Tennessee Estate Law Blog

If you are a resident of Tennessee, the amount of state tax your estate will owe, as of January 1, 2016 is: zero. Tennessee’s inheritance tax (known in most states as an “estate tax”) phased out permanently at the start of 2016, which means for anyone who passed away on or after January 1, 2016, no estate tax will be due to the state of Tennessee.

This change is the result of a law passed by the Tennessee legislature in 2012 that gradually increased the inheritance tax exemption (the maximum amount of a taxable estate subject to the tax) until the 2016 repeal of the tax altogether, leaving only 14 states and the District of Columbia with estate taxes still on the books.

What a difference 4 years makes! In 2012, a $2 million Tennessee estate could expect to pay more than $80,000 in state taxes (between 5.5% and 9.5% of the taxable estate above a $1 million state exemption). In 2016, that same estate owes no state taxes in Tennessee.

How does this development impact a prudent estate plan in Tennessee today? Is it time for you to make changes?

In previous years, many family estate plans in Tennessee were structured to avoid state and federal estate taxes, and for good reason. As recently as 2001, estate taxes could reach as high as 55% on estates larger than the $675,000 exemption in place at the time. Complex solutions like QTIP or marital gap trusts were seen as the best way to preserve family wealth against state and federal estate tax bills.

Now that Tennessee’s Inheritance Tax has been abolished, and the federal estate tax exemption has increased to $5.45 million in 2016 (with a potential federal exemption of $10.9 million for a married couple), estate taxes may no longer be the biggest barrier most Tennessee families face while seeking to maximize the amount a spouse or other heirs will receive following the death of a loved one.

Major changes in tax law like the repeal of Tennessee’s inheritance tax on January 1, 2016, are good occasions to revisit your estate plan (along with major life events like marriage, divorce, birth or adoption of children, or the death of a loved one). You may want to consult with an attorney to make sure your approach is still the right one for you and your family, especially if your will, trust, or estate plan was created prior to 2012.

One thing that did not change on January 1, 2016 is the need for everyone to have essential documents in place – a will (or living trust), powers of attorney, and a living will – that accurately reflect your wishes. Proper estate planning is an important step in preparing for your family’s future needs. It also ensures peace of mind for your loved ones in knowing your intentions are being carried out. Why let the state legislature make these personal decisions for you?

Please contact us today online or by calling 800.705.2121 to discuss your legal options.

According to multiple news reports, Robin Williams’ wife, Susan Williams, stated that she was forced into taking legal action against Robin Williams’ children concerning his estate. She told “Good Morning America” in an interview which aired recently that, “Two and a half weeks after Robin had left, I was still in shock, not back in our home. I was told that I might not be able to keep our wedding gifts. That, ‘In fact, while you’re out of the house, we need to come and take everything out, and eventually, once we’ve gone through it all, tell us which items are yours and we’ll decide whether or not that’s true.”

A press report stated that Robin Williams’ trust had laid down guidelines about what was to go to whom, much of the disagreement revolved around what counted as celebrity memorabilia and what should be considered personal keepsakes. Also at issue were the expenses involved in maintaining the couple’s Tiburon, California home. The comedian’s third wife also got emotional describing her reaction to “Good Morning America” about the dispute over an estate said to be worth $100 million.

Susan Williams said, I’ll never forget being on the phone with one of the trustees and saying, ‘What is this? I know Robin Williams is famous — he’s my husband. He’s my husband. If we’re talking that you guys think everything is memorabilia, then take me. He’s touched me. Where does this end?'”Legal representation for Robin Williams’ children told the L.A. Times that Cody, Zelda and Zachary had been “following both the letter and the spirit of Robin’s instructions” and couldn’t understand why Susan Williams was “challenging the estate plan he so carefully made to provide generously not only for them but for her as well.” The actor left much of his estate to his kids, whom he had with his first and second wives.
Susan Williams also told “Good Morning America” that Robin Williams knew he was losing his mind from a form of Parkinson’s and was on the verge of getting inpatient care for his condition when he committed suicide in August 2014. His diagnosis of Lewy body dementia, which his wife revealed in the interview, was determined after an autopsy.

The disagreement between Robin Williams wife and his children was settled out of court in principle in early October.

No one wants to consider what will happen to their families and the things they own once they die. However, estate planning and deciding what property and possessions go to whom is important so that they are not disagreements and confusion later. It can help protect those you love and their future. If you need help with planning your estate, you should speak to one of our knowledgeable estate planning lawyers at the Higgins Firm. We will discuss your situation and your wishes and help you create an estate plan that is right for you. This way you can worry less about what will happen when you are not around.

Cases just like these are why it is important and recommended to have an estate plan. It will help you not only to figure out who inherits certain items or assets when you pass away but hopefully it will also help your family to avoid disagreements and confusion. If you do not have an estate plan or if you have one already but have questions, you should contact one of our caring and experienced  estate planning attorneys. We will answer any questions you may have and discuss your options with you so that you can make the estate plan that is best for you and those you love.

Please contact us today online or by calling 800.705.2121 to discuss your legal options.

No one wants to think about leaving their kids and family behind when they pass away, however, if you have the best estate plan possible for your family, then you can make sure they will be well taken care of. When your kids are old enough to be on their own at college, it may be a good idea to update your estate plan to reflect these changes in your life. Here are some things to consider so you can make sure your estate plan is right for you and those you love. Also, once you have considered these things, you should speak to an estate planning lawyer at the Higgins Firm. We will answer any questions you may have and help you decide on the best options for you.

You may be wondering what will happen to all the money you have saved once you are gone. Perhaps you worry that your kids will spend all of it on things they don’t need or that they will stop pursuing an education or maybe that someone will take advantage of them to get the money they inherited. These are worries that many parents have. There are a few things to consider to keep your family safe and protected even if these or other things occur.
Consider creating a Trust for your Child
You can create a trust while you are still living or create a trust that will be effective after you pass away.
A trust can allow your child to get money over time at certain age milestones in order to prevent them from getting a large amount of money all at one time. This way they will still have some money when they need it. A trust can allow for your child to have financial support and to use portions of the trust money for reasonable costs such as for health or medical bills, education costs or any other reasonable expense they may have. Finally, having a trust for your child can help keep them protected from creditors and other money concerns after you pass away.

Something else you may want to consider since your children are growing up and going out on their own is what kind of estate plan they will have. You may worry what will happen to them if they get hurt or who will be in charge of making their medical decisions for them if they are unable to do so. If your child is away at college, you have options for power of attorney. These options are:

• Durable Power of Attorney
This allows the person nominated to take over for the person that is unable to make their financial decisions and to make financial decisions on their behalf.
• Healthcare Power of Attorney
This allows the appointed person to make medical decisions for the person unable to do so. The person typically has to honor the healthcare wishes of documents signed by the person who appointed them.

We all hope that these are decisions and situations that we never have to make or face, but life can often be unexpected at times and having these estate plans in place will help you feel better about your family’s future once you pass away. If you have questions about your estate plan, you should contact a compassionate and experienced estate planning lawyer with the Higgins Firm. We realize how difficult these decisions may be for you and we will help to make the process as easy as possible for you. We will also help you decide on the estate plan that will best protect the ones you love.

Please contact us today online or by calling 800.705.2121 to discuss your legal options.

We all want to protect one property, assets and loved ones after we pass away so that they can still have a bright future. Typically, a person trying to protect their assets and their loved ones will have a will drafted for them. However, there are many more options these days that a person may choose instead of having a will. Since there are so many different choices and options, it is best to speak to one of our estate planning lawyers at the Higgins Firm. We will answer any questions you have, talk to you about your needs and situation and help you choose the plan that is best for you and your family.

There are several ways to transfer assets at the time of death without the probate of a will. Some of these ways include but are not limited to:

  • Transfer on death designations or TODs

There was a Uniform TOD Securities Registration Act enacted in 1989 which allows non-probate transfer of specifically registered investment securities. The owner keeps full control during their lifetime but an official death certificate and proper identification by the named beneficiary is all that is needed to transfer ownership. The items that can be transferred this way might include vehicle registration, property deeds, retirement accounts, and bank accounts. This does not need documentation to be effective and may be revoked at anytime by the owner.

  • Joint ownership or survivorship designations

     Land and assets may be owned this way. This option requires an official death certificate and proper identification by the survivor to transfer ownership at the time of death. A disadvantage to this option may be if a co-owner is involved in a lawsuit or divorce they may lose ownership to their part of the property to an outside party. The outside party may have a legal right to force a co-owner to sell their asset in order to divide its value.

  • Life Insurance

     Life insurance is often paid to the designated beneficiary or beneficiaries without the need for a will or probate. It is best to talk with a professional lawyer to make sure that this option is best since there may be hidden tax issues to deal with.

  • Gifts giving during a lifetime

     If a living adult is mentally competent they may choose to give away their assets but it is important to make sure the gift is given according to the law. This will help avoid confusion if the intended gift is not stated in a will. A will often overrides an intended gift if it is given according to the law.

  • Trust Funds

   There are many different types of trust funds. Some of them can be given while the person who created it is alive and others are only effective upon death. Some can be revoked and others are irrevocable. It is important to discuss tax and other issues with a lawyer before deciding if this option is best.

 

Even though these options may seem like the better choice than having a will, wills also have advantages. If you have a will, you can transfer all your assets with just one document. They allow the creator to make their wishes known and they have a history which some of these newer methods do not making them more widely accepted.

 

It is difficult to make these kinds of decisions. There is a large amount of things to consider and plan for. If you are confused or have questions about which options may be the right one for you, then you should contact one of our compassionate and experienced estate planning lawyers at the Higgins Firm. We know how hard this process can be and we will work with you to make it as easy as possible. We will help you decide which option is the right one for you.

 

Please contact us today online or by calling 800.705.2121 to discuss your legal options.

 

No one wants to think about leaving their loved ones behind when they pass away. However, making sure that you have a will that details all your wishes about how you want things handled after you are gone will help you make sure that your loved one are cared for even when you cannot be there. It will help protect the things and people you care about and help them to have the future that you want for them. Here are some important factors to consider when it comes to the writing of your will. If you have questions or concerns about your will and need help having one drafted, then you should speak to one of our estate planning lawyers with the Higgins Firm. We will help answer any questions you may have and help you create a plan that is right for you.

 

  • Having a will does not mean all your assets are covered:   Any assets where a beneficiary is designated such as IRA 401k plans and life insurance will go directly to the beneficiaries. Also, any assets that you have in joint tenancy with survivorship will go directly to the people who have the survivorship rights after you die. Any accounts that are pay on death or transfer to death will also go to any beneficiaries when you die. If you have a trust with any assets these will be handled without probate. It is important to review your beneficiaries when you make any changes to your will so that you make sure your assets are divided exactly how you want them to be.
  • It is important to make sure the executor of your will is someone you trust:  The executor should be someone you trust because they will be responsible for handling everything after you die as well as making sure the wishes in your will are honored in the way that you want them to be. They will be responsible for paying bills and taxes that deal with your estate. They also have to appear at legal proceedings and maintain any property until the estate is settled. It is best to appoint someone whom you not only trust but who also has business knowledge.
  • If you have young children, make sure you pay extra attention when writing your will   

Please contact us today online or by calling 800.705.2121 to discuss your legal options.   These simple yet important factors can help you be better prepared when writing your will or having it drafted. This way your wishes will be carried out in the manner you intended and you can help to make sure that your loved ones will still be okay after you are gone. Since writing a will can be complicated and often confusing, if you have questions or problems, it is a good idea to consult one of our experienced and caring estate planning lawyers at the Higgins Firm. We know how important protecting your assets and family members is to you and we will help you create a will and estate planning that is the best one for your situation.     Since children are not typically able to handle inheriting property, it is a good idea to take this into consideration when writing out your will. If a child who is a minor inherits property, the court will appoint a guardian if you do not appoint one in your will. It is suggested that you take some time to appoint a trusted guardian for your children so that they are well taken care and protected.

No one wants to think about leaving their loved ones behind when they pass away. However, making sure that you have a will that details all your wishes about how you want things handled after you are gone will help you make sure that your loved one are cared for even when you cannot be there. It will help protect the things and people you care about and help them to have the future that you want for them. Here are some important factors to consider when it comes to the writing of your will. If you have questions or concerns about your will and need help having one drafted, then you should speak to one of our estate planning lawyers with the Higgins Firm. We will help answer any questions you may have and help you create a plan that is right for you.

• Having a will does not mean all your assets are covered
Any assets where a beneficiary is designated such as IRA 401k plans and life insurance will go directly to the beneficiaries. Also, any assets that you have in joint tenancy with survivorship will go directly to the people who have the survivorship rights after you die. Any accounts that are pay on death or transfer to death will also go to any beneficiaries when you die. If you have a trust with any assets these will be handled without probate. It is important to review your beneficiaries when you make any changes to your will so that you make sure your assets are divided exactly how you want them to be.
• It is important to make sure the executor of your will is someone you trust
The executor should be someone you trust because they will be responsible for handling everything after you die as well as making sure the wishes in your will are honored in the way that you want them to be. They will be responsible for paying bills and taxes that deal with your estate. They also have to appear at legal proceedings and maintain any property until the estate is settled. It is best to appoint someone whom you not only trust but who also has business knowledge.
• If you have young children, make sure you pay extra attention when writing your will
Since children are not typically able to handle inheriting property, it is a good idea to take this into consideration when writing out your will. If a child who is a minor inherits property, the court will appoint a guardian if you do not appoint one in your will. It is suggested that you take some time to appoint a trusted guardian for your children so that they are well taken care and protected.

These simple yet important factors can help you be better prepared when writing your will or having it drafted. This way your wishes will be carried out in the manner you intended and you can help to make sure that your loved ones will still be okay after you are gone. Since writing a will can be complicated and often confusing, if you have questions or problems, it is a good idea to consult one of our experienced and caring estate planning lawyers at the Higgins Firm. We know how important protecting your assets and family members is to you and we will help you create a will and estate planning that is the best one for your situation.

Please contact us today online or by calling 800.705.2121 to discuss your legal options.

Estate planning can be a difficult and confusing process. This process can be made even more complicated when you have a business or foundation that your family members may be involved in. This appears to be the case with Paul Newman’s family. The Newman’s Own company and foundation started in 1980 when actor Paul Newman and author A.E. Hotchner began making homemade salad dressing and giving it to neighbors as Christmas presents who came by as they were caroling. Newman’s Own made a profit of almost one million dollars two years later and donated most of it to charity. Then in 1993, Newman’s daughter Nell began Newman’s Own Organics, a division of the company. Newman’s Own now makes pasta sauce, popcorn, salsa, frozen pizza and other products, and the company has stated that it has given away more than $400 million to charities such as summer camps for seriously ill children.

Newman had his attorney draft a letter in 1999, that stated his intention to give his children the major voice in distributing funds for charity. He stated these intentions again in meetings in 2006 with family members, lawyers, and accountants and it was also on a 2007 video interview.

After Newman went into the hospital changes were made to his estate plan and on April 11, 2008 he rewrote his will and appointed two associates to controlling positions in the Newman’s Own Foundation on July 29, two months before his death. When his will was read, his family members learned that Newman’s daughters would not be on the board of the Newman’s Own Foundation and that millions of dollars for their personal foundations would go instead to Newman’s wife’s marital trust. Newman’s family now claims that Newman’s Own, and its foundation are being  mismanaged by the man who’s served as chief executive for several years. The dispute has to do with concerns about the changes Paul Newman made to his estate plan in his final years.

It is important that when a family has a business or foundation together like in this case, that communication about who is to be in charge is made clear from the beginning. This can be done by making it clear who is the administrators of the business or foundation instead of just giving and including all family members in the business as soon as possible. These steps will help to make sure the family business and your family members are honored even after you pass away.

If you need help making sure that your estate plan is the best option for your family members and perhaps even for a business that you may own, then you should contact one of our experienced estate planning lawyers at the Higgins Firm. We know how important your loved ones are to you and we will help you discuss your options and make the best estate planning choices for you so that your family and the work you do is protected long into the future even after you pass away. If you need help or have questions about estate planning, you should speak to a Tennessee estate planning lawyer with the Higgins Firm. We will answer any questions you may have and discuss your options with you so that you can protect your loved ones and your businesses even when you are no longer around.

Please contact us today online or by calling 800.705.2121 to discuss your legal options.

There has been a lot of news about the Sofia Vergara embryo case. However, beyond the public’s desire to look into the life a celebrity, the reason a case like this so important is because it may affect laws, policies and regulations about how to handle cases similar to this one in the future. It may also help to answer questions about legal obligations in these kinds of cases.

The Sofia Vergara embryo case raises questions and sparks debate about things such as what should a judge decide if a woman or a man has undergone subsequent treatment for cancer and is therefore left incapable of producing gametes that would make it possible to be a genetic parent in the future or what if something has emerged that would question whether a person would be a fit parent, such as committing a serious crime against a child.

In one case, a judge in a divorce case made the ruling that embryos are “community property” and that awarding the embryo to the wife was “just and right and a fair and equitable decision.” Later, that decision was overturned by the Court of Appeals for the First District because it was noted that the couple’s original contract was enforceable because it demonstrated “a voluntary unchanged mutual intention of the parties regarding disposition of the embryos upon divorce.” Another case with no previously written agreement, an earlier decision to award the frozen embryos to the wife was reversed by an appeals court on the grounds that the husband had a constitutional right not to be forced to father a child.

If this may be issue later some couples sign consent forms requiring both parents to agree to any release of their embryos should they divorce, and that if they cannot agree on what to do with the frozen embryos, then they would be donated to medical research. In a Tennessee case, the court awarded embryos to a wife and directed her to implant them in her body within a reasonable time. An appellate court reversed that decision because it was determined that the original embryo consent agreement should be upheld.

Cases similar to this one also make us think about whether a person that was part of a couple should force the other person to become a biological or genetic parent against their will. If the fertilization of an embryo takes place outside of a woman’s body, then it just makes logical and legal sense that both parties would and should get a say about what happens to them. If no agreement can be made then the issue becomes tricky and often complicated and this is one cases like the one happening in the media right now are so important.

If you have a similar case or questions about how this case may affect your own, it is recommended that you contact one of our compassionate and experienced Estate lawyers at the Higgins Firm. We will look over your case and answer and questions you may have. We will also work with you to fight for the best outcome for your particular case.

Please contact us today online or by calling 800.705.2121 to discuss your legal options.

Many people may believe that they do not have to be worried about federal estate tax if they do not make a large amount of money, but if you have a substantial amount of life insurance, own a home or have a good retirement account or plan, there are some things you need to think about and consider when it comes to estate tax. If you have questions or concerns about how estate tax may affect you and your family, you should talk to a estate planning lawyer at the Higgins Firm. We will help you to determine the best plan for you and answer any concerns you may have.

So, you may be asking what exactly is included in estate tax? Federal estate tax includes assets such as proceeds from any life insurance you may have, any house or property you own including vacation and rental properties. It also includes retirement plan accounts, vehicles, furniture, any valuable collectibles you may have and any other property and items you own. Finally, if you have shares in a family business or corporation those are also included.

If you are single, any life insurance coverage you may have is subject to federal estate tax. If you are married, it is not that big of an issue because the life insurance benefits would go to the surviving spouse tax free because of a marital deduction. However, this only applies if your spouse is a citizen of the United States.

It is important to know that the value of life insurance that you have “incidents of ownership” over will be included in estate tax when you pass away. Incidents of ownership include changing beneficiaries,canceling a policy, or borrowing from a policy. If you have these incidents of ownership it does not matter who you named as the beneficiary. If you have a life insurance policy for yourself and you name a family member has your beneficiary, when you pass away   the death benefits will be included in the estate tax even if the money never goes through your estate.

You have an option if you want to avoid estate tax on your life insurance. You can have an irrevocable trust set up but if you use a trust, you will not be able to change the beneficiary once the policy is in the trust. If you do not have life insurance or assets to think about due to the federal exemption, you may also need to think about death taxes in the state where you live. Finally, you will also have to deal with estate taxes if you name a guardian to take care of your young children or if you inherit money from a relative or friend that has passed away.

Estate planning and tax can be confusing and complicated because there are many things to consider that you may not be aware of even if you do not make large amounts of money. If you have questions about estate tax or want to start estate planning, it is a good idea to consult an estate planning attorney with the Higgins Firm. We have the experience and knowledgeable to go over all the options with you and let you know about any tax issues you may need to be concerned about. We care about our clients and will help you determine the best estate plan for your family so that they will be protected in the future.

 

Please contact us today online or by calling 800.705.2121 to discuss your legal options and any questions you may have.

 

When someone you love passes away, you may inherit property, money, or other possession if that person names you in a will. If there is no will, then a court may decide who gets to have what and you may get little to no say. It is not only important to have a will though, it is also important that you follow all the rules and guidelines about making sure a will is valid in your state. This is why if you are wanting to have a will drafted, it is a good idea to talk to a estate planning lawyer with the Higgins Firm. We will answer any questions or concerns you may and help you to draft a will that protects your property and loved ones even if you no longer around.

In a recent case, the Court of Appeals found a Will was invalid after one of the decedent’s heirs filed a will contest alleging that the decedent’s will was not properly executed.  Specifically, the heir argued that because the will was not signed by witnesses according to the law the Will should be thrown out.   Tennessee Code Annotated Section 32-1-104 requires that the testator and at least two witnesses sign a will any non-holographic will.

The decedent signed the second page of the will and then immediately after the testator’s signature began on the same page an “affidavit” of the witnesses, which continued onto a third page where the two witnesses signed the affidavit. The two witnesses signed the affidavit but did not sign any other section of the will. The appellate court ruled that the witnesses, therefore, did not actually sign the will. They signed a self-proving affidavit under a separate statute, Tennessee Code Annotated Section 32-2-110. Since the witnesses did not sign the will itself, the will was not valid due to improper execution and the decedent died without having a valid will.

If a person dies without a valid will a Tennessee court will decide how the estate gets distributed. If a person wants to contest a will, the three common grounds they may have to do so include improper execution, like in this particular case, lack of capacity, or undue influence. In Tennessee, a will is only valid if it is signed by the testator and two witnesses. The witnesses must sign the will while the testator is present. If it is contested that someone lacked the capacity to make a will, the court will take into consideration the testator’s physical health when the will was executed and their age and mental state. Finally, if a claim of undue influence is made, meaning that someone is accusing someone else of making a person create a will that benefits them, the whole will or a part of it may be determined to be invalid.

When a will is contested, there may be other technical issues to consider such as the lawyer who helped draft a will may be asked to testify or the will may state that anyone who wants to challenge the will may have to forfeit their right to any benefits they may receive.

Since there are specific laws in Tennessee concerning wills and different reasons a person may contest a will, it is crucial that a will be drafted and executed properly. In order to make sure that your will is valid when you pass away, you should consider speaking to an experienced and caring estate planning lawyer at the Higgins Firm. We will help you to make sure that your will is valid and we will also discuss with you any other options you may have to help you take care of your family and loved ones in the future.

You can contact us online or by calling 800.705.2121 to discuss your options and any questions you might have.