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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.

What is a prenuptial agreement and how do I get one?

When you think of marriage, you likely think of doves, flowers, white dresses, cake, and eternal love, right? When a lawyer thinks of marriage they think of something a little less romantic: contracts! I know it’s not exciting to think of your upcoming nuptials as a contract, but hey, it is what it is. Why not set aside your weird feelings about it and define the financial terms of the marriage instead. Think of a prenuptial agreement as an extra document in your estate plan.

a happy groom is picking up his bride while on the beach. They have a prenuptial agreement to protect themselves from financial harm in the event of a divorce.

What is a prenuptial agreement?

A prenuptial agreement (better known as a prenup) is a legal document that couples enter into before getting married. This agreement sets out the terms and conditions of what happens if the couple splits up. It can be something as simple as specifying how property will be divided or who will financially support whom in the event of a break-up.

A will vs a prenup

A will and a prenup are very similar. Both are legal documents that set forth the wishes of an individual regarding their estate. Like a will, a prenup can also address a surviving spouse’s rights upon the death of the other spouse. Spouses may choose to waive their inheritance rights entirely or specify what each spouse should receive upon the death of the other. 

Best practices for obtaining a prenuptial agreement

Follow these steps if you want your agreed-upon inheritance rights upheld in court.

Before the Save the Dates

It is best to begin the prenuptial agreement process long before your desired wedding date. Waiting until the week or even the month before your wedding may indicate to a future court that the agreement was signed under duress and should not be enforced. 

Both parties must disclose all of their assets and liabilities to each other. You should gather your most recent records for any stocks and bonds, retirement accounts, checking and savings accounts, and even an appraisal for your house and car. Make a list of any student loans, personal loans to family or friends, mortgage debt, and car loans. If you do not disclose all of your assets and liabilities, your prenuptial agreement may be invalidated by the court. 

After the Honeymoon 

After you have signed your prenuptial agreement and married your spouse, your attorney may advise you to record your prenuptial agreement with the clerk’s office. While this is a great option to ensure you will always have access to a copy of your prenup, it is important to note that if recorded, your prenup will become a public record. A more private alternative would be for each spouse to keep a copy of the agreement in a fire and waterproof lockbox with other important documents. 

Create an estate plan after the marriage

Shortly after your marriage, you should create or update each of your estate plans with your marital status. Update the estate plans again if you have children.

In conclusion: A prenuptial agreement is financially smart

Prenups are becoming more popular and are perfect for young couples who are still learning how to navigate being an adult in this world. Overall, a prenuptial agreement is not an indication that your or your spouse believes the marriage will fail; instead, it lays a strong financial foundation for the marriage. Both parties walk away feeling protected and confident that there will be no ambiguity or surprises later in life.

If you are not sure if a prenup is right for your situation, consider reaching out to our office. Our attorney can help you figure out what to do. Book your free 15-minute initial call now!

3 Tools for Estate Planning for Blended Families in Tennessee

a family with children from multiple relationships hug on a beach at sunset in tennessee
If you have a blended family, you really need an estate plan.

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.

two mothers snuggle their toddler and baby while sitting on a park bench. They are considering making an estate plan for their blended family
Blended families are also called step families.

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.

How to appoint a guardian for a child in your will

How to appoint a guardian for a child in your will

One of your main concerns when drawing up an estate plan in Nashville will be appointing a guardian for a child in case of death. As a parent, you likely consider “what if’s” every day. Estate planning is no different, especially when it comes to your children. There are multiple considerations to keep in mind when thinking of a potential guardian for your children. We will go over a few of these below.

What if I Am No Longer in a Relationship with My Child’s Other Parent? 

Tennessee law presumes that the parents of a minor child are the child’s “natural guardians”. If one parent dies before the other, the surviving parent will usually obtain full custody of the child.  

If parentage has not been legally established, you may want to appoint the child’s other parent as the legal guardian in your estate plan. Naming the other parent will ease the transition through the legal system. A court may need to establish a child’s parentage if they were not married at the time of conception and birth. A court will decide a child’s parentage for custody or inheritance purposes. 

Hopefully, there are no concerns about your child’s welfare if they need to live with their other parent full-time. However, if you have concerns, consider them objectively and put them in writing. Write down the name of the person you prefer to appoint as the guardian of the minor children. The only way to make sure the other parent does not gain custody is to have their parental rights terminated. This is an extreme measure. 

If the surviving parent is the father, a paternity test will be required before petitioning the court for custody. Paternity can be established through a signed birth certificate, an acknowledgment of paternity form, or a blood test. Establishing paternity typically grants a father certain rights in regard to his child. However, paternity is not a guarantee that he will be awarded custody of the child. The court will use its own judgment to determine which guardian would be in the best interests of the child. 

What If I Am Married to My Child’s Other Parent, but Something Happens to Us Both?

Generally, the surviving spouse will be granted custody of any minor children. But what happens if you both die? You must consider who you want to care for your children in the event that neither of you is living. Failing to do so could result in confusion and trauma for grieving children. 

Many people make the mistake of believing that if you die, the guardian of a child will be granted to grandparents, aunts, or uncles. However, if the will does not specify a guardian, the court may be faced with multiple petitions for guardianship from family members and friends. In this scenario, the judge will choose a guardian with no input from you. So, what should you consider when choosing a guardian for your children? 

Who should I consider appointing as a guardian for my children in my will?

Did you know that you can appoint different guardians for your child to manage different aspects of their future? The most obvious guardian is the one who will have custody and take care of your child. This guardian will provide a home and make important decisions for your child. These decisions can be about doctors, schools, and how they maintain relationships with friends and family. 

You may also decide to appoint a separate guardian for your child’s financial future. This person would be in charge of the administration of a trust or other financial planning arrangement. If you want to learn more about leaving property to a minor child, read this article.

Whether you appoint one or multiple guardians, you will need to carefully weigh several important factors such as:

Young woman hugging a child. The child looks a little sad. The adult looks pensive. Appointing a legal guardian for your child in your will is an important decision to make.
Who is the best guardian for your child if you die?

Age and Ability of the Guardian

Your first choice for your children’s custodial guardian might be your parents; after all, they raised you! However, it is important to consider your parents’ age and physical ability to care for your children. This may be especially relevant if your children are younger or have special needs. Similarly, think about your preferred guardian’s emotional ability as well. Appointing your younger sister as a guardian for your child who has yet to finish school or maintain a job may not be the best choice. You will need to choose someone who is both physically and emotionally capable of providing for children. 

Religion and Education 

If you intend for your children to follow certain religious practices or receive a certain type of education, it is important to choose a custodial guardian who holds your values or who you know will follow through with your wishes. Naming a specific church or school that you want your children to attend does not mean that your custodial guardian will have to obey that wish. 

Location of the Guardian of your Child

You will also need to decide if it is important that your children are raised in a certain city or state. In some cases, your desired custodial guardian may not be able to relocate for the sake of your children. In that case, your children may need to move to the custodial guardian’s home or you may need to select somebody else. 

Specify each child’s guardian(s) and their role in your will

Finally, be sure to name all of your children in your will, and specify what role you want each guardian to play for each of them. Your attorney may advise you to select both a primary guardian and an alternate guardian. Most importantly, do not forget to ask your guardian if it is okay to name them in your will. As your children age, you may want to change the legal guardian. Ask a qualified attorney to help you modify your will if you want to do this.

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How do I protect my Kid’s inheritance if they divorce?

How do I protect my Kid’s inheritance if they divorce?

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! 

close up of estate planning documents that have a family trust
Do you need a family trust to protect your children’s inheritance?

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!

My spouse and I are separated. How do I disinherit my spouse?

My spouse and I are separated. How do I disinherit my spouse?

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. 

Jill can get a jump start on planning her estate.

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