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April Harris Jackson

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What Happens When You Aren’t Clear About Your Wishes?

What Happens When You Aren’t Clear About Your Wishes?

When you aren’t clear about your wishes, you leave a blank space for your loved ones to try to fill in. This can be incredibly stressful to them – even if you’ve expressed your wishes to them but didn’t write them down – so it’s important to know your wishes ahead of time. Learn what could happen to you if you don’t make your wishes known.

What Happens if You Become Incapacitated in Tennessee?

If you become incapacitated in Tennessee (a temporary coma, for instance,) and have no medical power of attorney set, your loved ones may have to go to court and then a judge will decide who can make medical decisions for you if you’re unable to communicate your wishes.

Trying to determine your wishes after you can no longer express them can be an extremely stressful time for your family, which is why it’s so important to communicate your wishes ahead of time, just in case anything happens to you.

What Happens if You Die without a Will or Trust in Tennessee?

If you die without a will, that is called “intestate.” This means that whatever inheritance you leave behind, including your property, is subject to Tennessee intestate succession laws. Intestate laws typically leave your property to your surviving spouse and/or children, but parents, siblings, nieces, and nephews could become eligible too.

Here’s a quick breakdown of what would happen in Tennessee if you are married or have children:

  • If you have a spouse but no children, the spouse would inherit your entire estate, even if you’re separated
  • If you have a spouse and children, the estate would be divided equally among all parties (except that the spouse can receive no less than 33% of the overall estate).
  • If you only have children, your estate would be split equally among all the children.

Keep in mind that only your biological and adopted children will inherit from you if you do not have a will. If you would like to leave part of your estate to step-children, foster children, godchildren, or other children who are close to your heart, you’ll want to make plans for that in your will or through non-probate beneficiary designations. 

Here’s what would happen if you died unmarried and without children:

  • If you have a parent, the entire estate would go to your parent(s).
  • If you have sibling(s) but no living parents, the estate will be split equally among your siblings. 
  • If you have no parents or siblings, the estate will be split equally among your siblings’ children.
  • If you’ve none of the above, the estate would be split equally among paternal and maternal aunts and uncles. 

You don’t have to die to see how this one might end if you don’t write your decisions out!

Who Makes Funeral Decisions if You Die in Tennessee?

Similar to the above, if no one has been legally designated to make funeral decisions on their loved one’s behalf, it falls to the next-of-kin, which would be the spouse or adult children. Once the family member takes responsibility for making and paying for their loved one’s funeral arrangements, they sign a legal contract that obligates the funeral home to follow instructions from that family member alone. 

Make sure you tell your family what you want so there’s a consensus during a difficult time..

What if there are no next of kin?

If there are no next of kin (as defined above) and no personal representative, any other person willing to assume responsibility and arrange the funeral (including the funeral director) can make funeral decisions, after attesting that a good faith effort has been made. As for your estate, if no family can be found it will ultimately be turned over to unclaimed property.

Don’t leave a blank space for your family members to fill in regarding your end of life wishes. Don’t keep them second-guessing. Instead, leave something that people can read like a magazine to know what you want your life – and death – to be like. 
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Understanding Probate in Tennessee

Understanding Probate in Tennessee

Probate laws in Tennessee play an important role in the orderly distribution of a person’s assets after they die and help to settle their affairs. The probate process typically begins when you hire an attorney who will file a petition on your behalf in the appropriate probate court, initiating the legal proceedings. 

The court then appoints a Personal Representative (aka the executor) to oversee the estate, and their primary responsibility is to manage the assets and debts of the deceased loved one. Notification of heirs and beneficiaries is a critical step to ensure all interested parties are aware of the probate proceedings. 

If you are nominated or appointed as a Personal Representative, there are several things you’ll want to keep in mind to ensure a seamless probate process.

Probate Court Jurisdiction and Venue

In Tennessee, your attorney will file for probate in the county where your loved one lived at the time of their death. This is wherever they consider to be their permanent home. 

Across Tennessee, your probate case may be heard in a different type of court than a friend’s in another county. For example, in Davidson County the Circuit Court hears probate cases while in Rutherford County they are handled in General Sessions Court. Many counties process probate petitions through their Chancery Court. An experienced probate attorney will be able to tell you the procedure in the county where you live. 

Tennessee Intestacy Laws

Intestacy laws in Tennessee come into play when there is no valid will. These laws dictate the distribution of assets when a person passes away without explicit instructions, outlining the order of inheritance among surviving family members. 

Myth-busting: Many people are concerned that if they do not have a will, the government will take their belongings instead of their family. While there are certain exceptions where the government can claim funds that are owed to them, your closest family members will inherit if you do not have a will. 

Validity and Execution of Wills

Tennessee recognizes several types of wills, from handwritten wills to the ones you think of that are typed up and signed in a lawyer’s office in front of a notary. Each type of will has different requirements in order to be “admitted to probate.” This just means that the court needs to make sure that the will is authentic before it is acted on. 

The law is specific about how that authentication can happen. Probate laws delineate the requirements for a valid will and the various types of wills recognized in the state. Ensuring compliance with these stipulations is imperative for a seamless probate process. 

Probate Inventory and Appraisal

Part of the probate process involves creating an inventory of the deceased’s assets and how much those assets are worth. This allows the heirs and beneficiaries to know what to expect in terms of inheritance and for the court to require insurance to protect those funds if needed. 

Many people are concerned about their privacy if the inventory is made a part of the public record, but informal inventories are often used instead of filing as part of the public record. This can be written into your will or agreed to by your family after your death. 

Creditor Claims and Debts

To handle creditor claims and debts, personal representatives must notify creditors and prioritize the settlement of outstanding debts so ensure that the distribution of assets is fair and equitable. 

One primary responsibility of the personal representative is to pay any valid claims of the estate. Your attorney will assist you in notifying creditors, both by mail and in the newspaper, so that they can come forward and file claims if there is money owed. Your attorney will guide you through the process of evaluating whether those claims are valid and paying them (if appropriate). 

Estate Administration and Accounting

Once all assets have been gathered and all creditors have been paid,  it’s time to distribute the funds. An accounting, whether formal or informal, will assist the personal representative in getting the numbers right. Depending on family dynamics and the requirements of the will, the accounting may or may not need to be filed with the Court’s Clerk.

While the term “accounting” sounds scary, all it means is that you are keeping track of what funds come into and out of the estate. Your attorney will assist you in preparing the accounting if one is required by the court.

Will Contests and Disputes

Probate laws in Tennessee address the possibility of will contests and disputes, outlining the grounds for contesting a will and the specific procedures involved in resolving such disputes. 

(Want to disinherit someone? As our team says, “No one is entitled to an inheritance.”)

Probate Taxation in Tennessee

Probate taxation is an overview of estate taxes, potential tax liabilities, and exemptions are governed by Tennessee probate laws. Understanding and following the laws around taxation ensures proper estate planning and compliance. 

Although Tennessee no longer has an inheritance or estate tax, taxes are still an important process of probate and estate planning. As part of the probate process, the personal representative will be responsible for filing the deceased person’s final income tax return, as well as any federal estate taxes. There may also be state tax returns due based on what types of assets the decedent had. 

Your attorney and accountant will assist you with maintaining the deadlines and knowing what these requirements are. 

Closing the Probate Estate

In the final phase of the probate process, assets are distributed to heirs and beneficiaries, and the personal representative or administrator is officially dismissed of their duties. Take some time to celebrate – you’ve made it! 

Common Issues and Pitfalls

The probate process takes a lot of time and effort (and maybe three hundred takeout coffees). The costs include court filing fees, attorney fees and possibly personal representative fees, which adds up.  It’s important to have an attorney who knows the laws and the best way to complete the process efficiently so as much money goes to the people that your loved one wanted to have it.

Most people want to know how long the process will take or have heard horror stories out of other states (looking at you, Florida!).  

In Tennessee, it can take as little as six months, depending on when your person died, how fast the court moves, the assets involved, family dynamics, and other variables.  In most cases, it takes at least a year, and often more. If everyone gets along, it’s not such a bad process, and the attorney will handle much of it for you. 

We also encourage the use of an after-loss professional like Sunny Care Services who can take some of the most frustrating tasks off your plate. 

If you’ve become the Personal Representative for your loved one’s estate and want to prevent a lengthy probate process, it’s a good idea to start planning now. Talk with an attorney who has experience with probate and estate planning. (Psst – that’s us!)

Recent Developments in Tennessee Probate Laws

Probate laws are subject to change, and recent developments, including legislative updates and notable court decisions, can impact the probate landscape. Staying informed about these changes will help you navigate the probate process instead of asking, “Is it over now?” when you’re only halfway through. 

Fortunately, Graceful Aging Legal Services can help you stay informed on such topics with our newsletter. Sign up today!

Probate in Tennessee: Factors that Can Delay the Process and Strategies for Minimizing Delays

Probate process in tennessee

Probate is the name for the legal process of distributing assets after someone passes away. These assets can include bank accounts, real estate, vehicles, retirement accounts, life insurance, and financial investments. Before the assets can be distributed, however, they must first be gathered and used to pay creditors. 

After that, the heirs can finally receive their distribution of the estate. However, even then, there are several factors that can still delay the distribution process. In our practice, it is common for probate to last about nine months. In more complex cases, probate can easily last several more months or even years. These delays ultimately mean less money and more headache for the surviving family. 

Let’s go through the factors that cause delays in probate, and discuss what steps can be taken to minimize the delay.  

1. Passing away without an Estate Plan

If you pass away without an estate plan, your loved ones will have to go to probate court. The court will appoint someone among them to be the “Personal Representative.” The Personal Representative will be responsible for contacting all of the financial institutions about your death. They will also be responsible for using your funds to pay creditors and ultimately make distributions to your heirs. 

When there is no estate plan, the process for appointing a Personal Representative can be seriously delayed. The family will have to come to a consensus on who the Personal Representative will be before they present their choice to the court. Moreover, whoever is selected as Personal Representative is often not prepared for the role, as they had not been told to expect it. The process of going through all of your finances and contacting all of your financial institutions might be overwhelming for them, especially if they did not know your finances very well. Moreover, they will be responsible for mediating tension between the family, which is made even more difficult if members of the family do not think you explicitly wanted them to serve as Personal Representative.

Having an estate plan would minimize all of these consequences and delays. By having an estate plan, your family will already know who you want to represent your estate, which will make the process for appointing a representative much smoother. The person you select to represent your estate will also be better prepared for the role, as they are aware that they will one day need to fulfill the role. 

The best way to minimize delays in probate is thus to have a clear estate plan in place, and to let your family and loved ones know about your intentions. 

2. Family Tension

Even with an estate plan, family dynamics can still play a major role in probate. For example, if the only major asset that you have at the time of your death is your house, and one of your heirs would like to live in it while the other heirs would rather sell it and keep the sale value, tension will ensue and attorneys may need to get involved. All of this will ultimately lead to a delay of the probate process, and may ultimately divide the family in an irreparable way. 

Feuds such as the one described happen even in the most loving of families. To avoid these feuds, it is important to not only have an estate plan, but to have one drafted by an experienced estate planning attorney. An experienced estate planning attorney will be familiar with cases such as the one described and will be able to help you think through exactly what you would want to happen if these cases occur. Your estate plan will thus be better able to help your family navigate your precise wishes for your assets, ultimately easing tension and expediting the probate process. 

Hiring an estate planning attorney to draft your estate plan is one of the most important steps you can take to minimize probate delays. 

3. Financial Complications

If you keep your finances private, it will be difficult for your intended heirs to know what to expect after you pass away. They may not even know where you bank and what financial investments you have. The more difficult it is for them to know your finances, the more difficult it will be for them to notify your financial institutions of your death and gather accounts. 

Furthermore, if you are in debt or are not paying your taxes, your Personal Representative will be responsible for using your assets to pay your creditors and the IRS. This can cause serious delays to the probate process, especially if the Personal Representative was unaware. Creditors will ensure they receive their payments by filing claims against the estate through probate court. These claims ultimately slow down the probate process as each claim requires a hearing before a judge. 

To save your family time, headache, and grief after your death, it is important that you keep your finances in order. Pay off debt when you can, and keep a clear record of it. File your yearly taxes appropriately. Let your loved ones (especially your Personal Representative) know of your finances and how to contact each financial institution in case something happens. 

Even in the best of cases, probate takes a while. To minimize delays, we recommend having an experienced estate planning attorney draft your estate plan, clearly telling your loved ones of your intentions, and keeping your finances in order as much as possible. Your loved ones will already be filled with grief after your death. The best gift you can give them is preparation. 

Here at Graceful Aging Legal Services, we offer software that can help our clients keep their estate in order. Contact us at 615-846-6201 or hello@galsnashville.com if interested.

Nine Things You Need to Know When You Get an Inheritance

Nine Things You Need to Know When You Get an Inheritance

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.

Which of my assets pass through probate?

Which of my assets pass through probate?

Probate is the legal process of transferring some of a deceased person’s assets to their heirs. Once you or someone you love passes away, there may be questions about what specific assets and property within an estate actually have to go through probate court, and which assets pass directly to beneficiaries. The short answer is that only assets that a person owned that were in their own name, alone, must go through probate. 

The Probate Estate

Assets that go through probate make up what’s called the “probate estate.” For example, an individually owned bank account with no named beneficiary or a car titled only in an individual person’s name will pass through probate. 

All other assets pass to the named beneficiaries without going through the probate court. 

So, what are some specific things that do not pass through probate? 

Here are a few examples:

Property held in joint tenancy with a right of survivorship

Any assets or real property held in joint tenancy (with a right of survivorship specified in the deed) by the deceased and one or more other people doesn’t need to go through probate. When one owner dies, the survivor(s) automatically owns the property. 

Property held in tenancy by the entirety

If the deceased individual owned real estate with their spouse in tenancy by the entirety, the surviving spouse is automatically the sole owner when the other spouse passes away.

Payable-on-death bank accounts

A payable-on-death bank account is an account that passes to the beneficiary at the death of the account holder, therefore it does not pass through probate. Check with your bank to see whether your bank account(s) have payable-on-death beneficiaries. 

Assets registered in transfer-on-death form

Tennessee residents can name transfer-on-death beneficiaries for securities. Assets registered in the transfer-on-death form pass directly to the named beneficiary without needing to go through probate.

Life insurance proceeds

When life insurance policies or annuities specify a beneficiary, the proceeds do not go through probate.

Retirement accounts

The funds in retirement accounts do not go through probate if the account holder designated a beneficiary.

Trust assets

Assets held inside a Trust by a Trustee do not go through probate.

probate court setting with paper, law book, and gavel. Not all assets pass through probate.
Probate doesn’t have to be complicated

Learn how to prepare for and navigate probate

Overall, knowing which your assets must pass through probate, and which do not pass through probate, can save you a lot of unnecessary stress and confusion. Designating probate vs. non-probate assets is an important part of your overall estate plan strategy. It is important to take the time to talk to an attorney in order to identify your assets, decide who your beneficiaries should be, and determine what the best method is for those beneficiaries to receive their share. 

Attorney April Harris Jackson sits outdoors on a sunny day with an orange in her hand. The text says "virtual estate plan challenge" "Click here to start your journey"

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What Happens if Someone Dies Without a Will?

What Happens if Someone Dies Without a Will?

Introduction to Tennessee’s Intestacy Law

Dying without a will is unfortunately very common. If you die without a will, your property will likely go through a court process called probate and will ultimately be distributed according to Tennessee’s intestacy law. Here are some common events that may happen if you die intestate:

  1. Your immediate next of kin, whoever they are, will likely inherit your property first. If you die intestate, everything goes to your next of kin. Your next of kin are the people who have the closest relation to you. Your children are first in line, along with your spouse if you are married at the time of your death. Otherwise, it’s your closest relatives. For example, say you die intestate without a spouse, children, or parents. Your next of kin could be your much younger half-sister or a cousin you’ve never met. Whoever fits the “closest living relative(s)” criteria will inherit everything after the estate pays your debts and taxes.
     
  2. That son- or daughter-in-law you don’t like will get your property before that niece or nephew you do like. Marital property owned by your children is governed by the laws of the states they live in, not you. If they live in a communal property state, they’re sharing the inheritance, 50/50. While the laws are different in every state, property acquired during marriage by either spouse may be marital property, especially if it was used for the benefit of both spouses. 
     
  3. A little bit of money up for grabs can have a cooling effect on interfamilial relationships. In a perfect world, family members would all get along, never be jealous, and always do right by each other. This isn’t a perfect world. Intestacy law doesn’t take into account the relationships the deceased had with anyone or what the deceased orally promised to someone. Even if widowed Uncle Bob told you he wanted you to have his ’65 Thunderbird, without a will, the car is going to his son…who doesn’t even have a driver’s license. When families start fighting over estates, lawyers get a lot of money and the family gets a lot of heartaches, so it’s best to put your wishes in writing so everyone knows what is expected in advance and the Court has authority to enforce your wishes.

If you’ve recently lost a loved one who did not have a will and have questions about their estate’s administration, you should speak to a probate attorney for guidance.  If you need assistance, we invite you to contact us to schedule a consultation.