Do I Need An Estate Attorney? About Estate Planning And Probate

Amanda Jelks Estate Planning Lawyer

Knowing That Your Home, Estate, and Family Are Safe

Estate planning is the process of planning and preparing for the management and distribution of the assets you have worked your entire life accumulating. It also includes ensuring your estate is distributed according to your wishes.

Do I really need to have a plan for my estate before I die?

Yes, You Really Do Need Estate Planning. 

Working on an estate plan is not just for the elderly and the wealthy. Everyone has an estate, comprised of everything they own including vehicles, homes, banking and savings accounts, and other possessions. It is oftentimes dangerous to do this on your own. In fact, here is a blog post from our estate planning attorney on DIY estate planning and the probate process, why you need an estate lawyer.

When should I talk to a local professional about estate planning?

Short answer, you should talk to an experienced estate planning lawyer in Chattanooga now. Everyone 18 years and older should have powers of attorney and advanced care directives (formerly known as living wills), at a minimum. In its most basic form, a power of attorney allows someone else to make financial and healthcare decisions for you if you are incapacitated.

What happens if I don't have an estate plan?

If you don't prepare an estate plan, the State you live in has a default estate plan for you. Here's what the process looks like for Tennessee and Georgia residents.

  • If you are married without children, your spouse will inherit everything
  • If you are married with one child, your spouse and child will split everything 50/50. 
  • If you are married with more than one child, your spouse will receive at least one-third of your estate and your children will divide the rest. 
  • If you are not married but have children, your children will divide everything. 
  • If you are not married and have no children, your parents will split everything equally. 
  • If you have already experienced the death of your parents, your brothers and sisters (including half siblings) will split everything. 
  • If you are an only child, your grandparents will split everthing - but if they've already experienced death, your aunts and uncles (on both sides of your family) will divide everything. 
  • If any of the people referenced above have died, but they have children of their own, those children will divide whatever their parent would have received. 
  • This can go on for a while, but you get the point - and, if you don't, call us - that's what we are here for. 
  • For further self-educating, read this post from our point of view as our attorneys have been serving Chattanooga for more than a decade and are familiar with the estate planning and probate process. It is an article about what happens to a family member's debt after they pass away. 

If the plan the State has for you is exactly what you would want to happen (for example, your spouse and kids inherit everything), you may be logically wondering "do I need to plan my estate after all". This is where I come in. The answer is still yes and there are several reasons why. Here are a few reasons to plan your estate:

  • For starters, it is not uncommon for the house you live in with your spouse to be in only one partner's name. If the titled owner dies, that means the surviving spouse has to share the house with the deceased spouse's children. Those children would have equal rights to the house and the ability to force the sale of the house, if they choose to do so.
  • Another reason you would still want to plan your estate is to make sure you have a backup plan in place. Let's say you are not married and have one daughter and a grandchild. If you and your child die in a car accident together, or if your child dies before you, your grandchild will inherit your estate. If your grandchild is a minor, their father (who is not your child) would be the presumed guardian over your grandchild's inheritance. If your grandchild's father is not financially responsible, your grandchild may never reap the benefit of their inheritance. 
  • Step-children cannot inherit in Tennessee or Georgia without a will. If you have a blended family, estate planning is especially important for you as the absence of an estate plan could result in your separate children not receiving an inheritance at all from you if you die before your spouse and you and your spouse owned everything jointly. Assets and real estate that are jointly owned by married couples become the sole property of the surviving spouse. I cannot count the number of times I've seen a husband and wife own their bank accounts and real estate jointly. Husband has two sons. Wife has one daughter. Wife dies first. Husband becomes the sole owner of everything. Husband later dies and his sons inherit everything. This leaves the wife's daughter without any of her mother's belongings and without any inheritance from her mother at all. Morals lead people to believe that the husband's sons will share with the wife's daughter. My experience in this area has shown otherwise.

    A Planning ahead with Prenuptial Agreements can be particularly helpful for blended families and people getting remarried, especially if they have separate children.
  • If the person set to inherit from you has special needs or otherwise receives government assistance, any outright inheritance from you may result in that person being disqualified for any government assistance (e.g., social security, disability, or medicaid). It is still possible to leave that person an inheritance, but it must be done through a proper trust as a part of an estate plan. 

To get familiar with more information about estate planning, view our article.

Our Law Firm Has Extensive Experience With Estate Planning

Not having an estate plan in place at the time of death or disability can lead to difficulties for your loved ones. Decisions about how your estate should be handled, can end up being made for you by the court, via the probate process. Estate planning is the first step to ensuring that your assets will be handled in the way that you specify at the time of your death. Choosing the right estate planning attorney represents an important consideration for your loved ones and their future. Estate Planning Lawyer Amanda Jelks is at the top of her game. She is absolutely committed to serving her clients and their families. She wants them to feel as much peace of mind as possible about how their estate will be handled when the time of death comes for a you or a loved one.

Don't let fear keep you from being responsible for your estate. Let our firm help you prepare.