Anti-Lapse Statute Trumps Testator’s Intent

A recent Tennessee court of appeals case is a reminder that there are limits to how far the law on testator’s intent will take you.

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Concealing or Destroying a Will

It’s a crime under Tennessee law: Any person who destroys or conceals the last will and testament of a testator, or any codicil thereto, with intent to prevent the probate thereof or defraud any devisee or legatee, commits a Class E felony. A Class E felony is punishable by not less than one (1) year nor more than six (6) years. In addition, the jury may assess a fine not to exceed three thousand dollars ($3,000), unless otherwise provided by statute. Relying on an earlier version of this statute, the Tennessee Court of Appeals has indicated that a person in possession of a will has a duty to bring it forward, absent knowledge of any defect in its execution. Sources: T.C.A. […]

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Rushed Prenup Invalidated by Court

How much time must pass between the execution of a prenuptial agreement and the wedding of the parties in order for the agreement to be enforceable?

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Reasonable Compensation of Executors

Serving as an executor is not an honor, it is work. As such, the person serving in this position will often want to be compensated for his, her, or its time. A common question is: how much is appropriate? The Tennessee Code simply provides that an executor is entitled to “reasonable compensation.” To wit: The clerk shall charge every accounting party with all sums of money the accounting party has received, or might have received by using due and reasonable diligence, and shall credit the accounting party with a reasonable compensation for services, and with disbursements supported by lawful vouchers. Elsewhere, in the statute dealing with priority of estate claims, it says as follows: (a) All claims or demands against […]

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Percentage Fees in Probate Matters

Is it unlawful or unethical for an estate attorney to charge a fee based on a percentage of the estate? That was one issue raised in In re Estate of Bessie Adcock Bingham. In that case, the executor entered into a contract with an estate attorney, whereby the attorney agreed to represent the estate for a fee of 5% of the gross estate as determined by the Tennessee Department of Revenue Inheritance Tax Return. Evidently, this is a common practice in Bedford County. According to the trial court, [T]he cultural history of fees within our judicial district has long been… they were charged as percentages.” One of the beneficiaries objected, arguing that that charging a fee based on a percentage formula in a probate […]

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Revocable Trust as Post-Nup?

Can a revocable trust created by one spouse after marriage constitute an enforceable postnuptial agreement for divorce purposes? This question arose in a recent case decided by the Tennessee Court of Appeals. The facts are as follows: Husband and Wife were married in 2006. It was a second marriage for both parties. In 2009, Husband established a revocable trust, naming himself as trustee and Wife as successor trustee. The revocable trust named Husband as current beneficiary and Wife and children as remainder beneficiaries of anything left in the trust at Husband’s death. Husband also executed a will that directed his probate assets to the revocable trust at death. Husband funded the revocable trust with at least four properties: (1) a lakehouse […]

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2017 Probate Omnibus Bill: What’s Missing?

The 2017 probate omnibus bill is notable not just for what it contains, but also for what it does not contain. The original version of the bill was HB 0567. It contained several sections that addressed the effect of divorce or annulment on an estate plan. Under current law, divorce/annulment, by itself and without any further action of the testator revokes any disposition or appointment of property made by the will to the former spouse, any provision conferring a general or special power of appointment on the former spouse, and any nomination of the former spouse as executor, trustee, conservator or guardian, unless the will expressly provides otherwise. Similarly, a decree of annulment, divorce, dissolution of marriage, or legal separation revokes […]

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Don’t Neglect the Residuary Clause

A recent case demonstrates the need to carefully consider how one drafts the residuary provisions of a will or trust. Article III of Decedent’s will left the “rest, residue, and remainder” of her estate to Sister, Nephew 1, Nephew 2, and Niece. Sister was to receive 2/5, and the Nephews and Niece were each to receive 1/5. In that same article, the Decedent gave Nephews the right to purchase her residence on the condition that they “shall pay such amount to [Niece] as makes her share of [Decedent’s] estate equal with them.” If Nephews did not exercise their right to purchase, the property was to be sold and the proceeds divided “with the rest of [Decedent’s] estate in the manner set forth […]

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