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The landscape of the American population is ever changing. In 1970, approximately one-third of Americans age 15 and older were single. In 2013, that number had risen to nearly one-half. With a growing population of single individuals, it is important to recognize the implications on estate planning. While much of the attention on estate planning may focus on those who are married and have families of their own, the reality is that estate planning can be even more important for those who are single. Those included within the singles population may include divorced individuals, those who have never married, and widowed individuals. If you have questions about how estate planning may affect you, contact the Nashville estate planning lawyers at The Higgins Firm.

Each state has enacted laws that determine where a person’s assets should pass without a will or trust in place. These laws, known as the laws of intestacy, are the default rules for asset transfer following a death. Under the laws of intestacy, assets end up passing to the closest relatives in equal shares without exception. Depending on your particular situation, this transfer may not be what you would desire. For example the laws of intestacy in Tennessee do not provide for the transfer of assets to close friends, more distant relatives, domestic partners, or charitable organization no matter how close you may have actually been to the person or organization. For this very reason, it is important to set forth your specific wishes in an estate planning document like a will.

In addition, it is equally as important for single people to explicitly appoint someone to handle financial and medical affairs in the event that he or she was unable to make decisions for him or herself. Often a power of attorney for finances or health care can be utilized to allocate decision making authority to another individual. With married people, that responsibility will naturally lie with the spouse. However, with a single person, that decision may lie potentially with a relative who may not know your desires or even a stranger appointed by the state. Without having a spouse or child to rely upon, choosing the right person to serve in that role can be crucial to ensuring that your needs are met for your finances and health care.

Similarly, designating a beneficiary on certain accounts like a retirement account can be very important for those who may be single. By listing a beneficiary on an account, the listed individual will be able to inherit the account without the need for probate. These beneficiary designations will supersede anything that is listed within a will. Otherwise, by listing the estate as the beneficiary of an account or simply leaving the beneficiary designation blank, the funds from the account will be considered a part of the estate and will be administered according to the laws of intestacy in the probate court.  Choosing a designated beneficiary can be a great way for single people to ensure that a portion of their assets are passed to the right person.

If you have questions regarding how your marital status or family situation may affect estate planning, contact the Tennessee estate planning attorneys at The Higgins Firm. Our Nashville based lawyers would be happy to answer your questions.

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Life is full of change. Many of those life changes can reach much farther than people realize. While a large portion of the population has been affected by a divorce, often those individuals do not understand the impact that it may have on their estate planning documents. Exactly what happens to a last will and testament or power of attorney after there has been a divorce? It is important to understand what can happen if your documents are not updated. If you have questions how a major life change may affect your estate plan, contact the Nashville estate planning lawyers at The Higgins Firm.

One of the most basic estate planning documents is the last will and testament. What impact does a divorce have on a will in Tennessee? If a will is executed by an individual who later becomes divorced, Tennessee law eliminates the ability of the former spouse to recover under the will. Similarly, the divorce also revokes any power of appointment or nomination of the former spouse as executor, conservator, or guardian within the will. Should the individual desire to keep the former spouse as a beneficiary of the will or have the former spouse appointed, the will would expressly need to provide that the specific Tennessee statute does not apply. Only a divorce or annulment will result in the automatic revocation. A divorce will have the same effect preventing a former spouse from recovering from an individual who died intestate, or without a will. A formal separation of the spouses will not revoke the ability to recover under the will or under the laws of intestacy. If you have gone through a divorce or separation, it is important to update your will shortly thereafter to ensure that your assets pass to the individuals that you so desire.

However, a divorce will not automatically revoke a former spouse from recovering as a designated beneficiary. A beneficiary designation on any life insurance policy or other death benefits is considered to be a contract between the participant and the company or organization issuing the policy. Because these beneficiary designations are considered to be contractual, the designation can only be changed by complying with the terms of the contract, generally a written beneficiary designation form. In other words, a divorce or drafting a new will cannot automatically revoke a former spouse’s beneficiary designation. It is very important to change these designations shortly following a divorce.

One other area of estate planning potentially impacted by a divorce is with a power of attorney for health care or advance directive. A power of attorney for health care or advance medical directive will automatically revoke a former spouse’s authority as the “attorney-in-fact” under the document. Following a divorce, the former spouse no longer has the ability to make decisions regarding the health care of a former spouse. Despite the automatic revocation, it is important to have listed an alternate in place to serve in such a role or to draft a completely new document appointing someone to serve in that particular role.

In contrast, a financial power of attorney, which is a completely separate estate planning document, will not be automatically revoked upon divorce or annulment. The Tennessee statute that revokes a power of attorney for health care does not specifically revoke a financial power of attorney. For that reason, it is very important to update your financial power of attorney following a divorce.

If you have questions regarding your estate planning documents, contact the Tennessee estate planning attorneys at The Higgins Firm.

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This time of year brings families together to enjoy food, fellowship, and maybe even a little football. Whether your Thanksgiving involves a small gathering of close friends or a large get-together with distant relatives, this is a time to be thankful for all of those loved ones in our lives. As you meet with your loved ones, it is a great opportunity to think about your estate plan. Being around your family may help you evaluate who would best serve in certain roles or who may need some extra protection in the future.

While your estate plan may not be your first concern, having an estate plan in place should be a priority. After all, having an estate plan in place can provide you with the peace of mind that your loved ones are cared for. You may be wondering what exactly makes up an estate plan? In its most basic form an estate plan is comprised of legal documents that explain where you want your assets to go or who you want to make decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so.

A last will and testament is one of the most important parts of an estate plan. In its most basic form, a will documents where a person’s assets should pass upon death. However, a will does much more including the ability to set up a trust, nominate a trustee to manage the trust, nominate a guardian for any minor children, and nominate a potential executor of the estate.  Communicating these decisions to any family members can allow for a helpful discussion and can eliminate any surprises down the road.

Another important document that can comprise an estate plan is a power of attorney. A power of attorney allocates the ability or authority to act on another’s behalf. For instance, a power of attorney may enable someone else to handle your finances. This document can be drafted to provide a wide range of powers to another individual including everything from banking to deeding property. A power of attorney can also be drafted to become effective only during certain circumstances like the incapacity of the individual. When talking with your loved ones, you may want to consider who may best serve as power of attorney.

An advance health care directive is another important document that can comprise an estate plan. This directive provides what type of care that you may want in a given situation if you were unable to make those decisions regarding your health care. A living will is a type of advance health care directive. These documents can ensure that you are given the care that you so desire. Openly discussing these decisions can provide peace of mind to loved ones knowing that your wishes are met.

There are also a number of other estate planning documents that may be suited for you and your family depending on the particular situation. If you or your loved ones have questions about estate planning in Tennessee, contact The Higgins Firm. Our Nashville based estate planning attorneys would be happy to speak with you.

 

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Recently, attorney Jim Higgins stopped by Nashville’s NewsChannel 5 Talk of the Town Extra to discuss some steps to take when meeting with a Tennessee probate attorney after a death. When a person passes away, you may not exactly know where to turn next. If you have been nominated as an executor of an estate, you understandably may feel overwhelmed with so much to do. Often an estate will need to go through the probate court to ensure that creditors are paid and assets are distributed. A Tennessee probate attorney can help you through the probate process. The video below discusses what steps should be taken when meeting with a Tennessee probate attorney after a death. If you have any further questions regarding the probate process in Tennessee, contact the Nashville probate lawyers at The Higgins Firm.

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You have probably been told before that a day signified a certain nationwide event like National Donut Day or National Hot Dog Day. Often these days are used to celebrate and bring awareness to certain areas in life. The same goes for estate planning. October 20-26 marks this year’s National Estate Planning Awareness Week. While National Estate Planning Awareness Week does not sound like as much fun as National Donut Day, it does seem to hold much more importance. With upwards of 120 million Americans who are lacking an up-to-date estate plan to protect themselves or their families in the event of untimely sickness, accidents, or even death, obviously this week emphasizes the value of having an updated estate plan in place.

So why is having an estate plan so important? An estate plan can ensure that your loved ones are provided for if you were to pass away or that a loved one is able to make a decision on your behalf if you were unable to do so. In a general sense, an estate plan is typically comprised of legal documents that designate your specific decisions to a number of choices thereby eliminating any potential uncertainty.

One of the most basic estate planning documents is a last will and testament. This document primarily directs where you would want your assets to pass in the event of your death. Without a will, state statutes will determine where your assets would pass upon your death. A will can also direct who should be appointed as a guardian for any minor children. A will can also direct who you want to act as the executor of your estate. It is important for adults of any age to have a last will and testament in place.

Another important estate planning document includes a power of attorney. This document can allocate authority to another individual to act on your behalf in regard to finances, health care, or other areas. A power of attorney can be customized to apply in only certain circumstances or more broadly. This estate planning document can be a great tool to utilize in the event that an individual is incapacitated and unable to make decisions.

Many estate plans also include an advance directive. This legal document outlines what type of medical care that you would want in the event that you were incapacitated or at the end stages of your life. A living will designates whether you would want life prolonging treatment for end of life care. Having this document in place can ensure that your decisions are known and not a potential burden on a loved one struggling with such a hard choice.

Whether you are looking to draft your estate plan or merely looking to update it, contact our Tennessee estate planning attorneys at The Higgins Firm. Our Nashville based estate planning lawyers would be happy to talk you through the steps and answer any potential questions that you may have as it relates to you and your loved ones.

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While the word “probate” encompasses a number of definitions, it is typically used to define the court process of transferring a decedent’s assets. Probate has seemingly gained a bad reputation in a number of states due to certain factors like the length of time and expense of a case. However, that reputation may be undeserving here in Tennessee. Every state has established different probate laws and procedures. The great thing about Tennessee is that often probate does not require the time or expense that it would require within other states. In in an effort to shorten the proceedings and cut down on costs, Tennessee has established expedited probate procedures that can be utilized in certain situations depending on the type or size of assets within an estate. For instance, a small estate may be utilized for personal property totaling under $50,000. In addition, probating a will for muniment of title can provide for the transfer of real estate to a beneficiary more easily. And in some cases, probate may not be needed at all. If a decedent left behind assets that were jointly owned or that had beneficiary designations, you may not even have to utilize the probate court to transfer those assets. Even if an estate needs to be fully probated, Tennessee is known for its relatively easy probate process. If you have questions about your options in probating an estate, contact the Nashville probate lawyers at The Higgins Firm. Our probate attorneys would be happy to guide you through the Tennessee probate process.

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In dealing with a tough family situation, many times stress and turmoil can become magnified causing even the closest of families to disagree on a number of issues. Whether it is disagreeing about the way an estate should be administered or who should be put in charge to handle a loved one’s finances, unfortunately these disagreements can have a lasting impact within a family. Parents may simply assume that any beneficiaries would get along and be on the same page if anything were to ever happen. However, any potential rifts can be prevented with proper estate planning. The following provides some easy ways to prevent any potential feuds or disputes when a stressful situation arises.

Having a Health Care Directive and Power of Attorney

If a parent becomes seriously ill and is unable to make decisions for him or herself, many seemingly simple decisions can become complicated. The parent may not be able to handle his or her finances. If one of the children attempts to take over the financial matters, there is obviously the potential for issues between the children. One child may think that he is more apt to handle the finances while another child may think that she is better suited. Having a power of attorney allows the parent to choose who her or she thinks is best suited to handle the finances if a situation arises. There is much less room for a dispute knowing that the parent has made the decision. Similarly, having a health care directive like a living will can ensure that the parent has his or her decisions written down rather than assuming that mom or dad would have wanted or not wanted certain treatment in a situation.

Having a Last Will and Testament

If a parent passes away without a last will and testament, there is a large potential for feuding between the children. Without a will to determine how assets be distributed, issues can arise when attempting to distribute personal property. You cannot divide a car four different ways as you could with a bank account. By putting forth your wishes in a last will and testament as to how you want your property distributed, you can removes the potential for any disputes. Similarly, a parent can nominate an executor of his or her estate within a will. An executor is the individual responsible for handling the administration of an estate after someone dies. By nominating an executor, it eliminates the issue of determining who should serve in that particular role. Jealousy or worries about an abuse of power can often lead to arguments about serving as a personal representative of an estate. Courts will often defer to this nomination in a will instead of having to make a determination as to who would be best to serve as a personal representative of an estate.

Communication

While implementing these estate planning documents can go a long way to quell any potential family disputes, it is still important for the parent to communicate his or her decision to the children. This communication allows all of the children to be on the same page as to the decisions that have been made. For instance, a parent may choose to leave a family heirloom to one child over another for specific reasons. By communicating his or her rationale, the parent can ensure that all of the children are aware of the reasoning behind the specific gift.

If you have questions about Tennessee estate planning, contact our Nashville estate planning attorneys at The Higgins Firm.

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An increasing number of elderly individuals in Tennessee have begun adding their children as joint account owners on their bank account. Understandably, older parents may need assistance in paying their bills or managing their finances. However, it is important to understand the risks in adding a joint owner and the alternatives that people have. If you have questions about what alternatives you or your loved ones may have, contact The Higgins Firm.

In adding a child as a joint account owner on a bank account, many parents do not understand the impact that action can potentially have on a person’s estate. If a parent passes away leaving only one of their children as the joint account owner, that child would be considered the sole legal owner of the account. He or she would not be required to distribute the assets to anyone else as the sole owner of the account. The decedent’s Will would not have any authority as to any potential distribution of the assets because the decedent did not have sole ownership. A will only determines how assets should pass if the asset was solely owned at the time of the decedent’s death. A parent will want to take this into account when developing an estate plan.

Another potential issue in adding a child as a joint account owner is the issue of creditors. When individuals become joint owners of an account, that asset is obviously considered to be jointly owned. If the child who co-owns an account is subject to the claim of a potential creditor like in a lawsuit, then the account is considered to be the child’s asset and would be subject to the claim of the creditor. Similarly, if the child was dealing with bankruptcy proceedings, that asset would be considered to be a part of his or her assets and would thereby be subject to the bankruptcy proceeding. It is important to understand such risk in adding a joint account owner.

So what options are there for people who may need assistance with their finances? A properly executed power of attorney is one way to avoid potential issues. By granting authority to another individual to handle finances, a person can avoid adding a joint account owner and the problems that may cause. If you have questions about a power of attorney, contact the Nashville estate planning lawyers at The Higgins Firm.

 

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If you have experienced the death of a loved one, you know that the period of time following his or her passing can be a confusing and trying time. You may not know what to do or where to turn. If the person who passed, also known as the decedent, left behind assets, there are certain requirements that must be met in order to transfer those assets to the rightful recipients under the law. Those assets may or may not be required to go through the probate process in Tennessee. If you have questions about Tennessee probate, contact one of our Nashville probate attorneys.

Following the death of a loved one, one of the first things that should be done is a review of the decedent’s important documents. Many people may keep all of their essential documents together in a file or in a particular location. Reviewing these documents will help you to have a better picture as to discovering what types of assets or debts that the decedent may have had. An inspection of ownership documents of an asset can also enable you to determine whether or not an asset is a probate or a non-probate asset.

Also, looking through these documents may allow you to determine whether the decedent left behind a will or not. A will is used by the probate court to determine where any probate assets should be distributed. As mentioned above, there are both probate assets and non-probate assets. The probate courts in Tennessee will oversee the transfer of any probate assets.

Probate assets may include any type of property that was solely owned by the decedent that did not have a beneficiary designation. For instance, a probate asset may be a bank account that was solely owned by the decedent. However, non-probate assets are not overseen by the probate court. Non-probate assets may be transferred by way of contract or other designations that do not need the approval of the court. Non-probate assets may include any assets that were jointly owned with the decedent or any assets that had a beneficiary listed. For instance, a bank account may be a non-probate asset if it was jointly owned with another person or had a payable on death designation. Many people will attempt to avoid their assets having to go through probate by adding these designations.

Once you have determined whether or not you have any probate assets, there are options as to what type of Tennessee probate proceeding may be utilized to transfer that particular asset. Any probate assets totaling less than $50,000 that do not include real property may be transferred using Tennessee’s Small Estate Act. The probate courts use this Small Estate proceeding as an expedited form of probate for more modestly sized estates. One other expedited procedure to show the transfer of real property via will is probating the will for muniment of title. By probating the will for muniment of title, the court is able to probate the will (determine its validity) and show the chain of title to the property. The court order is then typically recorded with the register of deeds to evidence the chain of title. If the assets comprising the estate include real property and other probate assets, you likely will need to fully probate the estate. Although fully probating an estate can take more time, it ensures that the assets are transferred to the rightful recipient.

If you have any questions about potentially an estate, contact the Nashville probate lawyers at The Higgins Firm.

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Recently attorney Jim Higgins stopped by WSMV’s Better Nashville to discuss the differences between a power of attorney and a conservatorship in Tennessee. Both of a power of attorney and conservatorship enable another person to make decisions or take actions on an individual’s behalf. However, there are different circumstances as to when each of these legal actions should be utilized. For instance, a power of attorney is a legal form utilized when the principal, or person granting the decision making authority, is mentally capable of granting that power to another person. In contrast, a conservatorship is a legal proceeding in which a court designates another individual, the conservator, to make decisions and take actions on behalf of the ward. The video below provides some further insight into the benefits of each. If you have any questions regarding a power of attorney or a conservatorship in Tennessee, contact The Higgins Firm.