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Case Notes

Read Randy Ratliff's columns from his Case Notes featured on the Brentwood Home Page:

All My Sisters And Me…

AdoptionBy Randy Ratliff

If you’re around my age or older, that song is probably now stuck in your head. Sorry, not sorry. It reminds me though, of a beautiful family that I met when I first moved to this area. One of the things that really endeared me to Brentwood was the high rate of adoption. I met several families comprised of kids from different nationalities and ethnic backgrounds and it confirmed my initial impression that this is an area of loving compassion.

In my practice, I’ve found that almost all estate planning lawyers now draft wills and trusts with language that includes adopted or children born after the creation of the document. This has not always been the case and occasionally I still see older documents that fail to reference these children. The prospect of a child being disinherited because of this oversight is heartbreaking. It is preventable.

Inheritance and traditional adoption are difficult enough. Unfortunately, the law also almost always lags technology. Older trusts or wills that predate both recent technological advances and the acceptance of adoption often prefer consanguinity (your ten-dollar lawyer word for the day). It means simply that the person creating the trust or will wanted his or her estate to pass to his or her own bloodline. That may have been fine in the 1920s or 30s. Now, however, every year, thousands of children are born using assisted reproductive techniques. In situations where the birth mother is a surrogate, the child is often adopted. Other technological developments have also made using the bloodline requirement tricky. We’ve all read the stories about the fertility doctor that fathered hundreds of children. As a result, genetic testing won’t necessarily resolve these issues and may, in fact, open up a can of worms. Continue reading.

Part II: Impact of Tax Cut and Jobs Act just starting to touch family law and estate planning

By Randy Ratliff


It’s a word unpleasant to most, including me. I’d like to live in a world where we would not have to deal with so much division but that is not reality. The reality is that many families are going through and will go through a divorce in 2019 and thereafter. I see my role as a family lawyer as someone to help make that process as smooth as possible for everyone involved.

One piece of divorce proceedings that have changed as of Dec. 31, 2018 was the rules for alimony deductions when it comes to taxes. The changes benefit the recipient and will mean more taxes for the person paying the alimony, an important factor in settling a divorce.

I spoke with Heather Jeffrey, a certified public accountant and the owner of Succentrix Business Advisors, about the specifics of this new tax law change. She can help give you a better understanding of what the rule was up to this point and how the tax laws have change and could impact pending divorce proceedings. Continue reading.

Part II: Impact of Tax Cut and Jobs Act just starting to touch family law and estate planning

divorceBy Randy Ratliff

“Sonny, it’s business. Not personal.”

Most of us remember The Godfather and that classic piece of counsel from Tom Hagen to the hot-headed Sonny. While separating “business” from “personal” may have been a worthy approach for the Corleones, estate planning professionals know otherwise.

The truth is that effective, strategic estate planning solutions are the result of a very personal process. And in today’s environment, the business of estate planning is more personal than ever before.

The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has marked a real paradigm shift from estate tax planning toward lifetime planning. With the increase in transfer tax exemption amounts, there is a significant opportunity to help clients mitigate estate tax liabilities by gifting wealth outright to beneficiaries or to a trust for the benefit of future generations. Continue reading.

Meeting with an estate planning attorney? What does that look like?

divorceBy Randy Ratliff

You’ve taken the first step in getting your estate plan together: you’ve scheduled an appointment with an estate planning attorney. But what will that meeting entail and how do you prepare to begin working on your estate plan and will?

During your first meeting with an estate planning attorney, he or she will ask you a few important questions: What do you own? How do you own it (sole owner, partnership, etc.)? What your family make-up includes? What are the dynamics within your family? Then the question that surprises most people when asked: What are your values? It is essential that an estate attorney know your values, what is important to you and what things matter to you to help you in the process.

I like to tell my clients that it’s more important to pass along your values before your valuables. Continue reading.

The will and the estate plan are done, what now?

divorceBy Randy Ratliff

Life is funny. When you have an emergency, things you thought were important yesterday suddenly become trivial. I recently met with a couple facing a grim medical diagnosis. We put together a plan for their estate and a will. It was the 11th hour, but we got the work done. As I’ve said before, that is not the ideal time to work on your will or estate plan.

Planning before you are in a dire situation allows you time to really think about what you want to do with your assets and how you want to handle your finances at the end of your life. I try to make that process easy for all my clients. But once the work is done in my office, your work is not done. There is one more very important step. You should let your loved ones and beneficiaries know that you have a plan and where it is. Continue reading.

It's a great institution

divorceBy Randy Ratliff

A few years ago, I sat down with a couple to discuss their estate planning needs. As we got to know one another, I learned they had been married for 52 years. So, I asked: “How have you managed to stay happily married for 52 years?” Without missing a beat, the wife gave me this deadpan stare and said: “What makes you think it’s been happy?” Ask a dumb question.

Marriage is what you make of it, as my grandmother used to say. Continue reading.

Summer is slipping away

divorceBy Randy Ratliff

For a lot of us, that means our children are headed off to college. It’s an exciting and scary time for our kids and often a tad melancholy for parents as we become empty nesters. Our children are now adults (or soon will be). There’s a lot of new experiences headed their way: financial aid, loans, dorms, apartments, roommates, the Freshman 15, and on and on.

In the crazy run up to that fall semester, many parents overlook a few very important estate planning matters. ​Some find out the hard way. Following up on my last column, I want to remind you that because our children are now adults, we no longer automatically get to act on their behalf.

We may feel that we still have the final say in their lives, but once they are 18 the law says otherwise. That means our children will have to authorize us to act on their behalf. At a minimum, everyone over 18 needs a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, a HIPAA Authorization, and Durable Power of Attorney (for finances and legal decisions). Let’s look at each in turn. Continue reading.

Do I need a Power of Attorney?

divorceBy Randy Ratliff

People often ask me if they need a power of attorney. I always reply, “Are you over 18? If you are, then – yes.” By putting a comprehensive power attorney in place, you can protect your interests, you can pick who will be your advocate, and you can save your family the trouble of having to go to court to appoint a conservator in the event you cannot manage your own affairs.

In other words, you save time, money, and headache. What exactly is a “power of attorney?” Continue reading.

Long-term planning for long-term care

divorceBy Randy Ratliff

Every day, it seems, we hear about changes to Medicare and Medicaid. Often people I counsel with are confused about the difference between Medicare and Medicaid. Both programs were created by federal law, but they do very different things. The one common denominator is both of those worlds can be difficult to navigate, especially for the elderly.

Essentially, Medicare is a health insurance program for people over age 65, while Medicaid is a health insurance program for people who meet certain income and asset requirements. Where people get confused is that Medicare will pay for some rehabilitative services in a nursing home. Medicaid, on the other hand, pays for long-term care, provided you qualify. In Tennessee that means financially you can have no more than $2000 in your name and make no more than $2,250 a month in income to qualify for this Medicaid coverage. So, if you or a loved one is head to a nursing home, Medicare and Medicaid are limited. Continue reading.

Charitable giving and the new tax law

divorceBy Randy Ratliff

Tax season is over. Well, for savvy people, it is never over, but the 2017 filing deadline has come and gone and your CPA is probably not answering his or her phone this week. It’s 2018 and things have changed. The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will significantly impact tax planning, especially charitable giving.

Charitable giving recently rose to a new high in the United States. According to Giving USA’s 2017 Annual Report on Philanthropy, individuals, foundations and corporations topped out with $390.05 billion in giving during the 2016 year. Charity Navigator estimated that 12% of all charitable giving happens in the last three days of the calendar year. Now, because of the new tax law, fewer individuals will need to itemize and thus fewer will have the tax incentive to make individual charitable contributions. Charitable giving will likely decline in years to come, but it won’t disappear. People give for reasons beyond their own financial incentive. Continue reading.

What is probate?

divorceBy Randy Ratliff

Historically speaking, the origin of probate was the process when a court officially “proved” a will. Probate, today, also now involves the process of administering the estate of someone who dies without a will. We say that a person who dies with a will is “testate” and a person who dies without one dies “intestate”. If that’s not confusing enough, you can be both testate and intestate. This usually happens when a will is old and does not dispose all of the person’s property. Probate is not necessarily a bad thing and can be quite simple if your affairs are in order. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Continue reading.