A very common question that I get from many Tennessee families, whether they are just calling in for information or they are attending one of our live educational events each month, is when is the right time to take care of some estate planning? In addition, many Tennessee families have the misunderstanding that only certain people need to have an estate plan.
However, I can put all those questions to rest. Everyone, regardless of wealth, is in need of an estate plan! This includes the elderly widow, the married couple in their 80s, the 30 year-old young married couple with young children, and even the recently married couple in their late 20s or early 30s. Everyone, regardless of wealth and stage in life is in need of an estate plan.
Without a properly drafted and customized estate plan you run the risk of not having your wishes followed at your death, having your family incur unnecessary costs and delays after your death, and sometimes even worse, having your family have to go through a public guardianship proceeding to have a judge name a guardian over your minor children or to make decisions for you when you are no longer capable to do so. In addition, if everything is not set up exactly perfect, then your surviving family will be left with a costly mess to clean up after you are gone, or even while you are alive but unable to make your own decision.
For example, let me tell you the story of James and Leslie, a family that didn’t think they needed any estate planning. James and Leslie had been married for about 15 years. Unfortunately, James and Leslie didn’t have any children and their parents had since passed away. Although, James and Leslie had siblings and several nieces and nephews. James and Leslie made the decision many years ago that if something should happen to one of them, the other would get all of the family assets, and vice-versa. James and Leslie also did some reading and saw that when a person dies in Tennessee without a Last Will and Testament, all of that person’s belongings go the spouse in the event they are married. Therefore, James and Leslie didn’t see any need for estate planning.
Unfortunately, several years later, James suffered a heart attack where his brain was deprived of oxygen for approximately 10 minutes. As a result, James was rendered in a permanent unconscious state and the doctors determined that he would never recover. The doctors asked Leslie several times if she wanted to withdrawal life support, and Leslie said no. As it happened, James lived in this unconscious state for another 10 years, dwindling away James and Leslie’s savings during that time. However, about 9 years after this happened to James, Leslie passed away from an aneurism. Unfortunately, the result of this was a long and drawn out probate court proceeding that cost approximately $50,000 to determine how to settle Leslie’s estate. You see, James also ended up passing away during Leslie’s probate proceeding resulting in another estate that needed to be opened in the probate court, and eventually a determination, on who should inherit from James and Leslie’s respective estate.
The morale of this story is make sure your family knows your wishes and complete a carefully drafted and customized estate plan. If James and Leslie had a carefully drafted and customized estate plan the settlement of their estate would have been simple, probate could have been avoided completely, all the fighting could have been avoided, and James’ wishes to withdraw life support would have been known and Leslie would never had to make that very difficult decision.
If you have questions about estate planning in Tennessee, establishing a revocable living trust or an irrevocable Medicaid trust, avoiding nursing home poverty and Medicaid planning, or any other estate planning topics, then I encourage you to attend one of our free live educational events scheduled this month. At these events, you will hear a lot of real life stories about families that paid thousands of dollars in unnecessary expenses, families that were able to avoid unnecessary expenses, and families that were able to protect their assets from unnecessary nursing home costs and expenses.
I look forward to speaking with you at one of our upcoming live educational events!