Don’t be like Prince: Get a Will.

prince died without a will, memphis estate probate lawyer

It’s been widely reported that Prince probably died without a Will. This has left many people wondering:

How could someone rich and famous like Prince die without a Will?

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for people, even the super-wealthy, to to die without even the simplest form of an Estate Plan. While at least one source reports that Prince’s Estate may be worth less than what people think, this surprising omission of someone of Prince’s celebrity status should give us all cause to stop and think about what might happen to our own families and hard-earned assets in the event of an untimely death.

2 Simple Reasons to Have a Will or Estate Plan

When we meet with potential clients and give basic estate planning seminars, we stress the importance of having, at the very least, a basic estate plan in place. This is important because:

1. Your wishes will be known. Have you ever tried to guess what another person wants? This is why many of us find Christmas shopping very stressful. The only way you can be sure to “get what you want” is to properly (and legally) communicate your wishes and desires. Just telling someone won’t cut it. After all, neither a judge nor your family will be able to ask you after your death.

2. You can help prevent family feuds and division. You may think your family is so tightknit that they would never quarrel over your assets after you die. You may be right, but you may also be wrong. Why take the chance? Make your wishes so clear that your family members have nothing to fight about amongst themselves after your death.

An Estate Plan is important regardless of your financial status. You do not have to be “rich” to need a Will. Even if you think you don’t have enough assets to justify planning ahead, it is likely that your possessions have real meaning to family members or friends. It is also likely that you have a larger Estate than you may realize.

2 Simple Reasons People Don’t Have a Will or Estate Plan

1. Fear of Losing or Giving up Control. Like Prince, many people like to retain complete control over their assets and business affairs. There’s not a thing in the world wrong with this. However, having an Estate Plan does not mean that you lose control! In fact, Estate Planning is a way to extend the control over your affairs “beyond the grave.”

2. Death is an Unpleasant and Uncertain Event. People often put off any planning or do not want to think about their passing. It is easy to procrastinate and it always seems like planning can be left for another today. However, death is an unfortunate reality for us all. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

What happens without a Will?

If you don’t have an Estate Plan or Will, in Memphis and Nashville Tennessee, your Estate, like Prince’s, may become subject to state law and Probate Court orders. This is likely to lead to familial dissension and excessive fees and costs for the Estate, which in the end reduces the amount of assets remaining for your Beneficiaries. Your money may also wind up going to the Government! For example, in Prince’s case, the Probate Court has appointed a Corporate Executor for his Estate, and many attorneys will be involved because of the number of potential Beneficiaries. There will be many questions as to how the royalties and future earnings from Prince’s music will be handled. Estate taxes will have to be paid. All of these factors will lead to a lot of money being spent (and some might even say “wasted”). All of the headaches and money spent, as well as the publicity involved, could have been avoided, or at least minimized, if Prince had planned ahead by having a Will or Estate Plan.

Moral of the Story:  Don’t be like Prince.

Don’t be like Prince. Plan ahead now! Having an Estate Plan is easy, and every person can and should have one in place. A basic plan can be relatively inexpensive, even if drafted by a licensed Tennessee estate planning attorney, like the ones at Wiseman Bray PLLC.  We have offices in Memphis and Nashville. In Tennessee, and some other states, it is also possible, although often not recommended, for a handwritten Will to be valid. To read our blog post about handwritten wills, CLICK HERE.

Need a Tennessee Estate Planning Lawyer?

Call Wiseman Bray PLLC if you’re in the Memphis or Nashville area at 901-372-5003 or email us here.

You can sign up for email notifications of our blog posts here.

Can I Write My Own Will? Is a Handwritten Will Valid?

handwritten will, holographic will, probate lawyer

In some cases, a handwritten Will can be considered valid and admitted to Probate Court.  Under Tennessee law, a handwritten Will is called a “Holographic Will.”  It is not necessary that the document be witnessed, but all the material provisions and the signature must be in the Testator’s handwriting.

What does “Testator” Mean?

The testator is the person who is making the Will.

How Do You Prove a Valid Handwritten Will?

The Testator’s handwriting must be proven by 2 witnesses.  Before petitioning the Probate Judge to admit the document to Probate Court as a valid Last Will and Testament, the Executor will likely have to find 2 people who can testify that the material provisions and signature are in fact written in the Testator’s handwriting.

Why We Don’t Advise Handwritten Wills

While writing your own Will seems like a simple solution to making sure your assets go where you want them to go after your death, there are many pitfalls. For example:

  • You may mistakenly believe that the disposition of certain assets will be governed by the terms of your handwritten Will.
  • A handwritten document is more easily lost.
  • A handwritten Will requires additional proof to be admitted to Probate Court.
  • When you handwrite a Will, you are likely to amend or rewrite that Will in the future.  You are more likely to leave multiple handwritten documents that contain conflicting provisions.
  • Pertinent provisions may be left out of a handwritten Will, including provisions relating to the disposition of assets or provisions that may ease the burden of administrating the Estate.
  • Many handwritten Wills are not properly executed and are unable to be admitted to Probate Court.

A Will drafted by a Probate Lawyer is likely to more clearly convey your wishes so that it can be correctly interpreted by your Executor and the Probate Court Judge after your death.

Need a Will? Call a Probate Lawyer.

If you would like to speak with a Probate Lawyer about a Will or about how to make sure your wishes are carried out after your death, give us a call at 901-372-5003 or email us here. With offices in Memphis and Nashville, you can also visit our website to learn more about our attorneys and the work that we do for our clients.

 

named estate representative of will

Ask the Probate Lawyer: What to do if you’re named as Executor in a Will.

Probate Lawyer for Personal Representative of Estate

If you’ve been designated to serve as the Personal Representative (sometimes also called Executor or Executrix) in a Will, you will need to hire a Probate Lawyer to handle the Estate in Probate Court. Don’t worry: the attorney fees charged by the Probate Lawyer will typically come out of the funds of the Estate, not from your own personal assets.

Once you’ve hired a Probate Lawyer, you’ll meet with the attorney and begin to gather all pertinent information. The attorney will prepare and file documents to petition the Probate Court to admit the deceased person’s Will for probate administration.

Can’t I just handle the business of the Estate Myself?

No.  In Tennessee, the administration of an Estate must be done with the assistance of a licensed  attorney. Many people mistakenly believe that if you are named as the Personal Representative in a Will, then you only need a copy of the Will and an I.D. to conduct business on behalf of the deceased person or the Estate, but this is not correct. To legally transact business on behalf of the Estate, you must be officially appointed by the Probate Court and present the proper authorization.

Do I have to go to Probate Court?

Yes, if the deceased person had assets or accounts that do not have a joint owner or a beneficiary named. You will have to go to Probate Court with the attorney to prove the Will and to be officially appointed by the Probate Judge as the Personal Representative of the Estate.  At this court appearance, the attorney will address the judge and you will be asked certain questions about the deceased person and the Will.  The Probate Judge will then review the Will and the proof and decide whether or not to admit the Will for probate. If the Will is admitted, you, as the Personal Representative, will then be sworn in as a fiduciary, and you will be issued “Letters Testamentary” or “Letters of Administration,” which will allow you to legally conduct business on behalf of the Estate.

Required Steps in Probate Administration

Once the Estate has been opened and you’ve been officially appointed to serve, you will complete the following required steps with the help of your Probate Lawyer:

(1)   Establish a separate bank account for the Estate;

(2)   Give notice to beneficiaries of the opening of the Estate;

(3)   Give notice to creditors and TennCare of the opening of the estate;

(4)   File affidavits regarding notice to beneficiaries and TennCare;

(5)   File annual accountings and inventories; and

(6)   Collect the deceased person’s assets and distribute them amongst the beneficiaries. 

Do I Get Paid for the Time and Expenses I Incur While Serving as a Personal Representative? 

Yes. A Personal Representative is entitled to reimbursement of expenses that he or she personally incurs in administering the Estate. A Personal Representative is entitled to a reasonable fee at the conclusion of the administration of the estate. However, the position is truly more of a responsibility than a profitable endeavor. There is a significant amount of work for the Personal Representative to do. The amount of the fee depends on a number of factors, which the Probate Lawyer will discuss with you. 

How long does the Probate Process take?

An Estate must remain open for a minimum of 4 months to allow creditors time to file any claims.  On average, it has been our experience that 6-9 months is a reasonable estimate of the time it takes to conclude the administration of an Estate if everything is straightforward.  In some cases, it can take 12-15 months.  If an Estate takes longer than 15 months to administer, it generally means that there has been a problem that has arisen during the process, such as a tax problem, a will contest, or even the presentation of an unknown heir.

Let us be your Probate Lawyer. We can help. 

Call us at 901-372-5003 if you need help. If you hire us, we’ll walk you through the entire process and do our best to make your job as Personal Representative as easy for you as possible. We handle probate cases throughout Tennessee and Mississippi, including in Shelby County, Memphis, Bartlett, Arlington, Germantown, and Cordova.

Other References:

Visit our website  to find answers to common Probate and Estate Planning questions.

Shelby County Probate Court

Davidson County Probate Court

 

Estate Planning 101: Power of Attorney and Living Will

living will power of attorney memphis estate planning lawyerA common question we receive from our estate planning clients is:  “What is the difference between a Health Care Power of Attorney and a Living Will?” Some people even incorrectly believe that a Living Will is the same thing as a Health Care Power of Attorney. While the two documents relate to your health care decisions, they are not the same. Both are important when planning for disability and death.

What is a Power of Attorney?

A Power of Attorney is a basic estate planning tool that is useful for ensuring that your financial and health care decisions can be made in the event of your incapacity.

Financial Power of Attorney

With a Financial Power of Attorney, you appoint an agent who is authorized to act on your behalf with regard to financial tasks and decisions (such as the payment of your bills and living expenses) in the event that you become unable to effectively manage your own property or financial affairs.  This authority may be granted at the time you execute the document or you can elect to make it effective only in the event of your incapacity.

Health Care Power of Attorney

With a Health Care Power of Attorney, you designate an Agent to make medical decisions for you if you cannot express your wishes or make the decisions yourself.  In addition, your Health Care Power of Attorney authorizes your Agent to obtain copies of your medical records

What is a Living Will?

In conjunction with your Health Care Power of Attorney, a Living Will serves to inform your doctors and your Agents that you do not want extraordinary medical measures taken, especially those that would cause you pain or discomfort, if those measures would only prolong the dying process.  Although the  Agent you named in your Health Care Power of Attorney will ultimately make this decision, your Living Will provides guidance to your named Agent concerning your wishes.  Any person can deliver your Living Will to your doctors if the Agent you named in your Health Care Power of Attorney is unavailable to make health care decisions for you.

What if I change my mind?

You can revoke (i.e., cancel) your Financial or Health Care Power of Attorney  and Living Will documents at any time while you have capacity.

Need help with a Power of Attorney or Living Will?

Fortunately, Tennessee law governs what type of language should be included in these documents. The language requirements provide uniformity so that financial institutions and hospitals are familiar with the documents and can act accordingly.

If you have additional questions about a power of attorney or living will, or if you are interested in developing an estate plan, please call us at 901-372-5003 or   email us here.    We are experienced estate planners and regularly practice in Probate Court.

 

WISEMAN BRAY PLLC

8001 Centerview Parkway, Suite 103

Memphis, Tennessee 38018

(901) 372-5003 Office

 

We assist personal injury, estate planning, business litigation, and business organization clients in the greater Memphis and Nashville areas. Cities covered include Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Cordova, Eads, Germantown, Lakeland, Ashland City, Belmont, Hillsboro, Brentwood, Belle Meade, Forest Hills, Franklin, Greenhill, Hendersonville, Nolensville, Nolan’s Park, Oak Hill, and surrounding towns and cities.

Who are my Beneficiaries? A critical question in planning for the future.

beneficiary designations estate planning lawyerDo you know who your beneficiaries are? When we ask clients this question, their first response is often quick and affirmative. However, we frequently discover through the estate planning process that the beneficiaries listed on our clients’ life insurance policies and retirement accounts are not who they think they are, nor are they the intended recipients of the property.

How does Property Pass to Beneficiaries?

One of the most common misconceptions we see is how property passes at someone’s death.  Accounts that have beneficiary designations  pass to the beneficiary or beneficiaries named on the beneficiary designation form for that account regardless of what your will or trust says.  So, for example, if my Will says that everything passes to my spouse at my death, but my beneficiary form on my life insurance names my children as beneficiaries, my life insurance proceeds  pass to my children and not to my spouse. Here are some examples of accounts that typically designate beneficiaries:

  • life insurance
  • retirement accounts
  • transfer on death accounts (TOD)
  • payable on death accounts (POD)

Periodically Review Your Beneficiary Designations

The  Supreme Court case of Kennedy v. Plan Administrator of DuPont highlights the unintended results that may occur if your beneficiary designations are not reviewed periodically.  In this case, William Kennedy named his wife, Liv, as the sole beneficiary of his pension and retirement savings plans at DuPont.  When the couple later divorced, the Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) provided that Liv gave up her rights to receive any benefits from William’s pension and retirement plan.  Unfortunately, however, the court order was never submitted to DuPont and the beneficiary was never changed.  When William later died, DuPont paid out the plan benefits to his ex-wife, Liv.  Their daughter, Keri, was appointed as Executor of William’s Estate and filed suit claiming that the Estate should receive his retirement benefits because the QDRO clearly provided that Liv had waived any interest she might have in those benefits.  The Supreme Court upheld the ruling of the Circuit Court in saying that DuPont properly paid the benefits to Liv and that Liv was entitled to the pension and retirement funds even though the parties were not married at the time of William’s death and the QDRO clearly provided otherwise.

Moral of the Story

The moral to the story is that the beneficiary designation governs. Thus, it is very important that you know who is named on your various beneficiary forms so that your property goes to the beneficiary or beneficiaries that you intend for it to go to.  It is clear that William did not intend for his benefits to go to his ex-wife instead of his daughter, but the Supreme Court held that the beneficiary designation governed and that DuPont properly paid the benefits to Liv.

Tips for Beneficiary Designation Forms

Here are some tips and common problems to watch out for with your beneficiary designation forms:

1. Do you know where the form is? Generally, employers maintain records of the form, but if they cannot find their form when the time comes, the burden may be on you to produce a copy of the form.

2. Is the form up to date? Changes in your life may require you to review the forms periodically. If you have had a recent marriage, divorce, birth or death in your family, it is important to review your beneficiary designations. And remember, your Will does not change who the beneficiary is on an account or insurance policy.

3. Do you have a contingent beneficiary named? If the beneficiary you have named dies before you or is involved in a common accident with you, you may not know who the benefits will go to if you do not name a contingent or secondary beneficiary.

4. Have you named a minor as a beneficiary? Minors cannot legally hold title to property, including these benefits. If you have named a minor, a guardianship may have to be established and administered through the Probate Court concerning applicable funds.

Want to talk it over with an Estate Planning and Probate Lawyer?

If you have questions regarding your beneficiary designations and how they factor into your Estate Plan, please call us at 901-372-5003 or email us here. We’re ready to help you plan for the future.

To read about other Estate Planning topics on our Blog, click here.

To meet the lawyers and staff at Wiseman Bray PLLC, click here.

 

Blog Post By:  Larry Bray

Estate Planning Lawyer in Memphis

Probate Process: How long does it take?

probate process, how long does it takeHow long does the probate process take? I often pose this question at seminars and get a variety of answers. Two of my favorite answers are “years” and “forever.” While neither answer is correct, it typically indicates that someone in the room (or perhaps a friend or neighbor) has had a bad experience with Probate Court at some point. In Tennessee, a Probate Estate must remain open for a minimum of four (4) months from the time of first publication. This period is designed to give creditors time to come forward and assert a claim against the Estate.  An Estate must remain open the full four (4) months regardless of whether the deceased person had any debts.

Time Starts to Run on the Date of “First Publication”

When an estate is opened in Shelby County Probate Court, the clerk’s office notifies The Daily News, and they publish a public notice regarding the opening of the Estate, typically within a week of the opening of the Estate. This first publication marks the start of the four (4) months, and the Estate cannot be closed until 4 months after the date of first publication.

However, bear in mind that this is a minimum amount of time, and there is no guarantee that the Estate can be closed at the end of the 4 months. I frequently tell clients that 6-9 months is a more realistic average for a straightforward Probate Process. The “first accounting” is not due until 15 months from the opening of the Estate, so if the Estate is closed out within that 15 month period, you are still doing pretty well.

Why does the Probate Process take so long?

So what makes the probate process last beyond the 4 months? A number of factors often contribute to how long a Probate Estate is open. Preliminarily, there are 8-10 steps that must be completed for every Probate Estate regardless of the size of the Estate, the cooperation of the Beneficiaries, or the debts of the deceased person. If these steps have not been completed or if the proper letter has not been received from Tenncare of the Tennessee Department of Revenue, the Estate cannot be closed. If there are minor Beneficiaries involved and the Will does not contain instructions on holding those funds in trust, we often have to seek court guidance and have additional hearings regarding handling these funds. Likewise, if Beneficiaries are fighting, the Probate Process will often take significantly longer than the 4 month minimum. If the decedent left a number of debts, and creditors have filed claims against the Estate, each valid claim must be paid in full or settled before the Estate can be closed. If the decedent had property in more than one state, the process can take much longer. These are just a few of the factors that can contribute to a lengthier Probate Process.

Every Probate Case is Different

Although the correct answer is rarely, if ever, “years” and definitely not “forever,” the Probate Process can last much longer than Beneficiaries are expecting. The Probate Estate that is open for years is not the norm, but most attorneys who do a lot of Probate work will typically have at least a couple of cases that drag on for one reason or another. In many cases, where everything is straightforward, 6 months should be a reasonable estimation of how long it takes. Unfortunately, we often can’t predict when we open an Estate the circumstances that may arise, so while it may seem simple on the front end, it could also turn out to be more complex. If we know some of the complicating circumstances in the planning stages, we can often  incorporate strategies to avoid some of the Probate pitfalls.

Need help with Probate Court?

Please call us at 901-372-5003. We know you have a lot on your mind and the thought of going to court can be overwhelming. We are experienced probate lawyers and we can guide you through the Probate Process.

How to Avoid Probate

Did you know that you can eliminate the Probate Process altogether through revocable living trust planning? If you would like to learn more about Probate or about planning to avoid probate, please call us. We can guide you through an Estate Plan designed specifically for you and your family.

probate process lawyer in memphis

Blog Post by: Probate Lawyer Lindsay Jones

Wiseman Bray PLLC

8001 Centerview Parkway, Suite 103

Memphis, Tennessee 38018