Tennessee law permits you to write your own will. Some people choose to handwrite theirs. Online services are another popular way to create a Will and other important documents inexpensively. As long as the Will meets the legal requirements, it is likely to be admitted to probate court in Tennessee.
However, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Believe me, I love a bargain too- it can be really tempting to find a low cost option for something that is expensive and, well, a little scary. Most people have never met with an attorney before and the idea is intimidating. It’s understandable.
However, a fellow probate attorney once said “online services are a probate lawyer’s best friend.” This is the prevailing thought among probate attorneys, because we see so many Wills that were not prepared by attorneys, and ultimately end up costing the family more in court costs than it would have cost to meet with an attorney and prepare the Will and other important documents.
I like to compare it to pest control. You know that if termites invade your house, it will end up costing tens of thousands of dollars to repair the structural damage they can cause. Would you prefer to pay $150 per year up front to prevent an infestation, or let them do the damage and then pay to fix it?
So let’s look at some of the issues that cause self-created Wills to have problems when we go to court. Here are some of the main pitfalls that we see with DIY wills:
1. Improperly Executed
Unless you have legal training specific to estate law, you may not be familiar with the exact requirements of the type of document you are trying to create. Tennessee law provides for several types of Wills, and each of them have different requirements for signing. Some of them will require witnesses to come to court, which you may want to avoid. Fun fact: No Tennessee law requires a Will to be notarized. Guessing you didn’t know that!
2. Improper use or misunderstanding of terms
A Will uses a lot of terms that we don’t use in everyday life. These words are used to communicate information to the Judge when the Will is probated. However, if you are writing your own Will or using a form, you may not know the effect that these words have in practice. While our attorneys try to use more commonplace language when writing Wills, we need to be able to get your point across. Words like “fiduciary,” “per stirpes,” “per capita,” “ademption,” and “executrix” are not terms we use, but as experienced estate planning and probate attorneys, we know how to use them correctly to carry out the plan you have in mind. In DIY documents, you may ignore terms that you don’t understand that seem to be boilerplate, or may not fully understand the effect that they will have when your plan is carried out.
3. Missing essential elements
I’ll never forget the day that I had to tell someone that they were unable to help their parent because the Power of Attorney that had been created online did not give them authority to do what needed to be done. I wanted to help, but my hands were tied. In another situation, someone hand wrote their Will but left out an essential part. Because we didn’t have any specific instructions from the Will, we had to go to Court multiple times for Court approval to do things that we were pretty sure they wanted. Those court hearings cost the estate more money than it would have to have an attorney help with the original Will.
4. No contingency plan
One of my least favorite things to do is talk to parents about contingency plans. Usually this means asking who would inherit from you if your children died before you did. No one wants to even think about that. But for estate planning purposes, it’s very important to always have a back up plan. We hope for the best and plan for the worst. And that means discussing uncomfortable things.
5. Plans that are not logistically sound
In a social setting one time, someone mentioned to me that they had created their Will online. They were open to sharing about the experience and mentioned that they had named their parents as their beneficiaries in their Will. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it requires some additional thinking through things. Parents are older than their children, and in most situations the children will outlive the parents. At Graceful Aging Legal Services, PLLC, we want to help you create a plan that needs to be reviewed but hopefully requires few revisions except at big transitions in your life. If you pass away without making changes, we want your planning to go the extra mile for you. Let’s say that you name your parents as beneficiaries of your Will, but no back up beneficiaries. You figure you can update it later- but never get around to it. Eventually you pass with no named beneficiaries, which defeats the purpose of making a Will. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you avoid situations like this and worse.
6. No probate-avoidance planning
Another thing people are confused about is thinking that a Will helps avoid probate. It doesn’t. The purpose of a Will is for a probate court to know what you want when you die so they can carry out your wishes. In a meeting with a good estate planning attorney, you will talk about your goals for your assets when you die and create a plan. Oftentimes we are able to guide clients how to avoid probate. One of my favorite things is when someone comes to us for probate and we are able to tell them that good planning means that they don’t need to go to court.
7. Validate of the Will is easier to challenge
Although having options to create a Will yourself may be beneficial to some, it also creates opportunity for bad actors- or the perception that people are acting with impure motives. Imagine a scenario where your neighbor asks you to draft a will off the internet for them to sign. You may be called into Court to testify about how the Will was created, your neighbors medical condition at the time the Will was created, to what extent you helped, and if you inherited anything you’ll be looked at with additional scrutiny. Having a lawyer involved not only protects the Will and the Will-maker, but also the family and friends involved. We know how to prevent claims of undue influence and ensure the Will document is valid.
When you write your own Will, you don’t know what mistakes you might make. Unfortunately, by the time the Will is submitted to probate, you won’t be around to make clarifications. The Court will have to go by what is written in the Will. Your family will be stuck with what you wrote, or risk the Court finding that your Will is invalid and throwing out all of the work you did to create it in the first place. If your family thinks that you didn’t mean what you wrote, they will have to pay additional costs to help the Court figure out what you meant. When that happens, lawyers get more of your money and your family gets less.
We prefer to work with families who get along, and are on the same page when it comes to their loved one’s estate. It makes the probate process (if there is one), easier both emotionally and financially. We don’t like to make money correcting mistakes or with families who have been left in a difficult position. If you find yourself in this situation, we’re happy to help but we’d much prefer that you not be there in the first place.
If you have an online will or were thinking about it, sign up here for our virtual estate planning challenge to think through all of the things you need before you even meet with an attorney.
How can I help my parent/partner/loved one get their affairs in order? A lot of people call us wanting to help grandma start the process, not realizing grandma needs to call/give consent before we can do much of anything.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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.
What is a “spend-down”?
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
Buy some things for Bob that his Medicare did not cover, such as:
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.
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.
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.
Back to TennCare/Medicaid…
My Mom doesn’t have long-term healthcare insurance. What are my options?
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.
Do a reverse mortgage on her home.
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:
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:
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.
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!
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.
Quite simply, TennCare is Tennessee’s Medicaid program. While the name “TennCare” has the word “care” in it, it is NOT Medicare. In order to further clarify the difference between the terms “Medicaid” and “Medicare,” you need to remember that we use “Medicare” to “care” for our elders and “Medicaid” to “aid” those, of any age, in need. Essentially TennCare is Tennessee’s brand of Medicaid. Hopefully, that little trick will help you remember the differences between each program.
Who qualifies for TennCare?
Now that you are familiar with the difference between Medicare and Medicaid, let’s discuss who qualifies for TennCare (Medicaid).
There are three qualification criteria that you must meet in order to obtain Medicaid/TennCare.
1. Medical qualification –There is a special medical test that applicants must pass in order to qualify. Usually, a care facility will handle this piece of the Medicaid application.
2. Asset qualification – A TennCare applicant who is single can only have $2,000.00 in assets before they are eligible for TennCare. Vehicles and real estate are usually exempt from the count of assets. A “Care and Savings Assessment” is a good place to start if the applicant needs help with figuring out what they have in assets and what options are available to make excess assets “non-countable” for TennCare purposes.
3. Income qualification – A TennCare applicant can only receive $2,382.00 per month (as of 2021) in order to receive TennCare. If an applicant has more than this amount in income, an attorney can resolve it through what is called a Miller Trust or a Qualified Income Trust.
Why should I be concerned about long-term care services?
Unless you are a millionaire or multi-millionaire, TennCare eligibility and designation could have a major impact on your finances and your family. While you may not need TennCare now, you will want to plan as if you will need it in the future. As you may have heard us say before “we hope for the best, and plan for the worst.” Having a plan is an effective way to ensure that you will have long-term care coverage when you need it. This isn’t to say that you won’t find yourself needing TennCare much sooner than expected. When this happens we call it “TennCare Crisis Planning”.
I don’t know where to start!
The biggest obstacle to TennCare planning is determining what to do with your assets and income; especially if there is excess in any category. There are a lot of rules and potential pitfalls that you need to look out for. Fortunately, we have some great financial planning and legal resources that can help our clients. If you have an immediate need for TennCare or want to plan for TennCare we can supply the client with what we call a “Care and Savings Assessment”. It’s a wonderful tool that helps people effectively navigate through their options.
How do we help our estate planning clients with TennCare planning?
For our estate planning clients, we like to take into consideration the possibility that you may need TennCare in the future.
For example, it is our priority to set up our client estate plans to make sure that TennCare is accessible if it is ever needed. As with many government organizations, Medicaid has lots of rules to follow and many people find that they did not know what rules they were supposed to be following until it was too late! Fortunately for our clients, we know the rules and can help you plan in advance of ever needing to apply for TennCare to cover medical care. Additionally, we create documents that make sure that someone can apply for Tenncare on your behalf. This is useful if you become incapacitated in the future.
How do we help our Conservatorship clients with TennCare?
Many of our conservatorship clients are caregivers for a loved one who requires skilled nursing to keep them safe. The average cost for this type of care is about $7,000.00 per month or more. There is usually a large gap between monthly income and fees. Our firm can navigate the TennCare application process and assure that the appropriate language is in the conservatorship order paperwork with the court so that the client may obtain the appropriate benefits for their loved one.
How do we help clients with TennCare Crisis planning?
For those who have never considered the cost of long-term care until they or a loved one need to enter a nursing facility, the cost of care is likely to come as a shock- and an unaffordable, but necessary, expense. This is when we can step in with what we call “crisis planning,” meaning that you need a plan and you need a plan now.
In these cases, we are able to look at the household financial situation of the person needing skilled care, as well as the family situation overall, and come up with a plan for how to best use existing resources and get them qualified for TennCare benefits to pay for the nursing home bills. This process called our “Care and Savings Assessment”, is one of the most rewarding things that we do! It allows us to help people get the care that they need while still providing a quality of life for themselves and their families.
If you are concerned about accessing TennCare benefits for long-term care, contact our office for a complimentary initial call using our online calendar here.