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.
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.
The stress of leaving home and becoming an adult can be difficult for anyone. It is especially tough for college students and young adults who have to face the uncertainty of their future. They have to support themselves and are going to gain the power to make decisions on their own, for better or worse. However, there are a few legal documents that they can get to make the transition easier.
What legal documents does every college student need?
Every college student needs powers of attorney for finances, powers of attorney for medical decisions, and an advance directive for healthcare. They should also fill out a FERPA waiver so that a parent or other trusted adult can access their student records (if needed). Not only are these documents practical in getting help with the big stuff, but they are a great lesson in what “adulting” is all about.
What is a “Power of Attorney” or POA?
A power of attorney is a legal document in which the principal (the person granting the power of attorney) grants another person (the agent) the power to act on their behalf. For example, an agent could help the principal make and carry out decisions about the student’s finances, health care, and other important matters.
In most cases, we create two types of powers of attorney- one for financial issues and one for medical issues. It is important to note that the college student needs to be the one who initiates and discusses their powers of attorney with a lawyer. A parent cannot create a power of attorney document for their child.
How to choose the best agent for powers of attorney
For most young adults, the parents are the trusted partners in making important decisions. Therefore choosing a parent as an agent for power of attorney makes sense for a college student. However, it’s important that the individual assigning the powers choose what is best for their situation. Here are some things to consider:
For medical powers of attorney – choose an agent who will be able to carry out the principal’s wishes
A college student should choose an agent who will be able to make medical decisions according to their personal preferences. Who do they want to have to communicate with the hospital in an emergency? Does that person support their values and would they be able to carry them out in the event of a difficult decision?
For example, when I was in my late 20s and in law school I prepared my first advance directive. When I tried to have a conversation with my parents about what I wanted for end-of-life care, it was unfathomable to them that I would want to discuss it. I also knew that based on my wishes, it would be very difficult emotionally, if not impossible, for my parents to honor my choices. For that reason, I selected my brother and best friend as my agents. In short, a college student needs an agent who can carry out their preferences for medical care.
For financial powers of attorney – choose a responsible and trustworthy agent
A financial power of attorney agent should be trustworthy. They need to be someone who is responsible for their own finances and will put the principal’s best interest above their own.
Anyone who chooses an untrustworthy agent would risk losing all of their savings. What’s to stop an agent from draining a bank account and running off to Fiji? While this is an extreme example, and there are legal remedies for someone who abuses their power like that, it is better to not have to deal with that happening.
What is an “Advance Directive” and why does a college student need one?
An advance directive is a written statement by a patient or their legal representative that outlines their wishes for medical treatment in the event of incapacity or death. Every college student should take the time to document their preferences for medical-related decisions.
For example: In a medical emergency does the individual want CPR if their heart stops? Do they want a ventilator if they cannot breathe on their own? What about a feeding tube or life support?
Although nobody wants to think of these scenarios, it is helpful to have these decisions spelled out. It’s stressful for friends and family to make these types of medical decisions.
I want to make it perfectly clear: Having an advance directive is important for everyone to have, no matter their age or health. It is also important to review advance directives through each stage of life. The treatments that we want at age 30 or 40 may not seem like such a great idea as we reach into our 90s or 100s.
What’s the difference between a power of attorney and an advance directive?
It’s easy to see why people confuse a power of attorney with an advance directive. So, what is the difference? A power of attorney grants an agent the ability to act on behalf of a principal, should they become incapacitated. An advance directive for healthcare, on the other hand, specifically addresses what someone wants if they are unable to make decisions for themselves. It is a written record of what to do (and not to do) in an emergency or end-of-life scenario.
When does a power of attorney or advance directive go into effect?
There is a lot of flexibility when it comes to the terms of a financial power of attorney. A limited power of attorney can go into effect when a specific event happens, such as incapacitation. There are also terms that make a power of attorney go into effect immediately. A qualified attorney can create a power of attorney to suit anyone’s situation.
When it comes to medical care, a healthcare provider will always make an attempt to communicate with the patient first. In the case of incapacity or impaired judgment, however, a doctor will communicate with the medical agent or refer to an advance directive instead. For example, let’s say a patient is in a coma or under anesthesia. The doctor will refer to a medical agent or advance directive when making a time-sensitive decision for their care.
*Click here to learn more about when a POA goes into effect.
Powers of attorney and advance directives are useful at any stage of life
Powers of attorney and advance directives are useful, no matter the age or stage of life a person is in. While most older adults have powers of attorney and advance directives in their estate plan, a younger adult could make use of them too! For example, a college student can give powers of attorney to their parents and create an advance directive just in case they need help. These legal documents can help the student navigate the essential functions of “adulting” like managing bills, health and property insurance, leases, and more. Additionally, in the event of a tragedy, a medical power of attorney will allow the parent to make decisions on the child’s behalf. This is why it’s important to have powers of attorney and advance directives in place, no matter the stage in life.
Hire an attorney to draft a power of attorney
Although there are forms online for creating powers of attorney, having a lawyer draft your document will ensure that it complies with all the legal requirements set forth by the state. Online forms can fall short of holding up in court. With an insufficient power of attorney, or a lack of one at all, a family may have to fight for their loved ones’ wishes in court. The process of going to court under these circumstances is painful, expensive, and time-consuming. Most people want to avoid putting this kind of stress on their families.
Anyone can make their own advance directive
While the subject matter is difficult to think about, the process of creating an advance directive is easy. Just download the form online and prepare it at home. There’s no need for an attorney. To make the advance directive legal, sign it in front of a notary or two witnesses. For your convenience, we’ve included a link to the Tennessee Advance Directive for Healthcare form here. As a courtesy to our clients, our firm will include the preparation of advance directives, along with a notary, as a part of the flat-rate estate planning package or the “Adulting Package”.
Powers of attorney, advance directives for healthcare, and a FERPA waiver are documents that every college student should have. They are among the many important decisions a college student will make during their lifetime. It’s never too early to prepare for life’s unknowns.
GALS offers an ”Adulting” gift certificate for college students!
Looking for the perfect graduation gift? A gift certificate to our “Adulting” package is a great way to help prepare a young adult for life’s “what-ifs”. In addition to legal counseling, this package includes powers of attorney for finances, powers of attorney for medical care, a FERPA waiver, and an advance directive with a notary. Click here to buy your gift certificate. All you need is the name and email address of the recipient and we will take care of the rest!
Many people do not begin to think about estate planning until well after they have started a career, gotten married, or had children. By the time we reach the point in our lives where we begin to think about what will happen to our belongings and our loved ones after we die, we have often already experienced big life changes. For many of us, that could mean multiple marriages and a blended family. So when we sit down to work out our estate plan, how do we navigate the murky waters of estate planning for blended families?
Can I use a prenuptial agreement in an estate plan for my blended family?
Just like with other estate planning tools, a lot of couples do not want to think about obtaining a prenuptial agreement. After all, who can blame an engaged couple for not wanting to think about how their marriage might end? However, just like other estate planning tools, prenups have a bad rap. They can be incredibly useful for couples with a lot of assets, or blended families who want to keep certain properties separate. Through a prenuptial agreement, you and your spouse will be able to delegate which property is joint and which is to remain separate. This can make the division of your assets among your blended family a lot easier in the event one spouse predeceases the other.
What is a Life Estate on property in Tennessee?
A lot of the time, when a couple remarries, one spouse will move into a home owned by the other. If this is the case for you, it may be worth considering a life estate.
What is a Life Estate?
A life estate is an ownership interest in real property for the duration of a person’s life. In other words, a life estate will allow the surviving spouse to continue living in the marital home until the end of their life without them inheriting the house outright or passing it down to their own children.
Use a Trust when Estate planning for blended families with multiple children
I want to make sure my children inherit from my estate
In some cases, your spouse may not distribute your estate to your children the same way you would. If you have certain assets or a specific amount of money you wish to go to your children, your best bet is to leave it directly to your children through a trust. Of course, this can be a difficult discussion to have with your spouse, but it may be the best decision for your family.
These are just three estate planning tools to consider for your blended family. There are dozens of others that you, your spouse, and your lawyer may find better suit your needs. Blended families are exciting and rewarding, but it is important to maintain your estate plan through one of life’s biggest changes!
If you’re a blended family with questions about how to create your estate plan in Tennessee, consider contacting an estate planning attorney to discover what is best for your situation.