Carrell Blanton Ferris Welcomes Baby Finn

Posted on June 26, 2017

Carrell Blanton Ferris is excited to welcome the newest member to the family.   Griffin Christopher (aka Finn), son of Rhiannon Hartman, was born on June 14, 2017.  Please join us in congratulating Rhiannon and Chris on their newest addition.

Posted in Attorneys in the News, Uncategorized

A Revocable Living Trust: In “Real People” Terms

Posted on April 5, 2017

Article by Beth Ann R. Lawson, Esq.

At a recent event, a young woman asked me to define a Revocable Living Trust (Trust) in “real people” terms rather than legal language. To do so, I used my children and my pets as real life examples to show how a Revocable Living Trust works. It doesn’t get more “real” than children and our pets.

When my children were small, I would leave them and my pets with my parents or other family caregiver for a few days while I traveled for business. I always left extensive written instructions along with medical cards and money to make sure the caregivers could act promptly and know exactly what to do in many different situations. A Revocable Living Trust is the formalized, more detailed and legally enforceable version of the scribbled notes left on the counter for the sitters.

A Trust captures the Trustmaker’s instructions to family and puts people in charge when you cannot personally act.  (Successor Trustees). The Trust tells them how and when to act and captures these instructions in writing with witnesses and a notarization to make them legally binding.

My notes to our sitters included directions on what to do if I was detained on the trip, was hospitalized or passed away. I included rules for feeding times, bed times, school times, and allowed events. I included restrictions on what not be do, curfews, allowances and allowable television shows. This 5-page document included the names of back-up family members who would act should something happen to us on a trip. It included medical information and doctor’s phone numbers. It included a signed form by me giving the caregiver the authority to take my child to the doctors.

I gave the doctors and the vets a call to tell them someone else may be bringing in the children or the pets. It was really a lot of work to do each time I left town. The problem with these informal instructions for the sitters is that they have no legal force. Your Revocable Living Trust has your instructions spelled out with legal clout.

The maker of a Revocable Living Trust, the Trustmaker (you), meet with your attorney to define your goals for yourself and your family. We then develop your Trust full of your instructions and rules to guide your family during your illness or after your death.

A Trust answers many questions for a family. Who takes care of The Trustmaker (You) during incapacity? Who takes care of the children after the death of a Trustmaker? Who has access to the money in the trust to keep paying bills and taxes? Who manages the money left to the children? Who takes care of the pets? At what age do the children gain access to the money? By answering these questions in a Trust, you just left legally enforceable instructions for your family for generations to come. It is a formal version of the 5-page list you left for your sitter on the kitchen counter with money and the insurance card.

The rules in your Trust govern the effective use of your resources for your protection. After you pass away, the Trust governs resources for the protection of your children and pets under the watchful eyes of people you name and trust implicitly (Successor Trustees or guardians).  Just like the money I left on the kitchen counter for our sitters, Trustees need access to money to keep your estate operating. Bills must be paid. Accounts with money, investments and real estate are often immediately funded to the trust during your life to make sure your Successor Trustee (the babysitter or pet sitter) can conduct your business when you cannot. A pet sitter, a caregiver and a Successor Trustee all need access to funds to continue managing the affairs of your life and estate. A Trust gives them that access. We also leave money to pay our sitter. “Trustees” are normally compensated and your Trust should set the rules for compensation.

When you are traveling, always leave instructions with a trusted individual as to where your Trust is located. When you have a Trust, it is important that the people you name to manage your trust know where to find it and how to act.

Now that I am a grandmother and my children are adults, I only deal with pet instructions. I leave the pet sitter with the Veterinarian’s phone number, feeding instructions, walk times, treats they get, etc. I also list who should come for the dogs should something happen to my husband and I while traveling.

Of course, I first ask the person named in the instructions about adopting our pets if we don’t make it home. It is never a good idea to “surprise” someone with a lifetime expectation of caring for your pet. Pre-arrange this and add a Pet Trust (direction on who gets the animal(s)) within your Revocable Living Trust with your instructions and allocate some money for the care of your beloved animals.

Unlike the notes on the kitchen counter for the weekend trip, the Trust works for you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The Trust holds written rules for your family and beneficiaries to follow at different times during your life and for your loved ones after you pass away. Unlike my written instructions for my pet sitter on the counter with money, a Trust is legally enforceable and can last for generations.

To summarize, instructions to both caregivers and pet sitters are very much like a Trust in that they both provide detailed instructions and information. Trusts give your instructions to specifically named people (Successor Trustees) about what to do if you become incapacitated or pass away. The Trust gives instructions about what to do with your house, money and custody of your pets. It gives someone, a Successor Trustee, the authority to act according to your directions.

The Trust can also sets limitations, restricting what a Successor Trustee cannot do in certain instances. It is always important to make sure your instructions are current with your life and the needs of your family as you age. The people you named as Successor Trustees, 10 years ago, may no longer be the people you would name as agents today.
Sure, the hastily written instructions with money and the insurance card is an easy way to make sure the weekend sitter has what they need to make it through 48 hours of caring for someone or something you love. A Revocable Living Trust helps your family and Successor Trustees make it through the rest of your life and the lives of your loved ones with legal protection and rules of operation. Don’t leave on your next trip without your Revocable Living Trust instructions in place!

Posted in Estate Planning

Who Should Be Your Successor Trustee?

Posted on February 24, 2017

If you have a revocable living trust, you probably named yourself as trustee so you can continue to manage your own financial affairs. Eventually, however, someone will need to step in for you when you are no longer able to act due to incapacity or death.

The Successor Trustee plays an important role in the effective execution of your estate plan. The choice of a Successor Trustee is one of the most important choices our clients make.

Responsibilities of a Successor Trustee

At Incapacity:  If you become incapacitated, your Successor Trustee will step in and take full control of your finances for you – paying bills, making financial decisions, even selling or refinancing assets. Often your Successor Trustee will also serve as your Agent under your Financial Power of Attorney.

After Death: After you die, your Successor Trustee acts just like an executor would – takes an inventory of your assets, pays your final bills, sells assets if necessary, has your final tax returns prepared, and distributes your assets according to the instructions in your trust.

What You Need to Know:

  • Trustees are fiduciaries. A fiduciary is a person to whom property or power is entrusted for the benefit of another. A fiduciary duty in a trust is the legal duty to act solely in the beneficiary’s interests. Your Successor Trustee will be able to do anything you could with your trust assets, as long as it does not conflict with the instructions in your trust document and does not breach any fiduciary duty. Continue reading
Posted in Estate Planning, Legacy Fiduciary Services, PLC, Trust & Estate Administration

Jeremy L. Pryor Selected Speaker for NBI Workshop

Posted on February 9, 2017

Attorney Jeremy L. Pryor was selected to instruct a Continuing Legal Education (CLE) workshop for the National Business Institute (NBI). The program will take place on March 9th in Richmond, Va. The title fo the program is Protecting Assets While Qualifying for Medicaid.

The National Business Institute (NBI) is a national provider of continuing legal education and training.

Posted in Asset Protection Planning for Long Term Care, Attorneys in the News, Elder Law

‘Til Death Do Us Part – Estate Planning Tips for Commitment Without Marriage

Posted on February 6, 2017

Content provided by WealthCounsel; reviewed and edited by Beth Ann R. Lawson, Esq.

Advice columnist Ann Landers once observed that “love is friendship that has caught fire.” For many Americans, such feelings are not being formalized by marriage. This growing group of committed partners includes all ages with many seniors now expanding the numbers.


  • Per the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately 112 million people in the U.S. are unmarried;
  • 45 percent of our country’s households are “unmarried households.”
  • In 2013, the CDC found that “cohabitation [without marriage] is now a regular part of family life in the U.S.”

The law has not kept up with these societal trends. If you and your significant other love each other but do not want to tie the knot, you need an estate plan that provides for each partner’s specific needs which protect both the partner along and any other loved ones you wish to protect. When the cost of long term care enters a family’s life, then marriage is a true legal tie that binds the two incomes and assets to the cost of the long term care for one or both.  For many seniors, paying long term care for a second spouse at the risk of leaving nothing to their own family is too big a price to pay.

Estate planning for married couples can seem pretty straightforward because there are long-standing legal and tax strategies. Unmarried couples may need to take a more individualized approach in order to achieve both their mutual and separate goals. Following are some documents and methods to consider when creating or updating estate plans for those who are legally single and committed to another person.

Living Trusts

Living trusts allow you to use your assets while you are alive. After you pass away, the trust can bypass the court probate process when transferring property to loved ones. A trust can keep your affairs out of public record. It can empower someone else to handle your finances if you become unable to do so. Trusts tend to cost more up-front than some other solutions, but the life, incapacity and death benefits they provide cannot be easily or reliably replicated with other planning options. A trust is very often the superior estate planning tool and a cornerstone of most comprehensive plans, especially for couples who have not formalized their relationships with a legal marriage but intend to remain committed to the other.


A pour-over will can be an effective “backup” and compliment to a revocable trust. When you pass away, your assets get “poured-over” into your trust.  Assets are then distributed to your beneficiaries per the terms and within the protections of that trust. The pour-over will keeps things simple, making the process less stressful (and prone to error) for your executor and trustee. It also helps wrap up loose ends, in case some assets were not transferred to your trust before you passed away.

What happens if you die without a will or other estate plan? Courts refer to this as “dying intestate.” It means that the rules that will apply to your estate distribution are generic state laws. These laws rarely, if ever, account for long-term unmarried partners, so a will is essential to protect a person to whom you are committed. As an unmarried couple, you simply cannot rely on the intestate laws to work for you.

Beneficiary Designations

Most retirement accounts and many other types of accounts allow you to designate a “beneficiary,” or a person who will automatically receive what’s in the account when you die. Make sure you update your beneficiaries on your 401(k), IRA, or other retirement accounts, as well as on life insurance and other documents. Depending on how your trust is designed, your circumstances and your goals, you may name one or more trusts as the beneficiary rather than an individual person.

Legal/Financial Power of Attorney, Advance Medical Directive, and Similar Documents

These documents allow you to designate your significant other as the person who has the right to make certain types of decisions and sign documents on your behalf in different legal situations if you become incapacitated. If no such power exists, the decision-making task typically passes to a close blood relative and typically requires a court proceeding called a guardianship or conservatorship. Your lawyer can help you determine which powers should be covered by these different documents to ensure that enough authority is granted while still providing protection against unauthorized actions.

Whether you are 30 years of age or 90 years of age, if you have been living as a committed couple for years, or are eyeing retirement options, or just beginning a family with a person who has not been legally recognized as your spouse, you probably have questions, and you should.  How should you protect yourself and family financially as you and your partner age? What can you do to enshrine the values you hold dear for the next generation? What if an unwanted event happens, throwing you and your partner off balance — what contingency plans are in place?

Our experienced estate planning attorneys can help you identify a strategy create the peace of mind which you, your partner and your separate families need. Please call or email us to schedule a private consultation.

Posted in Estate Planning