Experienced Clarksville Estate Planning Attorneys Ready To Serve You
Estate planning, wills, trusts and probate – end-of-life matters can be overwhelming. The Clarksville estate planning lawyers of Batson Nolan PLC are here to make preparing easier for you and the ones you love.
Our Estate Planning Services
The estate planning and probate attorneys at Batson Nolan PLC handle end-of-life legal matters with dignity and integrity. We offer a full range of legal services, including drafting wills, advice on powers of attorney and medical directives, living wills, revocable trusts, special needs trusts, charitable planning, prenuptial and postnuptial planning, family limited partnerships and other gifting vehicles.
Our Clarksville estate planning lawyers also represent individuals and corporate fiduciaries in matters involving conservatorships, guardianships, probate and trust administration. We have experience in probate and trust-related litigation, including contested conservatorship and guardianship proceedings, will contests and undue influence proceedings.
Knowing where to begin can be one of the hardest parts of planning for an end-of-life plan. With so much to do to prepare for a time few people want to think about, it can be tempting to put off planning your end-of-life affairs. But peace of mind for yourself and your loved ones cannot be overstated if the unthinkable happens. If you are struggling to get started, working through the following steps may help.
Create Or Update Your Will
One of the first things you should do is ensure your loved ones will know what to do when the time comes. When people have a will, they can explain precisely what they want to happen to their assets when they die. However, if a person dies without creating a valid will, called dying “intestate,” Tennessee law dictates how your property is distributed. These intestacy laws establish who will receive your assets and in what percentages, favoring your spouse and children, and then moving through your relatives, from grandchildren, to parents, to siblings and beyond.
List your debts and assets and consider how you would like them handled or distributed. You may want to include assets such as your home and other real property, bank accounts and cash, stocks, bonds and other investment properties, businesses and intellectual property and valued personal property such as cars, art or jewelry. Common debts include mortgages, car loans, medical bills, student loans, credit card debts and property liens.
Depending on your unique circumstances, there may be more considerations you will want your estate plan to take into account. For example:
- Who would you like to serve as executor of your estate?
- If you have minor children, who would you like to serve as their guardian?
- Do you want to establish a trust to benefit a person or a charity?
- If you have pets, how would you like to see them cared for?
Bringing your list of debts and assets and thinking through what you would like to happen puts you ahead of the curve for your first meeting with your attorney. But if this all still seems too overwhelming, there is no need to fret. Your attorney will meet you where you are, whether you have detailed plans for every item you own or are unsure if you know everything you own.
Choose An Executor And A Guardian For Your Children
Your executor is responsible for carrying out the directives listed in your will. You should select someone you trust to respect your wishes and who you believe can effectively manage to distribute your assets, likely with an attorney’s assistance. If you die without a will, you lose the ability to designate your executor.
Choosing who may serve as your children’s guardian is not easy. Ultimately, the court appoints a guardian who will care for your children if you pass away while they are minors. However, the court usually defers to parental preferences whenever practical. Ensuring the person or people you select know you chose them and will be able to take on the responsibility is vital to the planning process.
Create A Trust
Whether you should establish a trust to manage your assets on someone else’s behalf depends on your goals and individual circumstances. When you create a trust within your will, that trust is known as a testamentary trust. One common testamentary trust is a minor’s trust. This trust allows you to provide a certain age at which a beneficiary can receive their inheritance, for example, at age 25 instead of 18. You can also structure the trust to stagger distributions based on the child’s age.
Trusts may allow you greater control over when your beneficiaries receive assets. They may also provide tax advantages over passing your assets directly through your will.
Create An Advance Healthcare Directive (Or “Living Will”)
Unfortunately, it takes only moments for everything to change when it comes to your health. When you create an advance health care directive, also known as a living will, you can explain what you would like to happen if you cannot make future health care decisions. Your living will typically covers your preferences on:
- Mechanical ventilation
- Being fed by tubes
- Being placed on dialysis
- Receiving antibiotics and antivirals
- Comfort care
- Donating your organs or body
Your living will is your chance to explain what lifesaving treatments, if any, you consent to and what you would like to have happen to your body when you pass.
Designate A Health Care Power Of Attorney
Along with your living will, you will want to designate a health care power of attorney. You want to select someone you trust to enforce your living will and make decisions about your health care for situations your living will does not cover. Your health care power of attorney is your advocate, so you should ensure they know your preferences to the extent possible and are prepared to take on the role.
Designate A Financial Power Of Attorney
You should also designate a financial power of attorney. Your financial power of attorney can be the same person as your health care power of attorney or someone else. They should be someone you trust to handle your financial affairs in case you cannot.
Organize Your Documents
Collect and make copies of your important documents, including your:
- Advance health care directive
- Health care power of attorney
- Financial power of attorney
- Proof of ownership over your property
- Documentation of debts
- Any other documents relevant to your end-of-life plan
You may also want to include a list of passwords for your financial and health care accounts. Place these documents in a secure location and ensure you notify the relevant people about where they are stored. Your attorney may also keep copies or the originals of some of these documents on your behalf.
Managing An Estate After Death
Probate is the process by which a deceased person’s assets are distributed to their heirs. Most estates go through probate, with some exceptions. In particular, estates valued at more than $50,000 and estates that include real property must go through probate. When your loved one made plans for end-of-life in advance, they may have arranged for specific property to pass through probate, while other property avoids the process, often through trusts.
In addition, estates valued at less than $50,000 without real property can use simplified probate proceedings. The executor can file an affidavit with the court seeking permission to distribute estate assets outside the probate process.
Probate Vs. Nonprobate Assets
Determining whether an asset should go through the probate process is often easier than it sounds. Probate assets include most of what people traditionally consider property, like real and personal property, bank accounts or investment property.
Nonprobate assets include policies and plans that need beneficiaries to exist, for example:
- Life insurance policies
- Shared property with a right of survivorship
- Retirement accounts
Beneficiaries can typically receive their assets without going through probate. However, some generally nonprobate assets may pass through probate if the beneficiary process is incomplete or cannot be fulfilled. For example, if a beneficiary dies first, then the asset may need to go through the probate process. Because of that, it is wise to update beneficiary designations periodically.
How Does Probate Work When The Deceased Has A Will?
If the deceased has a will, you begin the probate process by presenting their will to the court. The probate judge validates the will, enters it into probate and appoints an executor. Usually, the judge appoints the executor named in the will. However, if the executor is unable or unwilling to serve, the court will appoint someone else.
The executor must complete several steps before distributing estate assets. First, the executor must notify the will’s beneficiaries, potential heirs through intestacy and any creditors that the will is in probate. Creditors may claim estate assets before distribution, with some exceptions. The executor then pays off debts and any estate taxes. Following the satisfaction of debts, the executor distributes the remaining estate according to the will’s provisions.
How Does Probate Work When The Deceased Did Not Have A Will?
The probate process is called intestate administration if the deceased dies without a will. The court designates an administrator to handle the estate. The process works similarly, including that the administrator must notify everyone with a potential inheritance about the proceedings. After the estate’s debts are satisfied, estate assets are distributed according to Tennessee’s rules of intestate succession.
Batson Nolan PLC Can Help
As the oldest law firm in Clarksville and one of the oldest in Tennessee, Batson Nolan PLC has helped generations through succession planning, including many family farms. We understand the unique issues associated with agribusiness and preserving a farming legacy.
Creating a comprehensive estate plan today is the best way to preserve your assets in the future and ensure your loved ones receive their due. Whether you are just starting to plan for your end-of-life care or need someone to represent you in a will contest, we can help. Call us at 931-650-5484 to speak with a lawyer or reach out using our online form.