love passes away, there may be questions about what specific assets and property within an estate actually have to go through probate court, and which assets pass directly to beneficiaries. The short answer is that only assets that a person owned that were in their own name, alone, must go through probate.
The Probate Estate
Assets that go through probate make up what’s called the “probate estate.” For example, an individually owned bank account with no named beneficiary or a car titled only in an individual person’s name will pass through probate.
All other assets pass to the named beneficiaries without going through the probate court.
So, what are some specific things that do not pass through probate?
Here are a few examples:
Property held in joint tenancy with a right of survivorship
Any assets or real property held in joint tenancy (with a right of survivorship specified in the deed) by the deceased and one or more other people doesn’t need to go through probate. When one owner dies, the survivor(s) automatically owns the property.
Property held in tenancy by the entirety
If the deceased individual owned real estate with their spouse in tenancy by the entirety, the surviving spouse is automatically the sole owner when the other spouse passes away.
Payable-on-death bank accounts
A payable-on-death bank account is an account that passes to the beneficiary at the death of the account holder, therefore it does not pass through probate. Check with your bank to see whether your bank account(s) have payable-on-death beneficiaries.
Assets registered in transfer-on-death form
Tennessee residents can name transfer-on-death beneficiaries for securities. Assets registered in the transfer-on-death form pass directly to the named beneficiary without needing to go through probate.
Life insurance proceeds
When life insurance policies or annuities specify a beneficiary, the proceeds do not go through probate.
The funds in retirement accounts do not go through probate if the account holder designated a beneficiary.
Assets held inside a Trust by a Trustee do not go through probate.
Learn how to prepare for and navigate probate
Overall, knowing which your assets must pass through probate, and which do not pass through probate, can save you a lot of unnecessary stress and confusion. Designating probate vs. non-probate assets is an important part of your overall estate plan strategy. It is important to take the time to talk to an attorney in order to identify your assets, decide who your beneficiaries should be, and determine what the best method is for those beneficiaries to receive their share.
We invite you to participate in our “Estate Planning Challenge,” which is a daily email campaign where you can identify all of the people, assets, and decision-makers that you will need to consider before meeting with an attorney to further discuss your estate plan.
At some point, everybody thinks about creating a Last Will and Testament. However, many never do. Having a conversation about what will happen to your belongings after your death- and then seeing it on paper- is a daunting task.
So, what happens if you never do it? We’ll give you our best lawyer answer- it depends! When a person dies without a will, they die “intestate.” Every state has different intestacy laws that dictate who will inherit a person’s property when they die intestate. So who inherits your things depends largely on what state you live in, and your family composition. Below we detail what will happen to your estate if you die intestate in Tennessee.
What happens when you die intestate in Tennessee?
Are you married with or without children?
Let’s start with the simplest scenario: if you are married with no children, your spouse will inherit your entire probate estate. However, this will change if you do have children. If you are survived by your spouse and one child, each will inherit one-half of your estate. Additionally, if you are survived by your spouse and more than one child, your spouse will inherit one-third of your estate, with the remainder split evenly among your surviving children.
Let’s say you die without a will in Tennessee while unmarried or widowed with children…
If you do not have a spouse or are widowed, your estate passes to your children. All of your biological and/or legally adopted children inherit equally. In some cases, children are able to prove their parentage by DNA testing after a parent has passed in order to claim part of the estate. All children will inherit equally, so it is important to inform your family of all children who may have a right to inherit from you.
What happens in the tragic case of a child dying before a parent? If your child gave you grandchildren before they passed, then their share of inheritance will pass to those grandchildren. Otherwise, their share will be split among your other children.
Or you die while unmarried without children…
Let’s say you are not married and you have no children, but your parents survived you. Your parents will inherit your entire estate. If neither of your parents survived you, your estate would then pass to any siblings you may have.
I don’t have any close heirs. Who gets my assets if I die intestate?
But wait: I am not married, I have no children, I survived my parents, and I have no siblings. What now? In this case, a probate attorney may need to do what is called an “heir search” which is basically creating a family tree to find your closest relative(s). Your closest blood relatives will receive your estate. In the event that they cannot be found or do not respond to the attorney, your estate may be deposited with the Probate Clerk’s office and ultimately turned over to unclaimed property.
Create a will if you want control over who inherits your estate
Of course, the easiest way to avoid confusion and know for certain where each piece of your estate will end up is to create a valid estate plan including a Last Will and Testament. Thinking about what will happen after death is a daunting task, but in the end, it will save your surviving family more money and stress.
Do you want to get a head start on your Will or need to update your Will? Take our Virtual Estate Plan Challenge! We created this 7-email series to help our Clients and guests organize their thoughts about their wishes for their estate. You can use this information later on when you create your documents. Give it a try!
When one spouse wants to disinherit the other, but they are still married, it can be a complicated process. In most cases, disinheriting a spouse is only possible if you have a valid prenuptial agreement or if you are divorced.
Let’s illustrate this with an example:
Jack and Jill have been married for five years, and have one child together. Their house was purchased by Jill before they were married, and Jack’s name was never added to the deed.
Jill recently discovered that Jack is cheating on her with the Instacart shopper. She and Jack are now separated and have started the divorce process, but she wants to make sure that if she dies before the divorce is final that Jack won’t get anything from her.
What can Jill do?
Jill can disinherit her spouse after the divorce
Unfortunately, Jill cannot disinherit Jack until she files for divorce. Tennessee law does not allow you to disinherit your spouse- even if you write a will that says that! My advice is to get divorced as quickly as possible. Unless divorced, Jack is entitled to his share.
The good news is that once divorce papers have been filed, there will be an automatic injunction that specifies that the pair no longer have spousal rights on the property through marriage. This is primarily to protect things like bank accounts, real estate, relationships with the children, and health insurance coverage. However, all that does is prevent money from being spent by either spouse outside of regular expenses. Jill won’t be able to do anything, like estate planning, until after the divorce has been settled or through special permission from a judge.
In the meantime, there are still a few steps Jill can take:
Utilize her prenuptial agreement
Jack and Jill signed a prenuptial agreement prior to their marriage. In it, they waived the right to inherit from each other. All Jill needs to do now is to rewrite her will to specifically omit Jack.
Divide assets into separate trusts
Jill can establish a trust under her name and place the house in it. Since Jack’s name isn’t on the deed or on the trust, he has no right to the house if Jill were to pass before the divorce is finalized.
Rewrite her will
Jill can rewrite her will so that Jack only gets what he is entitled to by law, called his elective share. In Tennessee, spouses are entitled to a homestead allowance, a year of support, and elective share. The elective share amount depends on how long you are married.
Hire a family law attorney
The divorce will go much quicker with the help of a family law attorney.
Finally, if Jill is preparing for a divorce, she can take advantage of all the legal documents at her fingertips and get a head start on creating the estate plan she desires. Once her divorce decree is finalized, she can meet with her lawyer and sign the document to make it valid.
Are you getting a divorce and want to start over with your own will and estate plan in Tennessee? Are you looking for a referral to a family law attorney? Let us know! We are happy to help you make plans for your new life. Not sure where to start? Give us a call. We offer a complimentary 15-minute call to see if we are the right fit for you and your situation. You can schedule your call by clicking here.
Every family is different and has different needs. The family unit can be as simple as a married couple or as complex as a blended family with committed partners. Regardless of who makes up your family, you need to ensure that you have adequate legal protection for your partner and any children. This week we will discuss why legal documents like wills, trusts, and powers of attorney are appropriate for unmarried couples and why these documents are important to make sure your family comes first.
*One caveat before we discuss what you can do, let me say what you cannot do. You cannot disinherit your spouse. So if you are in a new relationship but still legally married to someone else, your options will be limited. To read more about this topic, click here.
Tennessee does not recognize common law marriage
Many people believe that even without a marriage certificate, couples who live together for a certain number of years and hold themselves out as spouses to the community become “common law married.” Only about ten U.S. states allow common law marriage, and if you meet the requirements for common law marriage in one of those states before moving to Tennessee then you may qualify to inherit from your partner as a spouse, but it would be an uphill battle if anyone challenged your right to inherit as a spouse. The better (and less expensive) option is to create an estate plan.
Make it as official as you can
While there are some rights and privileges that you cannot achieve without the formality of marriage, we can re-create many spousal rights through an estate plan. An estate plan requires evaluating your family situation, your assets, and your wishes to develop legally binding documents that will meet your goals for decision-making during your lifetime and asset transfer upon death.
Most people don’t like to think about their own death or their partner’s, but this is essential to having a solid plan in place. Estate planning is a big part of my Nashville law practice, and here is what I recommend for families choosing to forgo the traditional contract of marriage:
Create appropriate Powers of Attorney in Tennessee
If you are in a committed relationship and trust your partner to make decisions for you, you should both create the appropriate powers of attorney. A Power of Attorney will allow your partner to have decision-making authority in an emergency situation if you are unable to do so. This can include medical and financial powers of attorney. Depending on your personal comfort level, your partner may also be authorized to act on your behalf and at your direction even if there is not an emergency, for example, if you were out of town for something that had to be done in person like a real estate closing.
Create a Will
When you die, your family of origin may feel entitled to an inheritance in favor of your life partner. Without a Will, Tennessee law is on their side. In order to protect the family you have created with your partner, you will need a properly executed Will. A Trust may also be appropriate depending on your situation.
Consider what will be important to your family of origin when you are gone. Will they be upset if you pass family heirlooms to your partner or children who are not legally related to them by blood? Are there significant assets that they expect will “stay in the family?” If so, and assuming it is safe to do so, I encourage you to discuss your wishes with your family of origin and see what provisions can be made for them. It is often easier for your loved ones to accept your wishes if they heard them directly from you, rather than reading them on paper when you are gone.
In order to make sure that your companion receives any inheritance that you would like them to have, you will need to have a Will and make them a beneficiary of whatever share you would like them to receive. I encourage you to speak to your loved one about your resources and how they would be passed in three scenarios- (1) if you die first, (2) if they die first, (3) if you die together in a common accident. Particularly if you have kept your finances separate, think about how you would gain access to each other’s accounts, how long it would take, and how the family would support itself in the meantime.
Add Beneficiary Designations to your accounts
Many types of accounts allow you to add beneficiary designations to them. The most familiar type is life insurance, but there are many others. If you have retirement accounts like IRAs and/or 401k accounts, look at adding your partner as the beneficiary to those funds when you pass. The same can be done with brokerage accounts and bank deposit accounts.
Rather than going through your “estate” as laid out in a Will, the financial institutions holding money for you will essentially cut a check to your beneficiary when they learn that you have died.
Think about who depends on you?
You need to consider what might happen to your partner when you pass away. Similarly, how would you care for the family if they were to die or become disabled? How can you ensure that any serious long-term disruption to your family life is a bump in the road (at least financially speaking) and not a train going off the rails?
Whether you make significant earnings at your career or you make valuable contributions within the home or both, your family would be lost without you. That’s why it’s important to have a plan in place. If you are a Tennessee resident committed to helping your family, whether married or not, schedule a call with us to talk about how you can protect your family when they need it the most.
This week we are going to talk about why you need a medical power of attorney, even if your spouse is available to make decisions for you.
In a medical emergency, there is an assumption that your spouse would be the health care agent, make health care decisions, and deal with the hospital and doctors on your behalf. However, what happens when a spouse is separated, no longer wants to be in contact, or doesn’t agree with your health care values?
If this happened to you, would you still want them to make decisions for you? Do you want your adult children to make medical decisions for you? What if your spouse and children disagree on what type of treatment(s) you should receive? When faced with an emergency, please consider having your medical Power of Attorney already in place.
What happens if you don’t have a Medical Power of Attorney?
There are many situations that can arise when you become incapacitated or have a healthcare emergency. Even if it seems unlikely that your spouse would be disinterested in your health, it’s important to remember that your spouse may have trouble thinking clearly in an emergency or may also be seeking medical care. A medical Power of Attorney with an agent that is capable of making medical decisions, even in an emergency, can lower the risk and confusion regarding your medical decisions.
What is a Medical Power of Attorney and why you need one.
A medical Power of Attorney, also known as a Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare, is a document that allows you to appoint someone as an “agent” to make decisions about your health care. This agent will make decisions on your behalf if you become too ill or incapacitated. A medical Power of Attorney ensures that your wishes will be followed. We have an experienced estate planning and probate attorney here in Nashville who can help you customize these decisions and record how choices will be made.
How to choose the best Agent for your situation
When you are choosing your medical agent for your Medical Power of Attorney, it is important that you choose someone you can trust to adhere to your preferences regarding your medical care. Discuss your wishes with your agent before they need to make any care decisions. Make sure that you have confidence that your Agent will make the right decisions about things you two have not discussed.
Conclusion: Why everyone needs a Medical Power of Attorney
It is important to think about what you would want in a medical emergency. Do you want your spouse to always make decisions for you?
Designate ONE person authorized to make decisions for you if you are unable to make or communicate your wishes. Even if you want your spouse to make those decisions, it’s always a good idea to have a “backup” person. This backup person can help out with decision-making in case your spouse is unavailable when someone needs to step in.
Whatever you decide, you should have a Medical Power of Attorney. Write your power of attorney in conjunction with your advanced directive (also known as a living will). All of these documents are an important part of a well-thought-out estate plan.
Do you have a plan for emergencies? Do you want help putting your values on paper? Take our Virtual Estate Planning Challenge! This 7-part Challenge helps you brainstorm the important stuff before creating your estate plan. We had a ton of fun making it and think you’ll really benefit from it too.