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April Harris Jackson

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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

Myth-busting: I don’t need a Medical Power of Attorney. My spouse can make medical decisions for me.

Myth-busting: I don’t need a Medical Power of Attorney. My spouse can make medical decisions for me.

This week we are going to talk about why you need a medical power of attorney, even if your spouse is available to make decisions for you.

In a medical emergency, there is an assumption that your spouse would be the health care agent, make health care decisions, and deal with the hospital and doctors on your behalf. However, what happens when a spouse is separated, no longer wants to be in contact, or doesn’t agree with your health care values? 

If this happened to you, would you still want them to make decisions for you? Do you want your adult children to make medical decisions for you? What if your spouse and children disagree on what type of treatment(s) you should receive? When faced with an emergency, please consider having your medical Power of Attorney already in place. 

What happens if you don’t have a Medical Power of Attorney? 

There are many situations that can arise when you become incapacitated or have a healthcare emergency.  Even if it seems unlikely that your spouse would be disinterested in your health, it’s important to remember that your spouse may have trouble thinking clearly in an emergency or may also be seeking medical care. A medical Power of Attorney with an agent that is capable of making medical decisions, even in an emergency, can lower the risk and confusion regarding your medical decisions.

What is a Medical Power of Attorney and why you need one.

A medical Power of Attorney, also known as a Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare, is a document that allows you to appoint someone as an “agent” to make decisions about your health care. This agent will make decisions on your behalf if you become too ill or incapacitated. A medical Power of Attorney ensures that your wishes will be followed. We have an experienced estate planning and probate attorney here in Nashville who can help you customize these decisions and record how choices will be made.

Choose someone you trust to make medical decisions for you.

How to choose the best Agent for your situation

When you are choosing your medical agent for your Medical Power of Attorney, it is important that you choose someone you can trust to adhere to your preferences regarding your medical care. Discuss your wishes with your agent before they need to make any care decisions. Make sure that you have confidence that your Agent will make the right decisions about things you two have not discussed.

pink file folders with an ipad on top that says: Medical Power of Attorney, do I need one?
Don’t wait to create your medical POA.

Conclusion: Why everyone needs a Medical Power of Attorney

It is important to think about what you would want in a medical emergency. Do you want your spouse to always make decisions for you?

Designate ONE person authorized to make decisions for you if you are unable to make or communicate your wishes. Even if you want your spouse to make those decisions, it’s always a good idea to have a “backup” person. This backup person can help out with decision-making in case your spouse is unavailable when someone needs to step in. 

Whatever you decide, you should have a Medical Power of Attorney. Write your power of attorney in conjunction with your advanced directive (also known as a living will). All of these documents are an important part of a well-thought-out estate plan. 

Do you have a plan for emergencies? Do you want help putting your values on paper? Take our Virtual Estate Planning Challenge! This 7-part Challenge helps you brainstorm the important stuff before creating your estate plan. We had a ton of fun making it and think you’ll really benefit from it too. 

Marriage myth-busting: I don’t need a Will. My spouse will get everything when I die.

Marriage myth-busting: I don’t need a Will. My spouse will get everything when I die.

Many people think that if they are married, their spouse will automatically inherit everything when they pass and so they don’t need a will. While there are some situations where a spouse does inherit everything, it is not the default under Tennessee law. In Tennessee, if you are married and have children, your spouse will share your probate estate with your children. I call this the S.A.K.S. method (Spouse and Kids Share). In other words, your spouse does not inherit everything automatically. 

To clarify:

If you die without a will, Tennessee law dictates that the spouse and children split the estate. 

However, I believe that everyone should create their own plan for distributing their assets after death, even if the state has an understandable default on how to do this. Here’s why: 

Having a Will can make it easier for your family to go through probate. 

Having a Last Will and Testament can be an important way to reduce any burden on your family after your death. In your Will, you decide not only who will inherit your estate but also key decisions like who will serve as Personal Representative (also known as the Executor) and whether you want to require or waive documents that are required by statutes. Having a Will is your chance to have a  say in the probate of your estate before you die. The process can be much less complicated for your beneficiaries as well because you may decide to be even more specific about some of the more difficult decisions that need to be made.

It is much easier on your family if you have an estate plan in place. A last will and testament will provide instructions on how to designate and divide assets between family members and friends. If you die intestate (without a will), then the state’s inheritance laws will determine who gets what.

Preparing an estate plan will cover situations that may arise after your passing

Have you considered what might happen if your spouse remarries? Are you aware that a future spouse can take an interest in a portion of your estate? Would you want part of your assets to go to a new spouse or to any children that they may have with that spouse? Do you have family or children that should benefit instead? There are many other factors to consider, but it’s important to discuss these things with your attorney when you create your estate plan. 

image of a happy couple with the wife nestled under her husbands arm

A Will provides security for your spouse

If you are more concerned about your spouse inheriting from you than your children, you can plan for that too! The general rule in Tennessee is that the spouse would get no less than a third of the estate. 

For example, if you are splitting the estate with two or more children, the spouse would get a third. If there is only one child, the spouse would get half. 

What if you want to provide more? With a Will, you can designate that your spouse gets everything or only leave certain things to your children.  Many spouses write “I love you” wills, where they inherit first from each other, and then their children only inherit when the second parent dies. 

Use a Will to protect spousal inheritance from changes in family dynamics

Another consideration in making a Will is your family dynamic. Do you have children from different relationships throughout your life? Do you have concerns about how your children from those relationships will get along with your current spouse when it comes to your estate?  It is important to consider how you want inheritances to be split. Your Will can dictate how your assets will be handled! You can also designate your preference for the guardian of any minor children in the event that both you and the other parent die. 

Additionally, a Will provides provisions such as the appropriate age at which your children should take over responsibility for managing any inheritance. One primary concern many parents have is whether young adults will be mature enough to make sound judgments concerning any money they inherit. Your Will can establish a certain age at which young adults gain control of their inheritance, to ensure that it isn’t squandered when you would prefer it be used towards education or sound investments. 

In short, your Last Will and Testament should be drafted so that your wishes regarding your family are honored. 

Middle-aged couple walking together hand in hand through a park. They are smiling. They look like a cute couple.

A Will can safeguard your beneficiaries if they become disabled

Are any of your assets expected to go to a loved one who has a chronic medical condition?  If so, you’ll want to consider that an inheritance could disqualify them from any means-tested government benefits that they may receive or be entitled to, which could be devastating if they are counting on that benefit. The most common examples of this are Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and TennCare (Medicaid).  You’ll want to have a contingency plan in your estate plan to make sure that their benefits are secure and not at risk of being cut off due to an inheritance. You don’t want their government assistance to decrease just because you died! You definitely need a plan for that. Make sure to work with a qualified estate planning attorney so you can refrain from making errors with your family’s benefits. 

If you want control over who can access your digital assets, you must make a Will

Many digital assets are governed by terms and conditions which are unlikely to specify who will take over your accounts when you die. Some providers, such as Facebook, permit you to designate someone as a “legacy contact.” However, not all companies are robust enough to provide this type of service. A Will protects your digital assets from falling into the wrong hands or being lost in digital space with no one able to claim them. Check out our blog post about how to create or change your Facebook “legacy contact” here

In conclusion

These are just a few of the things that you’ll want to consider when making an estate plan. I want to encourage you to have a long discussion with your spouse about how your assets should be split when one of you dies. There shouldn’t be any surprises! I cannot stress the importance of knowing each other’s values and putting them in writing. It is crucial to have the outcome you desire. A failure to plan can end up in expensive court litigation. This is why we encourage everyone to speak with an experienced estate planning attorney about how they and their spouse can protect each other through proactive planning. 

Are you ready to make your Will? Schedule a free initial call and make your plan with the Team at GALS! 

How do I qualify for Medicaid?

Long-term care is expensive

Many people have sufficient income to maintain a regular lifestyle but are unable to afford the high cost of long-term care. With the average cost of long-term care around $7,000.00 a month, it is incredibly difficult for most families to afford it, even more so after retirement. That’s why it’s a good idea to plan for qualifying for TennCare, also known as Medicaid.

Evaluate and restructure your assets to qualify for TennCare

do you know how to qualify for tenncare? Image is of a man in a long-term care facility. He is taking a walk with a nurse and his partner.
It’s worthwhile to know how to qualify for TennCare

As we discussed in our blog last week, there are certain criteria you need to meet to be eligible for TennCare. As an elder law attorney, one of my jobs is to help families get their loved ones qualified for TennCare while maintaining resources available for the rest of the household.

One of the ways that we do this is by restructuring a family’s assets. We do this by turning resources that are countable for TennCare purposes into items that TennCare does not count as part of its eligibility assessment

This process is known in the elder law community as a spend-down. The goal of the spend-down is to make you or your loved one eligible for TennCare as far as your assets are concerned. If you are overqualified for income-based criteria, we can use a special type of trust called a Qualified Income Trust, or a Miller Trust, to reduce your income. The goal of a spend-down is to maintain the quality of life for all family members including those who need long-term care. 

Image of a scooter as a mobility device. Buying a scooter is a good way to spend down your assets to qualify for tenncare
Bob might benefit from purchasing a quality mobility device

What is a “spend-down”?

For example…

Bob needs to go into long-term care. Bob is eligible based on his income. He makes $2,000.00 a month of social security retirement income. Bob also has a house, a car, and $50,000.00 in the bank. Bob is widowed and his children are adults. 

We need to do something with at least $48,000.00 from Bob’s bank account in order to make him eligible for TennCare. His house and his car are not countable for TennCare purposes in most cases. What can we do? 

  • Make improvements to his home that would improve his quality of life and access to the things that he needed in the home. This might include: 
    • Grab bars in the shower or hallway.
    • A ramp into the main entrances.
    • Paving the driveway or expanding it closer to the door 
    • Widening doors 
  • Buy some things for Bob that his Medicare did not cover, such as:
    • Hearing aids
    • Dentures
    • Eyeglasses
    • Top of the line mobility devices 

There may be other things that would improve Bob’s quality of life. There are things we can spend money on or convert into income. I am also going to suggest to everyone that they use the money to make arrangements for end-of-life needs if they have not done so already. Since at some point Bob’s children will need to make arrangements for his burial or cremation, paying for it now from his excess funds is a great way to make those funds unavailable for TennCare purposes and meet a future need. 

image of a smiling older gentleman sitting with his daughter. Do you know how to qualify for medicaid?
Bob has peace of mind because he has plans in place for long-term care

Bob might want a Care and Savings Assessment

It’s not easy getting approved for TennCare / Medicaid, and we know it! That’s why we offer help in planning your steps to qualify. It doesn’t matter what your starting point is, we’re here to help you navigate the process with one goal: get our clients the quality of care that they need. Contact us if you would like to make plans for qualifying for TennCare.

Will TennCare Choices pay for my Mother’s nursing home?

Last week we defined TennCare and how it applies to our clients. This week I want to go more in-depth with how TennCare serves Tennesseans with long-term care. 

Many people believe that Medicare benefits will cover nursing home care once an individual is 65 or older, but this simply isn’t true. While Medicare covers the first 100 days, it doesn’t cover long-term assisted living. Read more about Medicare here

TennCare Choices logo for Tennessee Medicaid Long-Term Services and Support
Choices” is Tennessee’s Medicaid program for long-term care services and support

Back to TennCare/Medicaid…

My Mom doesn’t have long-term healthcare insurance. What are my options? 

  1. Payout of pocket until you run out of cash – This is an unrealistic option for most families. Nursing home care is expensive. Not a lot of people have an extra $7,000-$11,000 a month in their bank accounts.  
  2. Do a reverse mortgage on her home. 
  3. Qualify for the TennCare / Medicaid program called “CHOICES”

As you can see, options 1 and 2 are very unpleasant and leave nothing left for a loved one’s legacy. However, option 3, CHOICES, is definitely something worth looking into.

What is CHOICES?

CHOICES is the category of TennCare that provides Long-Term Services and Supports (LTSS) such as nursing home care.

What is the process for getting qualified for CHOICES?

In order to be eligible to receive benefits from TennCare/Medicaid your loved one must first qualify within these three categories:  

  1. Medical eligibility 
  2. Income threshold
  3. Asset threshold
Wheelchair bound woman looking up at a nurse in white while at a nursing home for long-term care
Being medically and financially eligible is necessary for TennCare approval

How does someone become medically eligible for TennCare CHOICES?

The state of Tennessee will determine who is medically eligible to receive TennCare Long-Term Services and Support (LTSS) by using a pre-admission evaluation (PAE). This PAE is used to determine if the applicant can do basic life skills on their own without help. The PAE will also determine if the applicant is safe in their current environment. 

The PAE is a strict evaluation and it is performed on a case-by-case basis. An applicant must receive a score of 9 or higher on a 26 point scale in order to be considered medically eligible for TennCare Long-Term Support Services. 

For example, a caregiver or healthcare provider may be asked about a patient’s level of ability to do things and how much assistance is needed. 

The following Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) are covered in the PAE evaluation: 

  • Transfering
  • Mobility
  • Communication
  • Medication
  • Orientation
  • Eating
  • Behavior

If you or your loved one is unlikely to get to a nine or higher on the PAE, it is always appropriate to ask for a “safety determination” evaluation as an alternative route of becoming medically eligible for Choices. 

How can someone become financially eligible to receive CHOICES

You must be able to prove that the applicant has a low income and little assets. As of January 2022, an individual applying for TennCare CHOICES cannot have an income exceeding $2,523.00 per month. Additionally, the applicant cannot have more than $2,000 in assets. This includes any money in the bank and investment accounts but also requires consideration of retirement accounts, life insurance policies, real estate, artwork, jewelry, and any other valuables. When we talk about the assets for a couple of things get a little more complex. The most important thing is that both the applicant and their family are taken care of, both medically and financially. 

Graceful Aging Legal Services, PLLC Logo for the Care and Savings Assessment - It is a graph with lines slowly going down.

My Mom is over the limits for income and assets? What do we do? 

If the applicant is in excess of the amounts we can plan for that! We have a tool to help people who have excess income and assets yet need to qualify for TennCare/Medicaid called the “Care and Savings Assessment”. With this Care and Savings Assessment, we work to determine the best way to structure you or your loved one’s finances, either now or in the future. We plan so that our clients have the peace of mind knowing they can qualify for TennCare if and when they need it! 

In conclusion 

It is often helpful to have an attorney assess your financial situation and offer recommendations on how those finances may be restructured to qualify for TennCare Long-Term Services and Support (LTSS). As an experienced TennCare planning attorney, I can help you evaluate your risk and create a plan that takes care of everyone in the family.

Are you ready for help with TennCare planning? Contact us and we can discuss your plan. Next week we will go over some examples of how we restructure an individual’s finances to meet their needs for long-term care.