Most estate planning clients are either retired, elderly folks who are thinking about how to best leave their assets to their adult children and grandchildren, or are middle aged married couples making sure they have the right plan in place in case they pass away unexpectedly and leave minor children behind. Naming a guardian for the children and a trustee to administer a trust allows them to make those decisions, instead of a judge.

The age group least likely to have a will or estate plan in place? Millennials. And that makes sense. After all, young people have on average longer to live, may not yet have children, and fewer assets to worry about distributing. In fact, though, millennials need a regularly reviewed estate plan just as much if not more than those in other age groups. That’s because millennials are more likely than older generations to have unconventional family situations. They are more likely, for example, to be in committed relationships, including parenting relationships, without the legal protections afforded to married couples.

Under Tennessee law, if you pass away without a will, your individually held assets do not pass to your significant other unless you are married.

We were all shocked and saddened when film star Debbie Reynolds passed away just one day after her daughter, actress Carrie Fisher. Not only is it an extremely emotional time for the family, dealing with two deaths at the same time can complicate inheritance questions. For example, what if Ms. Fisher’s will left half of her estate to her mother, Ms. Reynolds, and the other half to her daughter, Billie Lourd. Since her mother died the next day, who should receive her share of Ms. Fisher’s estate? Should the mother’s will determine where it goes? Or should Ms. Fisher’s will? What if neither of them left a will?

This situation is not as uncommon as you might expect. Simultaneous or near-simultaneous deaths of family members can accompany any serious accident or natural disaster, and should be addressed during the will or trust planning process. Fortunately, the law in most states deals with this issue by requiring that an heir survive a decedent by so many days to be eligible for an inheritance. But a different provision in a will or trust would take priority over that rule.

In Tennessee, as in many states, unless a will, trust, or relevant contract specifies otherwise, an heir who dies within 120 hours of the decedent is deemed to have died first, for purposes of determining inheritance (See Tennessee’s Uniform Simultaneous Death Act).  In other words, for example, if Tennessee law applied, since Debbie Reynolds passed away less than 120 hours after her daughter, the mother’s estate would not include any inheritance from the daughter. Instead, Carrie Fisher’s will or trust would determine who receives her mother’s share of her estate.

It’s January! New Year’s resolutions are in full swing. We are collectively hitting the gym and committed to our diets (for now).

Here is another resolution you might want to consider: let 2017 be the year you (finally) get your estate plan in order. Most of my will clients tell me they have been intending to prepare their estate plan for months, even years. It’s just not the kind of thing that we often have time to put on the front burner.

In fact, surveys consistently show that more than half of American adults do not have a will or other estate plan in place. This is true even though statistics show approximately 100% of American adults will one day pass away.

Are you one of the 55% of American adults who do not have a Last Will and Testament in place? Or did you prepare yours years ago and need to revisit your estate plan? If so, the holidays can be a great time to get your affairs in order.

The end of the year can be a time of reflection, an opportunity to spend quality time with family and those closest to us. The holidays also inspire us to think clearly about our priorities, what is truly most important in life. It can be the perfect time to contemplate some of the central questions that a proper estate plan raises.

Who would you want to make health care decisions for you, or handle your finances, if you suddenly were in a situation that you could not handle them yourself? Who do you trust to be in charge of paying your debts and distributing the assets in your estate after you pass away? Who should take control of your online or social media accounts?

A Last Will and Testament is, of course, important to make sure that after you pass away your assets are distributed according to your wishes. But an important and often overlooked element of a proper estate plan is identifying those assets in the first place. When it comes to intellectual property – copyrights, trademarks, patents, trade secrets – knowing just what you own and the best way to protect those assets for your heirs requires an extra level of planning.

Here in Nashville (Music City, U.S.A.), clients have often written and/or recorded songs. Maybe they have value now, or maybe they could have value in the future. Either way, protecting that asset is an important consideration.

One of the most important steps is to be aware of which, if any, rights associated with your copyright may have been transferred to another individual or company, and which have been fully retained. A copyright is not like other property you may own, like your furniture, the contents of your bank account, or your home. A copyright is in fact a collection of rights – including the right to copy, perform publicly, and license – subject to certain deadlines, and provisions of federal law. Even if you have transferred certain rights related to your copyright ownership, you may have retained others.

Clients with a Last Will and Testament have often specified that their assets are to be distributed equally between their heirs, only to learn after a thorough estate planning review, that their even-handed intentions would not be carried out as they wish. Your Will may claim that property is to be divided equally, but if a life insurance policy, or your IRA, does not account for your youngest child, for example, or you have added one child as a joint owner to help out with your bank account, but not the others, your will does not undo those transfers and even out your childrens’ inheritance.

A comprehensive estate planning review is a necessary step toward protecting our loved ones after we pass away according to our wishes. As the scenario above indicates, this review requires more than simply preparing a will (or living trust), though that is of course an essential component of any estate plan.

An estate planning attorney can assist you in thinking through all of your assets and can advise regarding the best way to make sure that your goals are met, your wishes carried out.

Family estate plans are changing because families are changing. While many estate plans remain focused on providing for a spouse and children after passing away, more and more address complex considerations because of a blended family.

What if you have one child of your own from a previous marriage, and two children with your spouse, while your spouse has 1 child from a previous marriage. How should you care not only for your own children from a previous marriage, but also for your spouse’s children from their previous marriage or relationship?

This kind of planning requires open and frank discussion between spouses, and sometimes the adult children as well, so they are prepared for and understand your wishes. It also requires you to think through some difficult scenarios to make sure your estate plan prepares well for several contingencies. If you pass away before your spouse, how can you be sure your surviving spouse will provide for your own children? If your spouse passes away before you, to what extent should you care for their children? Do you anticipate conflict between your children over your respective estates?

I often hear from clients serious concerns about what to do with their home in their estate plan. Often at the top of their list is the desire to preserve a residence for one or more of their adult children. Part One of this 2-part series addressed ways to handle your home in your will in a way that preserves it as a residence for one of your children if they should need it.

Many clients also inquire about transferring their property to their children during their life, whether to maintain a residence for one of them, or in an attempt to protect against estate recovery by TennCare. Part Two addresses some of the methods of approaching this issue and the reasons why and why not you may want to make such a transfer.

Give your home out-right to your child during your life.

The family of former U.S. Senator and film/television star Fred Thompson, who passed away in November, 2015, are embroiled in a very public dispute over his estate plan.

His two adult sons from a previous marriage have filed a lawsuit claiming his widow, Jeri Thompson, improperly made changes to the plan during the last weeks of his life (you can read the complaint here). She has asked the court to dismiss the suit, countering that the only changes made were slight and did not impact the sons’ inheritance.

This case highlights a pair of estate planning trouble spots that can easily lead to family conflict, regardless of how well you plan or how good and thorough your attorney is: first, the challenge of blended families; and second, the difficulties surrounding when a loved one begins to lose the ability to care for him or herself.

I often hear from clients serious concerns about what to do with their home in their estate plan. Often at the top of their list is the desire to preserve a residence for one or more of their adult children.

In Tennessee, if you leave your home in your will to your children, they will own the property as tenants-in-common. In that case, nothing prohibits one of them from requiring the home to be sold, even if the others do not agree, and even if one of them lives there at the time. (see previous post on “partition actions” here)

There are reasonable options for addressing this worry in your Last Will and Testament.