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April Harris Jackson

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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! 

You’re almost 65. Congrats on your Medicare Milestone!

We’ve been talking about Medicare for a few weeks now, but we haven’t gotten to the how-tos yet.  That’s about to change. Today we dig into how you actually enroll in Medicare. 

Your first Medicare enrollment period begins three months before you turn 65 and runs until three months after.  Even if you don’t sign up for any other coverage, we recommend that you sign up for Medicare Part A during this first enrollment period. 

To sign up for Part A, go to the Social Security Administration’s Medicare portal here.  It will be helpful to set up an account for when you come back to sign up for Part B or when you are ready to begin receiving retirement benefits. 

If you are signing up for Parts A and B, the process is the same. You’ll sign up through the Social Security Administration’s website. Remember that if you enroll for Part B, your premiums will either be deducted from your Social Security retirement payment or you will receive a bill. The 2021 Part B premium is $148.50 for most people.

If you are looking for a Medicare Advantage plan, Part D, or a Supplement (Medigap) plan, you will want to compare plan options using a plan comparison service.  There are insurance brokers like Kendall Chanley and Harry Perret here in town who can help you compare options and narrow things down. Once done, they will get you signed up. These services are free to you and it’s nice to have one agent who can help you each year. 

If you prefer to do things yourself or just want to do some exploring, Medicare.gov will allow you to find plans in your area and narrow them down based on what you are looking for and price ranges. I recommend filtering plans by the star ratings (four or above) and then whether you are looking for dental, vision, and prescription medicine access. 

Once you make it through your first enrollment period at age 65 (ideally), you’ll be eligible for open enrollment each year from October 15th through December 7th.  You may also have options to select coverage during a special enrollment period if you lose other coverage. 

Applying for Medicare isn’t nearly as scary as it sounds, but it does require advanced planning and research. You don’t want any deadlines sneaking up on you! Personally, I love using reminders on my calendar well in advance of any deadlines that I have. Maybe one to begin research, one to call an expert, one to compare plans, one to sign up….all before your birthday or November. 

What’s your plan for Medicare enrollment?  Head to our Facebook page to share your plans in the comments!

3 Common Mistakes People Make by Waiting to Sign Up for Medicare

I don’t know about you, but I don’t plan to retire at 65. I mean, that’s only 25 years away. And I like my job. Maybe that’s you.

Even still, don’t put off signing up for Medicare when you turn 65. Here’s Why.

Mistake #1: Waiting until after you retire to sign up for Part A. 

Why it’s a mistake: Medicare is basically free money. You paid for it with your taxes for the past forty-some years…but still.

Ultimately here’s the deal–you CAN wait. But since it’s no skin off your back, wouldn’t you rather set it and forget it?  Think about that time you set up automatic payments into your savings account or 401k. You may not have missed the money, but when you got your tax forms, you saw the benefit of making a small change. It’s the same here. Signing up for Part A is easy, and makes the process of signing up for Part B or a Medicare Advantage plan much easier. 

Mistake #2: Staying on private health insurance coverage instead of signing up for Part B, without doing further research.

Why it’s a mistake: The plan you are currently on may not provide enough coverage.

If you plan to stay on your current coverage instead of signing up for Part B as soon as you turn 65, you want to make sure that your health plan provides appropriate coverage. We’re talking about a qualified group health plan (as defined by the IRS). If you’ve ever had to provide proof of “creditable coverage” for plan enrollment, this is similar.  Otherwise, you will pay a penalty when you sign up for Part B coverage.  This penalty is paid with each premium payment and never goes away. The longer you are eligible for Part B without signing up, the more the penalty costs. Do your future self a favor and get HR to confirm (in writing) that your current coverage meets the requirements. 

Mistake #3: Assuming that your current insurance plan will continue to be available after you become eligible for Medicare

Why it’s a mistake:  Believe it or not, some insurance plans and employers will not cover you (or your spouse) if there is other coverage available elsewhere. That includes Medicare.  Medicare enrollment begins three months before you turn 65 and lasts three months after.  Start looking at your options early to make sure you don’t get left without insurance unexpectedly. 

Whatever you decide about retirement, make sure that you have the information you need to make good, informed decisions. 

Next week we’ll be getting into the nitty-gritty of how to actually sign up for Medicare. Make sure to follow us on Facebook or Instagram to see when the blog gets posted! 

My 3 Favorite (Free!) Medicare Resources

Healthcare in America is…..complicated. Medicare ensures that most people 65 and older have access to basic care for hospitalization and doctor’s care. 

But what else does it include?  That’s a great question….because it all depends on what you sign up for.  Some of it will depend on the specific plan you sign up for but all plans include core services. If we talk about Part A or Part B coverage, a Medicare Advantage plan (Part C) automatically includes these same services.  If you didn’t catch our Medicare 101 post last week, go catch up here

I had the good fortune to go through a training hosted by the State Health Insurance Program a few years ago that really opened my eyes to how Medicare coverage works. It was one of my first steps into the realm of elder law.

Since then, I’ve helped clients who are on Medicare and helped my parents navigate the process too when my Dad turned 65.  I wanted to share some of my favorite free resources to find out information about Medicare. Depending on whether you like to keep things old school, or want things as paperless as possible- there’s an option for everyone! 

  1. By mail- When you sign up for Medicare, you will get a Medicare and You handbook that is useful for helping you figure out what is included in Parts A and B. It is easy to read and understand exactly what your coverage includes. 
  2. By phone- As I mentioned above, the State Health Insurance Program (SHIP) is an awesome program that helps Tennesseans find the right health care plans for them. You can reach them at 1-877-801-0044 or, in the before times,  at local health fairs. Just remember that they are staffed by volunteers and might take some time to call you back.  If you’d like to become a volunteer, they would love to have you! 
  3. Online: Yes, I know that government websites don’t have the best reputation for having easily accessible information. But trust me….Medicare.gov is different. Whether you just want to learn about Medicare, compare plan options, or look for a new doctor, this website makes it simple to find what you’re looking for. 
  4. In your pocket- The Medicare “What’s Covered” App is available for Apple and Android user. You can open your phone to find out if a service or treatment your doctor recommends is covered and how much it is likely to cost out of your pocket. I’m pretty jealous that my insurance company doesn’t offer this. 

All of these options now have online availability (check out those lovely blue links). Regardless of how you prefer to absorb information, I hope you’ll find one resource that is your favorite. We will be polling our social media readers on Facebook and Instagram this month to see what their favorite Medicare resources are…..we hope we’ll see you there! 

Medicare 101: Mastering the ABCs of Medicare Planning

As if choosing health insurance under an employer’s plan wasn’t difficult enough, figuring out which type of Medicare plan is best for you is even more confusing. I call Medicare an alphabet because there are 4 parts- A, B, C, and D. Oh, and you might want to consider a supplement too!  

Don’t worry. With a little time and some guidance, you can master the Medicare alphabet just like you mastered your ABCs! 

First, let’s go through the four types and what they cover. 

  • Part A only covers emergency care, such as if you need to stay at the hospital. 
  • Part B covers regular care like doctors visits, bloodwork, and any other testing or treatment that your doctor recommends. 
  • Part C is often referred to as an “Advantage Plan”. It is administered by private insurance companies, just like an employer’s plan.  It includes Part A and B coverage and may include other benefits as well, such as dental, vision, and prescription drugs. 
  • Part D covers prescription drugs. That’s it. 

When you approach age 65, ask yourself what your current health needs are, what family history might impact future healthcare needs, and what type of coverage you are used to receiving.  Then look at your budget. 

Part A is free for those who are eligible through their tax contributions. In 2021, most individuals will pay $148.50 per month for Part B, although the amount can be higher depending on your income.  

If you anticipate that you will need something more than just emergency and regular doctor’s visits, there is another alternative. Consider a Part C “Advantage” plan or a Medicare Supplement (or “Medigap” plan), instead. This plan will provide coverage for those things that Parts A and B don’t, like such as prescription medications, dental, or vision care.  Keep in mind that you still pay co-pays and deductibles on Medicare, so you will want to look at those amounts and not just your premium when considering your budget. 

When thinking about the Medicare alphabet, I have a little way to help me remember what each part covers: 

A is for an Accident that lands you in the hospital 

B is for Bloodwork they do at the doctor’s office

C is for Comprehensive coverage you can get with an Advantage plan

D is for Drugs (They made that one easy!)

Now you know your ABCs….next week I hope you’ll join us when I share my favorite FREE resources to learn about Medicare before you sign up.