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April Harris Jackson

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How to Be Proactive in Your Caregiving Journey

How to Be Proactive in Your Caregiving Journey

Caregiving is an important responsibility. It involves providing essential services to another person (often a senior), helping empower them to live their best life even as they age. 

Understanding the Caregiver Role

Caregivers must understand the tasks and responsibilities they may be taking on, and think carefully about what boundaries they’d like to set in advance. Doing this is a crucial part of performing the job well and ensuring each person receiving care gets the help they need.

Caregiving works best when it’s a community effort. There’s a lot of joy in caregiving (which is something not everyone expects when they go into it). You may think of caregiving as “This is how I’m helping someone else,” but you’re actually helping your future self as well. Caregiving provides an opportunity to think about your goals and be more proactive about aging than you would have been if you weren’t a caregiver. 

It takes a village to be a caregiver – so don’t forget to lean on the support of others during this time. (More about that later!)

Some typical roles of a caregiver include tasks such as:

  • Assisting with activities of daily living
  • Coordinating medical appointments
  • Providing emotional support
  • Managing medications
  • Handling bill payments
  • Meal planning and preparation
  • Resolving insurance benefits issues
  • Providing assistance with technical issues
  • Planning or providing transportation for loved ones

As a caregiver, it’s important to remember that the role can sometimes present physical and emotional challenges. Working to meet this head-on and find solutions is an important part of advocating for the individual you care for and yourself. Don’t forget to laugh where you can – it’s a great way to cope with the emotional and physical strain, build rapport, and enjoy this season!

Planning to Help Them Age in Place

Aging in place refers to the ability of an individual to live in their home and community safely and independently. Caregiving can help facilitate this process, enabling seniors to keep their homes rather than move into an assisted living facility.

(Aging in place isn’t the only option, however; some older individuals prefer to downscale or move into an assisted living facility for more companionship. Make the choice that works best for you and your family.)

Proactive caregiving should always provide a supportive environment for daily living activities. Evaluate the home for potential hazards and make necessary modifications and adaptations.

Some helpful and simple changes that can significantly increase safety include:

  • Everything they need, on one level. Although most people opt for single-story homes, it is possible to have a multi-story home and still embrace this principle. For example, April has everything she needs on the ground floor of her home except her washer and dryer. But she plans to hire someone to do her laundry once she can’t make it up and down the stairs safely!
  • Installing grab bars and ramps. All of us lose our balance sometimes, but as we age, it can become more common. Having something to provide stability within the home is important.
  • Using non-slip flooring and removing throw rugs. What is the point of throw rugs, anyway? Over time, they all curl up and cause a major tripping hazard. 
  • Use cord covers. Unless you want to go entirely off the grid as you age, cords will be a part of your life. They can be a tripping hazard, but cord covers can help!
  • Exploring accessible technology resources. Another aspect of aging can be limited vision and hearing. It can be helpful to find ways around these impairments.
  • Using medication management apps. Reminders are especially important to those who need to take their medicine at the same time daily. 

Building a Support Network

Anyone who has worked in caregiving knows that it is overwhelming. Having a strong support network for both caregivers and the senior individual is of the utmost importance.

Caregivers should seek to involve family and friends in the caregiving journey as much as possible. These people can provide much-needed assistance and emotional support as the situation is navigated. It’s also wise to utilize professional support, such as home healthcare aides or respite care services. Remember, you can’t pour into someone else’s life if you are empty, so respite care can be vital for your well-being!

There are also many community organizations and support groups that connect caregivers with others who understand their experiences.

Remember – a support network doesn’t have to just include those providing care to the person who needs care. A good support network should also provide care to the caregiver. As April says, “Don’t think you need to be a first-line caregiver to be important in the caregiver support system.” 

Self-Care for Caregivers

Taking good care of yourself provides a strong foundation to care for others. Burnout is a common issue for caregivers but must be dealt with for the overall well-being of both the caregiver and the person who is receiving care. 

So how should caregivers manage their mental health and levels of burnout? 

Here are some ideas:

  • Practice mindfulness to stay emotionally healthy
  • Engage in hobbies to keep your creativity alive
  • Move your body and exercise

If you’re still feeling burned out despite your best efforts to manage your stress, it can be a wise idea to seek respite care services. These services can help provide you with a break from your caregiving responsibilities and allow you to rest. You can also consider joining a support group designed especially for caregivers!

But what if you’re a friend or family member of a caregiver and want to know how to support them?

Here are some specific examples you can use:

  • A daily or weekly phone call to check in
  • Giving your friend a break every now and then
  • A monthly hike with a friend (boom – friendship and exercise!)
  • Send a thoughtful card or letter their way to encourage them
  • Bring them homemade meals or gift cards

Communication and Decision-Making

Trust is one of the most essential components of caregiving and aging in place. Good communication helps facilitate this trust, allowing caregivers and those receiving care to speak honestly about future goals and preferences.

Legal preparations, such as establishing power of attorney or creating a living will, can help ensure the senior’s wishes are respected and get all involved parties on the same age about end-of-life planning. Ensure all decision-making processes are clearly outlined to avoid any conflicts or misunderstandings.

Supported decision-making involves everyone – not just the person who is approaching end of life, but those who are involved with their care and part of the overall support system. The most important thing a person of any age can do is to talk to their support system in advance. 

First, talk to your family about your wishes, then write them down. Make sure everyone’s on the same page. If you can only do one of the two things, talk to your family.

Financial Considerations

Having finances in order is also crucial for aging in place. Understanding the insurance options and government assistance programs is important for caretakers to assist seniors with tasks like budgeting and managing support services. Resources that could prove helpful include FiftyForward and TCAD in Tennesee. 

Long-term care insurance, veteran’s benefits, Medicaid, and Medicare are some common options that can help with the financial aspects of caregiving and aging in place. It’s best to seek help from a trusted financial advisor or insurance agent to work through these options and determine the best way to combine them, if possible.

Resources and Recommendations

Consider checking out books from your local library about caregiving or finding helpful websites about caregiving. 

Here are some good places to get started:

You can also ask for recommendations from caregiving friends or family about programs that will support you!

Community programs like meal delivery programs and dial-a-ride services provide social engagement opportunities and promote overall well-being for seniors. Be sure to find out what services are available in your area, as they can be wonderful enrichment opportunities.

Proactive caregiving makes it possible for seniors to successfully age in place. As a proactive caregiver, you should make it a top priority to create a safe and comfortable living environment for the person you’re caring for. 

Understanding your role and what resources are available is critical in ensuring seniors maintain independence and dignity as they age, and having the right support can help you ensure you’re providing the best care possible so both you and the person you’re caring for have a positive quality of life.


At Graceful Aging Legal Services, we aim to help seniors age well. Part of this includes planning for their future and the future of their families. Want to learn more about aging in place? Contact us today, and we’ll help you prepare and organize so that major decisions aren’t looming over your head!

Embracing the Journey: Finding Peace in the Transition of Death

Embracing the Journey: Finding Peace in the Transition of Death

Death is an undeniable aspect of the human experience, yet it remains one of the least discussed subjects in our society. We avoid talking about it, even though we’re surrounded by death all our lives, and it’s the final transition we go through. By avoiding the topic of death, we miss out on opportunities to grow both personally and in our relationships with others. It’s only by confronting it head-on that we can truly find peace in the face of this inevitable transition.

Main Causes of Fear Surrounding This Transition

There are many reasons why thinking of our final transition might be scary, but one of the main causes could be that staying silent about it does us no favors. After all, we “fear the unknown,” and death is one of the greatest unknowns in life. 

Grief may also impact our view of death. However, a big part of the pain of grief – again – is the fact that people don’t talk about it. When a loved one is no longer with you, you should talk about them to the people closest to you. To tiptoe around the elephant in the room is painful for everyone involved. The person you lost was a life – and, in many cases, a major part of your life. You can and should grieve that for as long as it takes. 

It’s also important to prepare your kids for death by being honest about the reality of it. 

If you can, start slow by saying that you’re sad because a pet died – or your friend died. If you’ve experienced a death in your family, letting your child be involved in the memorial can bring a great deal of peace, too. As is true in many other areas of communication, age-appropriate honesty and clarity are good rules of thumb. 

To find peace in the face of death, we need to embrace our mortality and realize that this transition will happen to us one day. Acceptance and surrender are key parts of the process. By acknowledging that death is part of life, we can begin to let go of our fear and resistance. It is through acceptance that we can find meaning and purpose, knowing that our time is limited. 

This allows us to prioritize what truly matters and live life to the fullest. Each moment becomes more precious, and we become more present and engaged.

Part of this is also to “death-proof” your life. Another reason death could scare us is because we don’t want life to end – we have so much left to do! 

But if you live every day as if it’s your last by not putting things off, you will minimize the regrets you have as you face death. This also helps prevent regrets your loved ones could have from strained relationships. Treating every day as if it’s your last – and dealing with your unresolved anger – can be a huge step in the right direction.

Ruminating on death – as strange as it may sound – can also help. Caitlin Doughty of “Ask a Mortician” has an informative YouTube channel dedicated to unpacking death. She talks about historical and cultural traditions surrounding death and more. 

You can plan for the practical aspects of death by asking yourself: 

  • Do I want to be cremated, buried naturally, or embalmed – or something else?
  • What do I want my funeral service(s) to be like?
  • Is there anything I’d like in my casket (if not cremated)?
  • What do I want to happen to my estate?
  • Will I need a will, a trust, or both?
  • What pictures do I want to be shared at my funeral? (Create a shared album!)
  • What songs do I want to be played at my funeral? (Create a playlist!)
  • What do I want to be remembered for?
  • What do I want my obituary to say? (Write it yourself!)

Finding Peace in the Face of Death

Several strategies can help us find peace when confronted with the reality of death. Meditation and mindfulness can be powerful in fostering a sense of calm and acceptance. By focusing on the “now” and accepting our thoughts and emotions without judgment, we can remember the impermanence of life and find peace.

Connecting with nature is another effective way to find solace in the face of death. Time outdoors, surrounded by the beauty and wonder of the natural world, can remind us of the cycles of life and the interconnectedness of all living things. Nature has a way of putting things into perspective.

Spiritual guidance can also provide comfort and support. Whether through religious practices or personal beliefs, spirituality helps us understand and navigate the mysteries of life and death. Connecting with something greater than ourselves can bring a feeling of peace and purpose.

Support Systems

Strong support systems are vital throughout our lives. Family and friends can provide a great deal of emotional support and companionship during difficult times. Sharing our fears, worries, and emotions with loved ones can lighten our burdens and help us feel less alone in our journey. 

Our support systems help us celebrate new life – and they help us cope with life lost. When loved ones have been on the brink of death (or even approaching unknown circumstances in their lives), friends and family show up early in the morning and late at night to support us, share resources, and provide light in an otherwise dark time. 

If you’ve recently lost a loved one and have no idea what to say when they tell you, “Let me know if you need anything” (or if you’re the one asking), we’ve got you! Keep reading to learn how to sign up for our newsletter, where you can get helpful resources like “15 Ways You Can Help a Friend Who is Grieving the Loss of a Loved One”! (Coming soon!)

Therapy and counseling can also help you navigate the complex emotions that crop up when confronting death. A trained professional can provide guidance and help you process your feelings, offering tools and strategies for finding peace and acceptance. (Real talk: when April’s mother-in-law died, her therapist was the first person she called after the funeral home.)

Support groups are another valuable resource. Connecting with those who have experienced similar loss or are facing their mortality can provide a sense of belonging and understanding. Sharing stories can be cathartic and can offer new perspectives about your experience.

Legacy and Leaving an Impact

Thinking about our legacy is another way we can find peace. Documenting our personal stories, whether through writing or other self-expression, can help us reflect on our lives and leave a lasting impact. By sharing our experiences, wisdom, and lessons learned, we can inspire others. If you wonder what you’d be leaving unsaid if you died tomorrow, writing it out and leaving a message for the people you love can put your mind at ease.

Acts of kindness and service are another meaningful way to leave an impact. By choosing acts of love and compassion, we create a ripple effect that goes far beyond our own existence. Small gestures of kindness can bring comfort and joy to others, and they can also bring us a sense of fulfillment and purpose. 

Building relationships is also crucial in finding peace in the face of death. Nurturing connections with loved ones and building meaningful relationships allows us to leave a lasting impact on the lives of others. When we invest in our relationships and foster deep connections, we can find solace in the knowledge that we have made a difference in the lives of those we love.

Maya Angelou once told a beautiful story of her Uncle Willie and the legacy he left. Chances are that her uncle never knew the great impact he left – not only on his niece but on the other people he interacted with. 

Legacy is something that we are always unintentionally building. Build it well!

Finding Peace Through Planning for the Future

Embracing the journey and finding peace in the face of death is a deeply personal and transformative process. Acknowledging the reality of our mortality and embracing death as an integral part of life helps us find solace. Through practices like meditation, connecting with nature, seeking spiritual guidance, and leaning on our support systems, we can navigate the complex journey of confronting death. 

Leaving a positive legacy and cultivating meaningful relationships can bring a sense of purpose and fulfillment. Ultimately, by embracing the journey and confronting death with an open heart and a willingness to explore the unknown, we can find peace, growth, and enlightenment.

Want to learn more? Sign up for the Graceful Aging Legal Services newsletter!

Preserving Your Legacy: Exploring the Transfer of Estate Assets

Preserving Your Legacy: Exploring the Transfer of Estate Assets

Everyone’s heard about it: a celebrity dies and their relatives come out of the woodwork, insisting that they deserve some piece of the estate. Even though most of us aren’t celebrities, it happens in otherwise happy families too, so let’s talk about what you can do to prevent it. 

In fact, it happened in April’s family and led her to work with clients to prevent this exact scenario. By planning ahead for the transfer of your estate assets, you can ensure that your loved ones needs are met and that your hard-earned assets are protected for those you intend to get them!

This blog post will help you keep the peace, even after you’re gone.

Identifying Assets

Identifying and understanding how your assets pass after your death is one of the most important aspects of estate planning. This includes a review of any real estate that you own so that you can transfer it to your heirs

Other assets to consider when making an estate plan include bank accounts, investment accounts, retirement accounts, and life insurance policies.  Assigning beneficiaries for these types of accounts helps transfer assets quickly and smoothly but needs to be done in the context of your plan as a whole. 

It’s also important to think about succession plans for any businesses where you have a role as an owner or investor. Valuable belongings, like jewelry, artwork, and sentimental items should be properly allocated in your will, trust, or even before you die as part of your estate plan. By identifying these assets you can create a well-rounded estate plan that safeguards your legacy, alleviates burdens for your loved ones, and ensures the effective execution of your intentions.

Choosing Beneficiaries

Our firm is probably a little different than most when it comes to naming beneficiaries. Most people will leave everything to a spouse and children, which is good because you can’t disinherit your spouse or minor children in the State of Tennessee. 

However, outside of that, you’ll hear April tell everyone “No one is entitled to an inheritance.” (Yes, she tried to talk her own parents out of the typical distribution plan.)  If you are part of a historically marginalized community, it may be important to you to pass on generational wealth, and that’s a great plan!  

But there’s also nothing wrong with bypassing your immediate family in favor of a charitable organization that works towards a mission that you feel strongly about. Since Eliza Hamilton married one orphan and adopted another (in addition to founding the first private orphanage in New York City), it would have made sense for her to donate some of her fortune (were any of it left) to the orphanage upon her passing. 

While pets can’t inherit outright in Tennessee, don’t forget that you can set up a pet trust to care for them when you’re gone or leave money to someone as your furry friend’s “caretaker.”  You may also have close friends or more remote family members that you want to leave gifts to. 

Remember, there are no “wrong” beneficiaries, except maybe Warren Buffett. The Oracle of Omaha has enough already- and he’s leaving it to charity! 

Getting legal documentation in order will help prevent misunderstandings and disputes about your assets. Regularly reviewing and updating your choices guarantees your intentions align with evolving circumstances. For example, if your favorite nephew developed a severe gambling addiction, you may not want to allocate as much of your estate to him. When choosing beneficiaries, you want to reflect your values and leave a lasting positive impact on your loved ones and the causes you support.

Considering Taxes

Tax responsibilities are an inevitable part of life, and they can occur in death too. 

Understanding estate taxation and knowing tax thresholds can help you determine the taxes your estate may be subject to. A firm grasp of tax thresholds can help you create a plan that helps you maximize the distributions to your beneficiaries, rather than the government. 

For most Tennesseans, taxes will need to be paid on your income from the final year of your life, and withdrawals from any retirement accounts that were tax-deferred, like 401ks and traditional IRAs. However, since 2016, Tennessee does not have an estate tax and the federal estate tax only applies to estates that have multiple millions of dollars. The federal estate tax limit changes sometimes, so you’ll want to consult with an attorney about your tax exposure – and maybe follow our newsletter for updates.  *wink* 

Some strategies can help you reduce your tax liability, helping your beneficiaries in the long run. For example, making gifts or transferring assets during your lifetime can reduce the value of your taxable estate, but should be discussed with an attorney first. 

By aligning your estate planning with tax thresholds, you can ensure your loved ones receive the maximum inheritance possible while preserving and passing on your wealth and intentions to future generations.

Updating and Reviewing Your Estate Plan

Regularly keeping your estate plan up to date is crucial to ensure your goals are met. It’s important to review it every few years so that you can make necessary adjustments based on changes in your life. 

Life events like marriages, births, divorces, or financial changes may require updates to beneficiary designations or how your assets are allocated. If Junior’s wife divorced him for his best friend, you’re probably not going to want to give her part of your estate. 

If you move, make investments, or start a business venture, it’s also an idea to reassess your plan. You’ll want to have a clear plan in place if you die while owning a business – without a succession plan in place, you have no control over what happens to your business after you die.

A flexible estate plan takes into account evolving family dynamics, financial situations, and personal goals so that your intentions are consistently honored. 

Seeking Professional Assistance

Wading through estate planning with no experience is extremely overwhelming. A lot of care is required, in addition to an in-depth knowledge of the laws and your rights. An experienced estate planning attorney brings legal expertise to the table, aiding in the creation and validation of documents like wills and trusts. 

Working with a Tennessee estate planning attorney ensures your estate is customized according to your desires and adheres to relevant laws. You’ll be better equipped to organize your assets, plan investments, and ensure a smooth transition for your family. Together you can navigate complexities and come up with an estate plan that honors your legacy.

Preserve Your Legacy with Graceful Aging Legal Services

At Graceful Aging Legal Services, we have caring and knowledgeable estate planners who can help you direct your assets to the people and causes that are most important in your life. For more information about estate planning and how it can help you preserve your legacy, contact us. We’re dedicated to providing you with the guidance and support you need to navigate the complexities of estate planning.

Smart Money Practices for the Newly Married

Smart Money Practices for the Newly Married

Newly Married

Have you said ‘I do’ recently and are beginning the exciting journey of wedded bliss? Understandably, as a newly consolidated duo, estate planning techniques might not top your list. But did you know the importance financial management and estate planning holds in safeguarding your shared future? Let us guide you to financial serenity and legal obligation smoothening activities.

We understand that marriage is a joyous milestone, and with it comes the excitement of starting a new life together. However, it also brings a range of financial and legal responsibilities that may require careful consideration. As two lives intertwine, so do their finances and assets. Proper financial and estate planning not only allows newlyweds to manage their money effectively but also ensures the protection and distribution of their assets should the unexpected occur. By taking proactive steps now, couples can safeguard their financial interests and pave the way for a prosperous journey together.

Key Financial Factors

Combining finances can foster transparency, build trust, and simplify money management. However, it’s essential to address individual financial habits, expectations, and goals to create a seamless financial partnership. While you may not choose to place all your money into joint accounts, creating a joint account for shared expenses might be a good place to start. Work with your partner to craft a budget that aligns with both of your priorities and allows you to save for future goals. Don’t forget to set aside funds for personal interests, too. 

With marriage also comes the need to reassess insurance coverage. Do your existing policies provide adequate protection for both of you and any dependents? Regardless of outside employment, be sure to take into account the work each spouse does around the home and what it might cost to replace that in the event of an accident or incapacity. Take this time to also review beneficiary designations on these accounts to help safeguard each other’s financial well-being and ensure your policies are set up how you would like them to be. 

Many of us carry debt, and when we get married, it comes too! Addressing existing debts requires planning and coordination. Which debts will be shared and which will be tackled individually? We recognize that managing joint debts can be a delicate task, but it’s an important topic to create a plan for as soon as you can. 

Action Items:

  • Discuss how you want to manage your finances- joint, separate, or a combo?
  • Evaluate and consolidate insurance policies- life, health, home, auto, etc.
  • Review and update beneficiary designations on insurance and retirement accounts
  • Discuss plan to address debts brought into the marriage and how you plan to handle debt during your marriage

Key Legal Considerations

Though it might not feel urgent, now is a great time to create or update your estate plan! Creation of a Last Will & Testament ensures that each spouse’s wishes regarding asset distribution are carried out after their passing. One common misconception is that your assets automatically pass to your spouse after your death; this is not always the case, but a will can help ensure that your wishes are followed. 

Another crucial part of your estate plan are the Power of Attorney documents. Used in the event you are unable to make financial or healthcare decisions for yourself, these documents allow a trusted individual to act on your behalf. While you are not required to name your spouse as your Power of Attorney, it is an easy way to empower them to act in the event of an unexpected emergency. These documents can be written in a way that clearly defines a Power of Attorney’s role and abilities, and they should be reviewed regularly. 

Action Items:

  • Create or update your will or trust to address your new marital status
  • Create or update your powers of attorney

Key Tax Considerations

The last major consideration after getting married is in regards to tax planning. There are a variety of tax filing statuses available for married couples, and if you are married as of December 31, the law says you were married for the whole year for tax purposes. If you are planning to change your name after marriage, be sure to report it to the Social Security Administration as soon as possible. Your name on your tax return must match what is on file at the SSA; if it doesn’t, it could delay your refund! 

Another thing to review are your withholding amounts. Newly married couples must give their employers a new Form W-4 within 10 days of their marriage. If both spouses work, you may move into a higher tax bracket. The Tax Withholding Estimator on the IRS website is a great tool to use as you complete your new W-4. Proper tax planning can lead to substantial savings! 

Action Items:

  • Change your name on all relevant government documents if you plan to
  • Consider whether taxes will be filed jointly or separately
  • Update your tax documents with your employer

Proper financial and estate planning is an essential step for newlyweds to set the stage for a secure and prosperous future together. By understanding and addressing the financial changes that come with marriage, establishing a comprehensive estate plan, and optimizing their tax situation, couples can embark on their journey hand-in-hand, prepared for whatever life may bring. Being proactive today brings peace of mind for tomorrow! 

If you’re ready to take the next step as a couple, click here to schedule an initial call with our office. We’d love to work with you as you create your estate plan and set goals for your life together!

Can I create my will myself?

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. 

Ten New Holiday Traditions for After the Loss of a Loved One

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.  

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.  

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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. 

  1. 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.

  1. 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.