Music legend Glen Campbell, who passed away last year after a lengthy and public bout with Alzheimer’s Disease, has been nominated posthumously for a Grammy award for his song, “Arkansas Farmboy.” But sadly he is in the news now for a very different reason: a family legal battle over his estate. A Nashville court hearing scheduled for February will address whether a 2006 Last Will and Testament left by Campbell is valid, in light of his mental capacity at the time, or whether a previous will is the lawful expression of his last wishes.

Sometimes, family disputes over a loved one’s estate plan are unavoidable. If you feel the need to leave out children, that can be especially controversial and hurtful. But with careful planning and open communication, the likelihood that your wishes will be clear and followed by the court can be increased, and the chances that your Will results in litigation can be minimized.

Here are five things you can do if you find yourself needing to leave family members, especially children, out of your will.

How much should you expect to pay to have your will or other estate planning documents put in place? As you might expect, that will depend on the nature of your estate planning needs, and the nature of the law firm you retain. Because the fee can vary greatly among legal service providers, it makes sense to obtain quotes and make inquiries from multiple law firms in your area before hiring an attorney. But know that the cheapest quote on a will is not necessarily the best deal; nor is it necessarily the best way to save money for yourself and ultimately your heirs. Here are four things you should consider when shopping for an attorney to prepare your Last Will and Testament and other estate planning needs.

  1. Flat Fee or Hourly Rate? While many legal services are charged by the hour, estate planning work including a Last Will and Testament is often charged at a flat fee rate, so that you will know exactly what you can expect to pay before you sign on with a firm to prepare your documents. Hourly rates can introduce uncertainty into the process, so be sure to find out how much you should expect to pay, and whether the fee will be due up front or at the signing. Ideally, fees will be transparent – even available on the firm’s website. A complete quote may be contingent on determining on the complexity of your will, but by the end of an initial consultation you should know what your costs will be for going ahead with that firm, and what will be included in that fee.
  2. What is included? Most attorneys are capable of turning your wishes into a lawful Last Will and Testament. However, a will should be constructed in the context of your entire plan. Does the fee include a general estate planning discussion? In addition, wills are often packaged with other essential documents everyone should have in place – not to plan for their death but for the contingencies of life: a health care power of attorney, a living will, and a general power of attorney. You can typically execute all four (4) documents for only slightly more than a will alone. Many firms offer package deals for couples. Even better, some firms include free consultations for your loved ones after you pass away. This can give you the peace of mind that your family will know where to turn for help after your death.

A General Durable Power of Attorney is one of four basic estate planning documents I recommend for every client, along with a Last Will and Testament, a Living Will, and a Health Care Power of Attorney. They often ask, “Why do I need a Power of Attorney (POA)? I have all my faculties and am perfectly capable of taking care of my own affairs.” The answer is: that’s exactly the best time to execute one.

Through a General Power of Attorney, you authorize one or more individuals to step into your shoes and take action on your behalf, in your place, as your agent, or “attorney-in-fact.” What can an attorney-in-fact do for you? Just about anything that you can do for yourself. And while you may have no need for that kind of help, that can change in a tragic heartbeat. Now, while you are capable of making an important decision with a clear head, and have the time to do so, is when you should take care of this life planning tool.

You should name at least one person to serve as your agent, and one alternate, to serve in case your first choice is unable to serve. Who should it be? If you are married, it makes good sense to name your spouse. For an alternate, you might name one of your adult children. It could also be a close friend who knows you and your affairs well. The most important characteristic about an attorney-in-fact is that you must have complete trust in them to use this authorization wisely and honorably in their best interest. Someone who is good with money,  is organized and keeps good records, lives near by or can be near by quickly, and with whom you have a very strong relationship, is the best kind of individual to name.

Procrastination is one of the biggest hurdles we all face in getting our estate planning done. Most Tennesseans know they need a will and other coordinated documents in place. We intend to get to it at some point, but feel too busy, or lack the pressing motivation, to contact an attorney and complete this essential life step. Some people even mistakenly believe they have no need for a will, maybe because they don’t own much, or because their “kids will get it anyway.”

If any of that sounds like you, this post is written with you in mind. Here are six (6) important reasons why you need a will (and 2 reasons why you shouldn’t wait).

  1. Be in control of naming your heirs. Without a will, state law determines which of your family members will receive your property. A recent probate client was left administering an estate to which the rightful heirs under Tennessee law were more than 25 cousins and 2nd cousins, many of whom did not even know the decedent. If you want your property to be chopped into dozens of shares and distributed to people you don’t know or maybe don’t like, then be sure not to have a will in place!

A Revocable Living Trust is a common and popular tool of estate planning. As opposed to trusts that are created in a will and take effect after a person’s death, a living trust is created by a person (called the Grantor) during their life. The trust can own any of their assets; it names a trustee to handle the trust (including often themselves), as well as subsequent trustees to manage the estate if they are unable. The trustee is typically granted broad discretion to use trust assets for the benefit of the Grantor.

Then, after the Grantor passes away, the trust names a trustee to handle the assets according to the terms of the trust, which then function in a similar manner as a will. Living trusts are popular because, ideally, they allow loved ones to avoid the probate process, in which the administration of an estate is overseen by a court. In some cases, it can be time consuming, sometimes costly, and cannot be kept private.

Here is one significant challenge with a living trust. Any assets that are owned by a person individually and not owned by their trust are part of the individual’s estate, and not part of the trust estate when a person dies. Steps must be taken to place assets in the trust. If sufficient assets are owned by the deceased individual and not the trust, then probate may still have to be opened to handle the estate, and the primary purpose of establishing the trust would be undermined.

What can you do if a loved one passes away and you did not have a close relationship? Maybe your father is in a second marriage with children and you only spoke with him a few times a year. Or you are recently estranged from a family member or their close circle. You know that you may be entitled to an inheritance but are not sure. You don’t know if they had a will, or what it said if they did, or even what kind of assets they owned when they passed away. How do you find out?

We hear from lots of people who are in this situation due to second families or difficult family disputes that sadly went unresolved. Just because you were not in touch with a loved one toward the end of their life, or have a strong relationship with their spouse or children, does not mean you are not entitled to an inheritance in Tennessee.

There are several steps you can take, or work with a Tennessee attorney to make inquiries and conduct research on your behalf.

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?

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