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Having entered the New Year you may have created a list of resolutions that you hope to accomplish sometime during 2015. Some may be looking to exercise more, eat healthier, or even save some more money. Although it may not be one of the first things that you think of in setting your resolutions, estate planning is a goal that can be easily accomplished without spending too much money or time. If you have questions about your estate plan, contact the Nashville estate planning attorneys at The Higgins Firm.

So you may be wondering what exactly an estate plan is. In its most basic form, an estate plan is a set of legal documents that explicitly set forth your decision on a number of issues. One of the fundamental estate planning documents is a last will and testament. Most people think of a last will and testament, more commonly known as a will, as designating where you want your assets to go upon your death. However, a will can also do so much more. A will can also nominate someone to handle the administrative affairs of an individual after he or she has died. This individual is known as the executor of the estate. A will can similarly nominate someone to serve as the guardian of any minor children in the event of a death. Courts often look to a will to determine if the deceased parent had a preference for choosing a guardian.

Another important estate planning document is a power of attorney. This document allocates authority to another individual to act on your behalf. You as the grantor of the power are able to specify in what circumstances the agent is able to act on your behalf. Some may choose to grant a wide range of powers to the agent while others may choose to grant only very specific powers to their agent. Similarly, some may choose to have the document only become effective upon the incapacity of the grantor while other choose to have the document and its powers become effective upon the signing of the document. There are two different types of power of attorney documents. One is a power of attorney for finances which can include the ability to conduct business, write checks, contract, etc. The other is a power of attorney for health care which enables the agent to make health care decisions for a person who may not be able to make decisions regarding his or her own health. A power of attorney can be a useful tool in the event that you are no longer able to make decisions for yourself.

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.

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.

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.

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.

When thinking about what to leave to loved ones after you have passed away, you may first think of your bank account, car, or house. While many people choose to leave their tangible assets to specific individuals in a will after they have died, more and more people are choosing to leave behind their digital assets. Although many will not think of their digital assets when creating their estate plan, digital assets often can be very valuable. In addition, these non-tangible assets can also be harder to pass down to your loved ones due to their nature. Specifically, you cannot exactly hold or move your social media or email accounts like a painting or television. You often need to know certain information to access these assets. If you have a question about passing down your digital assets, contact the Nashville estate planning lawyers at The Higgins Firm.

Possessing digital assets is a growing trend that shows no signs of slowing down. Many people store their music, pictures, or other information online. Whether the assets contain actual monetary value or merely sentimental value, you as the owner have the ability to choose what should happen to those assets after you are gone. People may want to pass along their Facebook, Twitter, blog, or email accounts to loved ones. Other types of digital assets may include website domain names, online stored documents, online bank accounts, iTunes accounts, or anything similar. The choice to pass on any of these assets should be left up to you.

One of the best ways to pass on your virtual assets is through your will or estate plan. You can choose to specifically grant your heirs access to your digital assets through these legal documents. Designating a digital executor can allow this person to have access to these items. Although this will grant the individual legal authority for access, some user-service agreements and laws may restrict access. Unfortunately, some of these agreements and laws are behind the trend of passing on these digital assets.

Recently, I have received several inquiries regarding the validity of an out of state will or a will that was drafted outside of Tennessee. Many people want to know whether their will that was drafted in another state like Colorado or Florida has the same effect as a will drafted in Tennessee. It’s obviously a great question because there are a number of technicalities that can easily nullify the validity of a will. The ramifications of an invalid will can spell trouble for all of those involved. The good news is that most states have the same or very similar requirements for what are known as attested wills. Although there are different types of wills, attested wills are the most common and are typically typed up by an attorney or legal service and signed by the testator (the person whose will it is). If you have questions about your will, be sure to contact the Nashville wills attorneys at The Higgins Firm.

In Tennessee, there are general requirements for any type of will to be valid. These general requirements go to the qualifications of the testator. First, the testator must actually intend that the particular instrument or document operates as his or her will at the time of its signing. Also, the testator must also be over the age of 18, the age of majority in Tennessee. In addition, the testator must be “of sound mind,” which means the person must have the mental capacity to understand that he or she is executing a will and its effect.

Similar to the general requirements for a will, there are certain requirements specifically for the execution of a valid attested will. These requirements go to the execution or signing of the document. Attested wills must be signed by the testator or by another person at the testator’s direction and in his or her presence. Also, there must be two witnesses. The testator must sign the will (or acknowledge his or her previous signature or the will) in each of the witnesses’ presence. Further, the witnesses must sign in the testator’s presence.  The testator must also inform the witnesses that he or she is signing a will rather than another legal document. Finally, the witnesses must sign in the presence of each other.

Working as a Tennessee estate and probate attorney, I get questions from people all of the time regarding some of the basic issues about my field. Many of the people that I talk with are often worried about specific legal technicalities in estate planning. There are a number of seemingly small actions that can have a large legal impact on a person’s legal documents and estate. I am happy to provide people with a basic understanding of the law and what to do to comply with it.

One of the questions I recently received was regarding the revocation of a will. This individual asked, “I have an old will. How do I revoke the will?” Fortunately, this is one of the easier questions that I get asked.

There are a number of ways to revoke a will, but one of the best ways is to create a new will. Often one of the first lines within a will includes a clause that revokes any existing wills or codicils. Upon executing a valid will, this clause thereby revokes any previous will that has already been executed. This can be important if you lose a will and the estate later becomes contested. By having a valid newer will that has revoked any previous wills, the probate court will obviously look to the most recent will in determining how to handle the person’s estate.

Having an estate plan in place is important for every individual. An estate plan is a set of legal documents that sets forth what you would want to happen to your assets if you were to die or become incapacitated. An estate plan can also establish a decision maker in the event that you are no longer able to make decisions for yourself. A Nashville estate planning attorney can help you draft the necessary documents that you need to protect your assets and provide for your loved ones.

There are a number of key steps involved to drafting your estate plan. The following will provide you with some of the most important steps:

1. Inventory Your Assets and Debts

Now that we have entered 2014, you may or may not still be keeping your New Year’s resolutions. Hopefully, your resolutions are going strong and you have developed great habits throughout your life. However, if you have already slipped back into the habit of eating a little more junk food than you planned on doing, that does not mean that you should give up on all of your plans for this year. Similarly, you should resolve to review your estate planning documents. There are a number of reasons why you should periodically review your estate planning documents. Doing so can make sure that you are set for 2014 and beyond.

Reviewing Your Will Following Major Life Changes

It is always important to review your will following any of your major life changes. Whether you recently had a child, got married, or lost a loved one, each of these major life events can impact your will. As a result, you should review your will for any potential updates that need to be made.  If you’ve recently had or adopted a child, you should update your will. Similarly, if you have gotten married, you will want to add your spouse to your will.

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