Articles Posted in Probate

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.

What if your spouse has passed away and you were left out of their Last Will and Testament?

Maybe the Will was prepared before you were married, or before you even met. Maybe they intentionally attempted to disinherit you. Do you have any options as a surviving spouse? In Tennessee, the answer is yes. Tennessee law protects the surviving spouse from being left out in the cold.

But it is important to secure those rights according to the timelines and procedures laid out in the law.

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.

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.

The world tragically lost a Blue’s icon recently and it looks like the families troubles are continuing in probate court. The four daughters of the late musical icon BB King, Patty King, Karen Williams, Rita Washington and Barbara Winfree, have had their lawyer file new legal documents in probate court, indicating that there is another will by their father who in his 2007 will named his long-time business manager, LaVerne Toney, as the sole executor of the estate. Riletta Mitchell, another daughter was listed second, but she died in September of last year.

Apparently, BB King’s daughters have been at odds with LaVerne Toney and Myron Johnson, another personal aide for months. They claim that Toney misappropriated funds and mistreated BB King before his death, and also claim King had been poisoned. According to news sources, in the legal papers, the daughters only accuse Toney of being unqualified to be the executor of BB King’s estate.

BB King’s daughters also allege that Toney denied King the proper medical care he needed and also changed the locks on his home so that when the BB King died on May 14th, he had no family and friends with him. A lawyer representing Toney and the estate dismisses the claims and states that they are completely ludicrous’ and ‘unsubstantiated by any true facts’. These new accusations come before the daughters are scheduled to appear in court for a hearing regarding BB King’s will.

Recently, I appeared on Nashville’s News Channel 5 Talk of the Town Extra to talk about the basics of probate in Tennessee. If you have recently experienced the loss of a loved one, you know how hard things can be during such a trying time. For that reason, our firm is able to assist and advise you throughout the process. Whether you need help transferring a piece of real estate after someone has passed or need assistance with a small estate, The Higgins Firm is here to help you and your family. The following video provides some of the basic information about probate in Tennessee. If you have any further questions regarding probate, contact the Nashville probate lawyers at The Higgins Firm.

While it seems as though you can be taxed for almost anything these days, there is good news for those who may be worried about potential inheritance taxes in Tennessee. Many states have made a push to eliminate inheritance taxes in an effort to draw new residents and businesses. Tennessee has followed suit. The Tennessee state legislature has enacted legislation to gradually increase the inheritance tax exemption amount before completely eliminating the tax in 2016.

The Tennessee inheritance tax exemption allows for any estate valued under the set amount to be exempt from paying the inheritance tax. Only if the value of the estate rises above the set exemption amount is the estate required to pay the Tennessee inheritance tax. The tax rate ranges from 5.5% at the lower end to upwards of 9.5% at its highest. The exemption amount for a decedent’s estate is currently $2,000,000 for any decedent’s death occurring in 2014. That exemption amount increases to $5,000,000 beginning January 1, 2015. On January 1, 2016, the Tennessee inheritance tax is completely eliminated.

The Tennessee Department of Revenue is the organization tasked with levying the state’s inheritance tax. Although an estate may be well under the exemption amount, the personal representative of an estate is still required to provide the Tennessee Department of Revenue with the value of the estate. If the estate is valued at under $1,000,000, a sworn affidavit can be filed with the probate court attesting to the fact that the estate is indeed under the exemption amount and therefore is not owed. This sworn affidavit is known as the Affidavit Waiving Tennessee Inheritance Tax Return, and it functions to release the estate from any taxes owed. If the estate is valued at more than $1,000,000 but still less than the exemption amount, the personal representative is required to file a Tennessee inheritance tax return with the Department of Revenue outlining the assets comprising the estate. The Tennessee Department of Revenue then grants a release to the personal representative of the estate which is filed with the probate court.

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.

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.