The Story of John and Jane: A Tennessee Family That Did Estate Planning On Their Own

In today’s economy, everyone in America is looking to save a dollar anywhere that they can. Everyone wants to stretch every dollar and every penny wherever possible. However, if there is one aspect of your life where you should not cut corners and not do something yourself, it is estate planning and providing for your family’s future. The following is the story of John and Jane and doing estate planning on your own.

John and Jane moved to Tennessee back in the 1970s and eventually settled in the Brentwood area of Nashville. John and Jane had two children and were blessed to have six grandchildren. In addition, they worked their whole lives, saving every penny they could, and put their two children through college and graduate school. However, as they reached their retirement years, John and Jane realized that they needed a will in place after speaking some close friends at dinner. John and Jane spoke with several attorneys and the financial arrangement ranged from $2500 to $8000 to put everything in place for them.

However, John and Jane decided that they would purchase some forms online and do their estate planning themselves. John and Jane purchased some online forms to put in place their Last Will and Testaments, Living Wills, Power of Attorneys, and Healthcare Power of Attorneys. John and Jane had these documents signed and executed in the presence of a notary and then placed these documents in their safety deposit boxes.

Many years later, John and Jane passed away. Their children knew where their wills were located and retrieved them from the safety deposit box. The children hired a lawyer to administer the estate through the probate court system. Unfortunately, all of their bank accounts were frozen and their children could not access the accounts until the eldest daughter, Katie, was confirmed as the executor. The process of confirming Katie as executor took approximately four months to complete.

After Katie was confirmed as the executor and the Will was admitted to the probate court, a serious issue came up. All of the assets that John and Jane owned at their death were specifically designated in this will. However, there was one asset that was not specifically identified or designated, a money market bank account with $200,000 in the account. Normally, this would not cause a significant issue in the probate of an estate. However, there was no residuary clause in John and Jane’s will designating where all other property would go that was not specifically named. As a result, the probate process was brought to a halt and number of hearings were scheduled to determine to whom these assets would pass.

Unfortunately, prior to the death of John and Jane, their son, James, passed away. James passed away with a wife, Susan, and two children, Leslie and Elizabeth. Because of James’ death, there was an issue on what to do with James’ share of the assets, do they go to be divided among the two remaining children, or do they go James’ wife and two daughters? In addition, since there was no residuary clause no one knew what John and Jane wanted when it came to the $200,000 in the investment account.

James’ wife decided that her family was entitled to James’ share and that is what John and Jane would have wanted. However, the two living children disagreed and a court battle ensued over the $200,000 investment account. Unfortunately, this caused the settlement of John and Jane’s estate to last for another year and a half.

Ultimately, the court decided that because there was no residuary clause in the will, the $200,000 should pass according to Tennessee law, and James’s share would be divided equally among the two remaining children of John and Jane. As a result, James’ wife and his two daughters were left with nothing. In addition, there relationship was strained and nearly destroyed because of all the fighting that went on during the estate settlement process.

In all, James’ wife had expended $55,000 in legal fees and the two children had expended $75,000 in legal fees during the estate settlement process before everything was eventually settled.

This was a situation that could obviously have been avoided had John and Jane hired a law firm and engaged in proper estate legal planning during their life and not completed their estate planning themselves.

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 live upcoming events.

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