Ending Veteran Homelessness


West Tennessee Legal Services Announces Sub-Grantee Milestone towards Ending Veteran Homelessness

On Tuesday, October 23, 2018, the Jackson/West Tennessee Continuum of Care (CoC) announced that it is the first CoC in the State of Tennessee to meet the federal benchmarks for effectively ending homelessness among Veterans for its service area. A CoC is defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as “a community plan to organize and deliver housing and services to meet the specific needs of people who are homeless as they move to stable housing and maximize self-sufficiency.  It includes action steps to end homelessness.” 

As the Direct Grantee of the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) Program grant, West Tennessee Legal Services, Inc. has worked in close partnership for over five years with its Sub-Grantee, Tennessee Homeless Solutions as well as the local Continuum of Care (CoC) to establish a community-wide plan to prevent and end homelessness among Veterans in this area.  The Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) Program is funded from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to assist very low-income Veteran families residing in or transitioning into permanent housing and to promote permanent housing. 

An end to Veteran homelessness means that every community will have a comprehensive response in place that ensures homelessness is prevented whenever possible, or if it can’t be prevented, it is a rare, brief, and one-time experience.  Specifically, every community will have the capacity to:

  • Quickly identify Veterans & engage those Veterans that are at risk of homelessness or currently experiencing homelessness.
  • Intervene to prevent Veterans from losing housing & divert Veterans from entering the homelessness services system
  • Provide Veterans with immediate access to shelter & crisis services without barriers to entry if homelessness does occur
  • Quickly connect Veterans that are experiencing homelessness to housing assistance & services that are tailored to meet the unique needs to help achieve and maintain stable housing.

Homelessness is always a tragedy but is especially heart-breaking when a Veteran’s service to our country contributed to the situation. According to a survey released by the VA in May 2018, four of the top 10 unmet needs for homeless veterans result from a lack of legal assistance.  They are:

  • Legal assistance for child support issues (No. 5 for males, No. 5 for females)
  • Legal assistance to help restore a driver’s license (No. 8 for males, No. 8 for females)
  • Legal assistance for outstanding warrants and fines (No. 9 for males, No. 10 for females)
  • Legal assistance to prevent eviction and foreclosure (No. 10 for males

These unresolved legal issues often contribute to the cycle of poverty that keeps these veterans in a homeless situation. Wrongful eviction or foreclosure may force residents from their homes, robbing them of a stable shelter. Outstanding warrants and fines can pile up beyond a person’s ability to pay, possibly leading to jail time. The ability to bring in money through a job can be hampered by the lack of a fixed address, and without a driver’s license, commuting to a job by other means can be a struggle. Navigating the disability benefits process and medical bills for disabled veterans can be overwhelming.

The spiraling effect of these issues can lead to despair and homelessness.  West Tennessee Legal Services works in conjunction with the CoC and other agencies to help veterans with these types of problems affecting their basic needs for which there may be legal solutions.

Gift Card Scam

Posted October 17, 2018

Scammers are Demanding Gift Cards

Scammers seem to want payment with gift cards these days because it makes tracing practically impossible, says the FTC.  If you have been asked to make payment with a gift card, don't do it.  It is probably a scam to take your money.  Scammers get the codes on the back of the gift card,  obtain the money you put on the gift card, and go about their way.  Gift cards are for gifts, not for payment!  For more information, click here

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The Employee Retirement Security Act of 1974 (ERISA)

What is ERISA?

The Employee Retirement Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) is a federal law enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor that provides protection for individuals by setting minimum standards for most voluntarily-established pension and health plans.

What does ERISA do?

ERISA guarantees payments of basic pension benefits to plan participants and beneficiaries, while also protecting these plans from mismanagement and abuse. ERISA does not require an employer to establish a pension or health benefit plan or require a minimum level of benefits, but instead regulates the operation of those plans once they have been set up.

Who does ERISA cover?

ERISA covers retirement plans and welfare benefit plans set up in the private industry. This includes roughly 684,000 retirement plans, 2.4 million health plans, and 2.4 million welfare benefit plans. More than 141 million workers and beneficiaries, along with $7.6 trillion in assets, are covered by ERISA.

What plans are not covered by ERISA?

ERISA does not cover group health plans set up or maintained by the government. It also does not cover health maintenance organization (HMO) plans. If you have an issue with one of these, there may be other legal remedies available.

What are the responsibilities of a plan administrator under ERISA?

ERISA requires that people or entities who can change plan management or plan assets, who control the plan administration, or who provide investment advice to a plan for profit are subject to “fiduciary responsibilities.” A “fiduciary duty” means a duty to act in the best interests of plan participants or beneficiaries.

What information about plans are plan administrators required to provide under ERISA?

Plan administrators, or the people who run the plans, must give plan participants the most important facts they need to know about their plans. This includes plan rules, financial information, and documents on the operation and management of the plan.

Administrators also must give individuals the summary plan description that tells participants what the plan provides and how it operates, including telling them when an employee can begin to participate in the plan, how service and benefits are calculated, when benefits becomes vested, when and in what form benefits are paid, and how to file a claim for benefits.

What happens if my claim for benefits has been denied or terminated?

An ERISA-covered plan must provide written notice to any participant or beneficiary whose claim for benefits has been denied and provide a full and fair process for review of the denial. “Full and fair” means that the participant must have enough time to work on the appeal, that documents and records be made available, and that nothing unreasonable is required. The actual requirements may depend on exactly what type of claim was originally filed.  

What acts are a violation of ERISA?

Some of the most common ERISA violations include:

  • Improperly denying benefits to current or former employees,
  • Breach of fiduciary duty toward employees covered by plans, and
  • Interference with the rights of employees covered by plans.

This is by no means an exhaustive list.  An ERISA violation may arise in any number of ways as long as there is a connection with a qualifying plan.

Each claim has different requirements, but generally, the claim must involve a beneficiary or plan participant who believes a violation has been committed by the plan administrator.

Can the legal options differ based on the violation?

Yes. Some plans may require arbitration or some other type of dispute resolution outside of a courtroom. Certain ERISA violations, like improper withdrawal or transfer of plan assets, must go through arbitration.

Discrimination claims, even if arising from a pension issue, should be filed with the EEOC.

Do I have to exhaust my requests for administrative relief before filing a lawsuit?

Technically, ERISA does not require this, but most courts have refused to allow a lawsuit to move forward until all administrative routes have been exhausted. This means in most cases you should go through the entire appeal process with your plan before moving on to court. 

How do I make a claim under ERISA for a denial of benefits?

An action against an employer who denies a claim usually follows the order below:

  • A person covered under a plan or a plan beneficiary makes a claim for benefits. 
  • If the claim is denied, the participant must go through the plan’s appeal process.
  • If the appeal is denied or the participant is not satisfied, the participant must file a complaint with the Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA). 
  • If EBSA determines there has been a violation, it will sue on behalf of plan participants to get any relief that fixes the violation. 
  • If EBSA determines there has been no violation, the participant will get a letter with the reasons for the decision and giving the process for further review. However, any further review will probably look at the investigation rather than the alleged violation.
  • Once this process is exhausted, a participant can seek legal action.

How do I initiate an action against the plan administrator if they are doing something that hurts the plan participants and beneficiaries?

You can make a “request for enforcement” through EBSA. This request must be in writing and contain enough information to identify any participant, beneficiary, or fiduciary and the plan involved.  The request may be submitted by phone or online.  EBSA will then initiate an investigation. EBSA will let the parties know whether its agents have found violations. Any action moving forward will be determined by EBSA’s determination. 

Find your local EBSA Regional Office to report a violation at www.dol.gov/agencies/ebsa/about-ebsa/about-us/regional-offices.

Can someone other than the plan administrator violate ERISA?

Yes. Third parties have been found liable under ERISA for certain actions that harm plan participants and beneficiaries. For example, the third party may interfere with the plan or engage in some type of self-serving action that harms the participants and beneficiaries.

What type of penalties are available if a violation is found?

Both civil and criminal penalties can be assessed under ERISA. There are many types of civil penalties that can be assessed. For example, if a person appeals a denial of benefits and wins, that person can be awarded benefits that were improperly denied, interest accrued while benefits were withheld or denied, and any attorneys’ fees the plan member may owe. For breaches of fiduciary duty and similar violations, EBSA can assess other civil penalties including fines and forcing the employer to change certain procedures and practices. The remedy will always be based on the type of harm. Punitive damages, pain and suffering, and lost income are not available under ERISA.

EBSA may also impose criminal penalties when the ERISA violation occurs through theft, misrepresentation, fraud, or coercive interference. Individuals may be jailed up to 10 years for egregious ERISA violations.

The Employee Retirement Security Act of 1974 (ERISA)PDF

Guide for Agents with Power of Attorney

*The following information only applies to POAs assigned by a person who is 18 or older. The rules are different for juveniles.

What is a Power of Attorney (POA)?

A POA gives someone the power to make decisions. Anyone, at almost any time, can assign his or her decision-making rights through a Power of Attorney. The person assigning his rights to someone else is called the “Principal,” and the person being appointed is the “Agent” or “Attorney in Fact.”

When does a person become an Agent?

The Agent’s appointment usually begins when the Principal signs the POA in front of a notary, two witnesses, or both. If anyone pressures the Principal to sign a POA, it may not be valid. This should be the Principal’s decision alone.      

What can an Agent do under a POA?

Just because someone wants a person to be their Agent does NOT mean they have to do it. This is a voluntary appointment and can be refused.

The duties of the Agent depend on what roles the Principal assigns. There are 23 powers in the Tennessee Durable Power of Attorney Act that a Principal can assign, although assignable powers are not limited to these. A Principal can assign whatever powers they want. Every power that the Agent has under a POA should be in the POA, unless the POA “incorporates by reference” those 23 powers in the law.

How does the Agent sign for the Principal?

The Agent should sign in a way that shows they are an Agent. We recommend signing the Principal’s name and then writing next to it, “Signed by [Agent’s printed name], Attorney in Fact” and then the agent signing their name underneath that. 

How will people know an Agent has POA?

The Agent must show them the document. Copies are just as good as the original.   

What are the duties of an Agent under a POA?

An Agent is a “fiduciary,” which means that an Agent is in a special relationship of trust with the Principal and that the Agent must act in the best interests of the Principal. The Agent should never go outside of powers in the POA and should carry out the Principal’s decisions to the extent possible. Any act of the Agent that is self-serving or goes against the Principal’s interests is a violation of the fiduciary duty.

An Agent named in a POA also has a duty make an accounting to the Principal upon request, to any legal representative of the Principal, or to a court. The accounting should only include actions taken when using the POA. Usually this means giving proof of how the Agent used the Principal’s money. The Agent can easily fulfill this duty by keeping excellent records and saving receipts. The Agent may want to keep a “POA journal” where they write down decisions made and actions taken for the Principal, and make sure there is proof for each entry. An unaccounted-for transaction can lead to liability.

Can an Agent make gifts?

Unless the POA says that the Agent can do anything the Principal would do, or if it explicitly allows gift giving, an Agent should not give gifts on behalf of the Principal! If the Agent wants to give a gift on behalf of the Principal, they must get permission from a court. The court will consider several factors and either allow or deny the gift in question. 

How does the Principal’s capacity affect the Agent’s duties?

Capacity is a person’s mental state, or their ability to accomplish an act and understand the consequences. Once a person loses capacity to make decisions, a doctor or court may say they are “incompetent” or “incapacitated.” People may say “capacity” or “competency” interchangeably. The Agent never determines capacity. In most cases, a doctor must declare someone incompetent, and they must do so in writing.

If the Principal assigned a “springing” POA, the Agent can only act after incapacity. Any use of this power prior to incompetency is illegal. Results of determination of capacity is a limited exception to HIPAA. A medical provider can tell the Agent the mental status of the Principal, so they know their powers have gone into effect. If the POA is “nondurable,” the POA ends with incapacity.

Unless the Principal becomes incompetent, the Agent should only use the POA in ways directed by the Principal. For example, if the Principal asks an Agent to buy them a wheelchair with their money, but instead the Agent buys a blender, the Agent has violated their duty, even if they thought their decision was in the Principal’s best interests. 

If a medical provider does declare the Principal incompetent, then the Agent should do their utmost to honor the wishes of the Principal.  For example, if the Principal has deposited $50 into a mutual fund every month for the last 20 years, the Agent should continue this practice. 

Finally, upon the incapacity of a Principal, the next of kin of the Principal can go to court and ask the court to place a bond on the Agent. The court does not have to grant this request. We see this when someone petitions for conservatorship, but it can happen in any case. Usually this happens because the next of kin thinks the Agent has used the POA in an abusive way.    

What is the difference in duties between a Financial POA and a POA for Healthcare?

It is exactly what it sounds like. One is only for healthcare decisions while the other is for decisions related to finances. The duties only overlap if the Principal assigns the Agent for both. 

What are the responsibilities of the Agent under a Healthcare Power of Attorney?

A POA for healthcare gives an Agent the power to make healthcare decisions for the Principal. For example, the Agent may be able to make decisions about scope of treatment, use of life-saving procedures, and handling of the Principal’s body after death. Just like a financial POA, an Agent must act in the Principal’s best interest and may not make self-serving decisions.  

The only financial power this Agent has is the power to get financial records in order to make medical decisions. For example, an Agent for healthcare may need to know the Principal’s financial status to decide whether to consent to a procedure. The Agent has the same right as the Principal to make fully informed medical decisions for the Principal.

Will the Agent still have powers if the Principal revokes the POA?

No! The powers the Principal are theirs to take away. If the Principal tells the Agent in writing or orally that they are revoking POA powers, the Agent cannot use the POA. The Agent may be required to give an accounting of acts done with the POA. 

If a court appoints a conservator, what happens to the POA?

Usually the POA document says the Agent should also be the conservator should the need arise, so the POA usually becomes the conservator. Even if the document does not explicitly say this, Tennessee courts must consider the person holding POA for conservator before anyone else. Unless there is a good reason otherwise, the POA will usually be the conservator, but who ultimately becomes conservator is up to the court. 

If someone else becomes conservator and the Agent remains POA, the Agent with POA retains the same powers. The only difference is that the Agent then owes a fiduciary duty to the conservator as well as the Principal. The conservator will usually have the same authority the Principal did before incapacity.

What happens if an Agent violates their duties?

An Agent who violates their duty to the Principal can face legal action. They can expect a legal challenge to any misuse of a POA. The Principal can recover damages or property lost due to the Agent’s actions. In some cases, there may be additional financial penalties. 

The Agent may also face criminal penalties. Because the POA gives an Agent so much access, the Agent is held to a high standard. The severity of the penalty depends on the vulnerability of the principal and the severity of the violation.

If a person believes the Agent has violated their duty, they may ask a court to stop the Agent from using the POA. They may also ask that the POA be deemed invalid.

When do the Agent’s duties end?

When the Principal dies, the POA dies with them. As soon as the Agent knows the Principal has died, they should stop using the POA. There may be a limited exception to complete decisions already made while the Principal was alive, but the Agent should consult an attorney before taking any such actions.  There may also be a request for accounting at this point.   

A person may also withdraw from Agency.  At no point must a person accept POA.  Usually the Principal assigns a Secondary Agent in case the Primary Agent no longer can or is no longer willing to serve. The Primary Agent can also usually delegate their duties unless otherwise specified in the document or unless the Principal is competent and does not want the Agent to assign their duties. 

What are the duties of a Secondary Agent?

Until the Primary Agent becomes unable or unwilling to serve, the next in line has no duties. 

What else does the Agent need to know?

The purpose of a POA and other Agency appointments is to make the Principal’s life easier. Especially for elderly or disabled people, this may be a means of maintaining independence and dignity. Abuse of POA is far too common.  An Agent with POA should always keep this in mind and only use their power for the benefit of the Principal. 


Guide for Agents with Power of Attorney PDF

Debt Management and Credit Counseling Providers

What is the Uniform Debt-Management Services Act (“UDMSA”)?

Between 2000 and 2003, the number of credit counseling and debt settlement services more than doubled due to the growing number of people needing help with debt.  In 2005, bankruptcy code amendments began requiring credit counseling before filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy, while several states began requiring credit counseling in connection with high mortgages and payday loans.  The National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws drafted the Uniform Debt-Management Services Act of 2005 to help regulate these businesses. The act addresses registration, bonding, disclosures, prerequisites for providing services, prohibited acts and practices, and penalties. Tennessee adopted the UDMSA on July 1, 2010.

Who does this Act cover?

The UDMSA covers non-profit and for-profit companies that provide credit counseling and debt-management services.

What is the difference between a credit counseling and debt settlement service?

Credit counseling services generally help a consumer repay his or her debt, while debt-management services negotiate with creditors to settle for less than the full amount of the consumer’s debt.

What does Tennessee require for registration of a debt-management service company?

A provider that wants to provide debt management services in Tennessee must meet 17 requirements, including maintaining a trust account for client funds, qualifying to do business in the State, providing evidence of accreditation, and providing thorough analyses of their financial and business practices.

When can the Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance deny a provider’s application to provide debt management services?

The Commissioner may deny a provider’s application when:

  • The application contains information that is materially erroneous or incomplete,
  • An officer, director, or owner has been convicted of a crime or suffered a civil judgment involving dishonesty or the violation of state or federal securities laws;
  • Officers, directors, or owners of the company have defaulted in the payment of money collected for others,
  • There is a finding that the company will not operate in compliance with the UDMSA, or
  • There is any other violation of the UDMSA.

What does the UDMSA require providers to do once they’re licensed?

Providers must:

  • Have a toll-free phone line staffed during normal business hours that lets a customer  speak to a certified counselor or customer service representative,
  • Give customers an itemized list of goods and services and the charges for each, including the set-up fee, monthly service fee, and settlement fee,
  • Reasonably educate certified counselors about the management of personal finances,
  • Make specific disclosures to customers, including warnings about potential credit and tax consequences,
  • Set up a trust account for all money paid to them for distribution to creditors, and
  • Give a customer three days to cancel an agreement after signing. 

Providers can also create an agreement to settle debts for 50 cents on the dollar. However, for a settlement of 50% or less of debt forgiven, the provider must have the permission of the customer after the creditor has agreed to a settlement. If the provider makes a deal to settle more than 50% of the debt, they do not need the customer’s permission to take the settlement. 

What does the UDMSA say about fees and other charges?

The UDMSA limits fees and charges on customers, including:

  • All debt education and counseling must be free.  The only exception is that providers can charge for certain government programs that require participation in education or counseling.
  • A credit-counseling agency can charge a set-up fee of $50.
  • A debt settlement company can charge a set-up fee as long as it is no more than 4% of the amount you owe, but they can never charge more than $400.
  • A customer who is only receiving educational and counseling services may be charged a fee no more than $100.
  • A provider that provides both debt-management and debt settlement services can only charge one set-up fee.
  • A debt settlement provider may charge a settlement fee of 30% of the amount the customer didn’t have to pay to the creditor.  
  • If you are in bankruptcy and the judge allows the debtor to get nonprofit budget and credit counseling from a nonprofit agency, providers are required to provide services without regard to the ability of the customer to pay the fee.

What does the UDMSA prohibit?

Companies cannot:

  • Misuse funds held in trust for a customer
  • Act on behalf of a customer after the customer has ended the agreement
  • Compensate employees based on the number of customers enrolled into agreements
  • Perform legal services or give legal advice
  • Purchase a customer’s debt
  • Disclose the identity or identifying information of the customer or his or her creditors
  • Charge or receive payment for debt-management services until the provider and the customer have signed an agreement
  • Charge or receive payment of any fee after the provider and customer have signed an agreement to pay less than the amount of debt owed unless and until the provider has:
  • Renegotiated, settled, or reduced the terms of at least 1 debt or
  • Customer has made at least 1 payment pursuant to the settlement agreement

How does Tennessee enforce the UDMSA?

Enforcement of the UDMSA occurs at two levels, the administrator and the customer level.

  • The administrator can:
    • Investigate,
    • Tell the provider to stop doing something illegal, and/or
    • Sue.
  • A customer may:
    • Bring a civil lawsuit for damages,
    • Void an agreement if they believe the provider has charged illegal fees or received money from or on behalf of the customer without authorization. 

Who do I contact to report a violation of the UDMSA?

To submit a complaint regarding Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion, file a complaint online with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau at www.consumerfinance.gov/complaint/ or by phone at (855) 411-2372.

For other companies, send a complaint to the State of Tennessee, Division of Regulatory Boards online at www.tn.gov/commerce/resources-services/file-a-complaint.html, and choose either the Debt Management Category or the Credit Service Business Category, or call the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance at (615) 741-2241.

You can also file a complaint online with the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/GettingStarted?NextQID=24&Url=%23%26panel1-8#crnt

You can check the license of a Credit Service Business or Debt Management Service company in Tennessee at http://verify.tn.gov/.

Acknowledgements & Disclaimer:   This Fact Sheet was prepared by West Tennessee Legal Services (WTLS) and made possible by Serving Tennessee Seniors-administered by The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee at the request of the Chancery Court. WTLS thanks the Tennessee Bar Association for its permission to use The Legal Handbook for Tennessee Seniors (2014 edition) as a primary information source. This publication is supported, in part, by funds provided by the Southwest Area Agency on Aging and Disability, the Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  The content herein does not necessarily reflect the opinion or policy of the Southwest Area Agency on Aging and Disability or any agency of Tennessee or the U.S. government. Fact Sheets are for information only and not intended to replace legal advice.   If you are in need of legal help, call WTLS at (800) 372-8346, or seek the help of a private attorney. (Revised 8/2018)


Debt Management and & Credit Counseling Providers PDF


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West Tennessee Legal Services, Inc.
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West Tennessee Legal Services, Inc. is a tax-exempt organization.  Your contributions to this agency are tax deductible; therefore, your gifts, large or small, are most welcomed and appreciated!

Fair Housing

The Fair Housing Act

Coverage Under the Act

The act covers residential housing in the markets of rental, sales, lending and insurance to include private and subsidized housing.  

Prohibitions Under the Act

When the housing provider, because of your race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or disability:

  • Refuses to negotiate for housing.
  • Sets different terms, conditions or privileges for sale, rental, lending or insurance of a dwelling.
  • Provides different housing services or facilities.
  • Falsely denies that housing is available for inspection, sale or rental.
  • For profit, induces someone to sell or rent because of the protected class that is moving into the neighborhood.
  • Denies anyone access to or membership in a rental or sales facility or service (such as a multiple listing service).
  • Threatens, coerces, intimidates or interferes with anyone exercising a fair housing right or assisting others to exercise a right.
  • Advertises or makes any statement that indicates a limitation, preference, or discrimination based on a protected class.

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Michael Tate

Cecil M. Giles

Suzie Edwards Press Release

Posted December 21, 2017

Suzie Edwards, intake paralegal for West Tennessee Legal Services’ (WTLS’) Huntingdon Office was honored with the first annual “Steve X” award for her outstanding work promoting access to justice in West Tennessee. 

For the last forty (40) years, WTLS has provided civil legal help to low-income, vulnerable individuals who would otherwise be unable to afford legal assistance in 17 West Tennessee Counties, including Carroll County.   More information about WTLS’ services, including downloadable factsheets and brochures regarding legal issues affecting senior citizens and low-income individuals, can be found at www.wtls.org.

Steve Xanthopoulos, former Executive Director of WTLS from 1988-2014, first joined WTLS in 1980 as the Managing Attorney in the Huntingdon office.  Xanthopoulos was a creative innovator in the delivery of civil legal assistance to vulnerable populations and was recognized nationally, as well as statewide, for his collaborative efforts to ensure justice for all.  Excellence was the standard by which he led.  In honor of his dedication and leadership, current Executive Director, Catherine B. Clayton, established the "Steve X" award to be given annually to a WTLS staff member whose work ethic and dedication to WTLS clients exemplifies the standard Xanthopoulos established.  According to Clayton, “The Constitution opens with its stated goal:  ‘We the People, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice  . . .’ Suzie Edwards helps makes the Constitutional promise of ‘justice for all’, as also stated in the Pledge of Allegiance,  possible for  vulnerable West Tennesseans every day. There is no one more well-deserving of Steve Xanthopoulos’ legacy to receive the first Steve X award than Suzie.” 

Elder Abuse

What is elder abuse?

Although there is no official definition, elder abuse is unwanted or offensive physical, sexual, or psychological activity by another. It also includes financial exploitation of older adults, willful or accidental neglect, self-neglect, and abandonment. The elder in elder abuse generally refers to adults age 60 and older.

How do I spot elder abuse?

Abuse is hard to spot, especially since aging or dementia may look like abuse.  Signs of physical, sexual, or psychological abuse are especially difficult to spot outside of a doctor-patient setting. However, there are some basic signs that you can look for: 

  • Physical signs: Bruises, cuts, burns, pressure marks, broken bones, poor hygiene, malnutrition, unusual weight loss, or complaints about being hit or touched inappropriately
  • Emotional Signs: Frequent arguments between the victim and his or her caregiver or family member, sudden changes in personality or behavior, withdrawal from normal activities, strained or tense relationships, changes in alertness, unusual depression or anxiety, or isolation
  • Financial Abuse: Sudden changes in financial situations, a caregiver not taking care of basic needs, transfers of property, or large gifts

Who commits elder abuse?

Sadly, the vast majority of elder abuse is committed by family members, and in particular, adult children. Other common culprits are people in positions of trust, such as agents under Powers of Attorney and caregivers. 

Who is at risk?

Common risk factors include previous abuse, alcohol or drug addiction, lack of support or services for aging issues, isolation, and dementia or other mental illness. 

How can I protect myself?

You can protect yourself with legal planning, like having a power of attorney, advance directive, or declaration for mental health treatment. It is also important if you have a lot of assets to do financial planning and to protect your personal information.

How do I report abuse?

Call 911 if you or someone you know is in danger. You can also report abuse to the following:

  • Nationwide Domestic Violence Hotline, (800) 799-SAFE(7233) or (800) 787-3224
  • Tennessee Domestic Violence Hotline, (800) 356-6767
  • If the abuse occurs outside of a nursing home or long-term care facility, report to Adult Protective Services at https://reportadultabuse.dhs.tn.gov/ or (888) APS-TENN, (888) 277-8366
  • If the abuse occurs in a nursing home or long-term care facility, report to the District Long-Term Care Ombudsman:
  • Northwest Tennessee AAAD, (731) 587-4213, ext. 239
  • Southwest Tennessee AAAD, (731) 668-6411
  • For victim support services in West Tennessee, contact WRAP’s 24 hour hotline at (800) 273-8712.
  • To request free legal help, call your local legal aid.

What can I do if I’m a victim?

You have the right to file criminal charges or seek a civil remedy in court. To file a criminal charge, fill out a police report in the city or county where the abuse happened. 

Civil options include filing an Order of Protection, filing a lawsuit, and reporting the abuse to police, Adult Protective services, or to the District Ombudsman if the abuse happened in a nursing home or other long-term care facility. Many victim support organizations and legal aid offices may help with these options.

What are my options as the family or friend of a victim?

As a family or friend of the victim, you can file a Vulnerable Adult Order of Protection on behalf of the victim. This action requires that you be related to the victim, the victim be 18 or older, and the victim lacks the capacity to file for him/herself. A family or friend can also file for a conservatorship and report to Adult Protective Services, the Ombudsman, or police.

Are there any other resources for dealing with or preventing elder abuse?

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau “Money Smart for Older Adults: Prevent Financial Exploitation


National Center for State Courts Elder Abuse Resource Guide


National Center on Elder Abuse State Resources


Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability, Elder Abuse


National Council for Aging Care, Elder Abuse Guide



Acknowledgements & Disclaimer:   This Fact Sheet was prepared by West Tennessee Legal Services (WTLS) and made possible by Serving Tennessee Seniors-administered by The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee at the request of the Chancery Court. WTLS thanks the Tennessee Bar Association for its permission to use The Legal Handbook for Tennessee Seniors (2014 edition) as a primary information source. This publication is supported, in part, by funds provided by the Southwest Area Agency on Aging and Disability, the Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  The content herein does not necessarily reflect the opinion or policy of the Southwest Area Agency on Aging and Disability or any agency of Tennessee or the U.S. government. Fact Sheets are for information only and not intended to replace legal advice.   If you are in need of legal help, call WTLS at (800) 372-8346, or seek the help of a private attorney. (Revised 10/2017)

Elder Abuse PDF

Duties of the Conservator

Posted July 6, 2017


What are the Conservator’s Responsibilities?

A conservator is a fiduciary, which means that the conservator is held to a high standard of trust known as “fiduciary responsibility”.  The conservator must always act in the best interests of the ward (The “ward” is the person that a court has determined is in need of a conservator).  If family members or certain other interested parties think the conservator is not acting in good faith or performing duties with due care and diligence, they can bring a legal action against the conservator. A court can also penalize a conservator for failure to perform required duties.  Failure to uphold that high level of trust can result in serious consequences ranging from removal as conservator to financial liability for damages or unauthorized expenses. The duties of the conservator will vary depending upon the court’s order appointing a conservator, and whether the appointment is for “conservator of the estate” or “conservator of the person,” or both.  Sometimes, there are separate conservators of the estate and of the person.  For example, a bank may be appointed conservator of the estate if there are significant assets and an individual may be appointed conservator of the person. 


What are the responsibilities of the Conservator of the Person?

Protection of the Ward:  Often the conservator’s most important responsibility is to see that the ward is living in a safe environment. This responsibility can be difficult as choices may be limited for various reasons.  For example, this could mean hiring care-givers to watch the ward to make sure the ward doesn't harm himself/herself whether by malnourishment or accident. It may mean taking the ward out of the home and placing him/her in another safe place, such as an assisted living facility or nursing home. 

Health Care:  Unless the conservatorship order reserves medical authority to the ward who has mental capacity or there is already another health care agent for the ward (see below), the conservator is responsible for seeing that all the health care needs of the ward are met, including both medical and psychiatric. If the ward has previously executed a living will or otherwise made known his/her wishes in the event of a terminal illness, the conservator is bound to follow those wishes. The conservator would ordinarily request instructions from the court before removing life support, for example, unless there was a living will to follow.

If the ward had made an appointment of a health care agent through a durable power of attorney for health care or other document, that agency is not cancelled by the conservatorship, and the previous health care agent is still in charge of medical matters.

Act in the Ward’s Best Interests:  This is a high standard of fiduciary responsibility.   The conservator must act in the ward’s best interests at all times.  As a fiduciary, the conservator cannot use his/her position for his/her own benefit.


What are the responsibilities of the Conservator of the Estate?

In general, the conservator of the estate has a fiduciary duty to act in the ward’s best interests, a high standard of care and responsibility. Conflicts of interest or taking actions that help another person at the expense of the ward are generally prohibited. The conservator of the estate’s job is to handle all the financial affairs of the ward and pay all the ward’s bills carefully and properly, including making appropriate arrangement for payment of medical bills and nursing home care.   If the ward has substantial assets, the conservator of the estate is obligated to invest them safely and prudently, hiring financial advisors, accountants, and attorneys, if appropriate, to carry out those duties. The expenses of those advisors must be included in the budget and management plan approved by the court.  The conservator has the following statutory responsibilities under Tennessee law:

Inventory of Assets:  The conservator of the estate is required to take control of the assets of the ward and to file with the court an inventory of those assets. All bank and investment accounts will be transferred into the conservator’s name for the benefit of the ward.

Management Plan:  The conservator of the estate is required to develop a budget and a property management plan for use of the assets of the ward for the coming year. Only prudent investments and expenditures outlined in the plan and subsequently approved by the judge will be permitted. The conservator will be personally liable for any unauthorized expenditures of the ward’s assets.

Annual Accounting:  The conservator must submit a sworn accounting within thirty days after the six-month anniversary of the conservator’s date of appointment by the court and annually thereafter.  The accounting includes both a statement concerning a disabled ward’s physical and mental condition, which demonstrates whether the need for a conservatorship remains, and a financial accounting.  The requirement to file an annual statement concerning the ward’s physical and mental status cannot be excused.   The  financial accounting may be excused in the court’s discretion if the court makes a finding based on evidence that waiver of the accounting is appropriate and in the ward’s best interests and one of the following exists:  (a) the conservator holds no property of the ward and receives only periodic payments, such as social security, and the entire periodic payment is applied to the needs of the ward; or (b) the cost of the accounting would exceed 25% of the property held by the fiduciary on the ward’s behalf.   If not waived, the conservator of the estate must deliver to the probate court clerk a highly detailed accounting of the income and expenditures for the ward at the end of each year. Financial accounting requires copies of all checks, bank statements and the supporting information about income and expenses must be delivered to the clerk for careful review. Any revisions to the management plan are thereafter submitted to the judge for approval.

Closing the Estate: Upon the death of the ward, the conservator is responsible for seeing to the burial of the ward, in conjunction with appropriate family members, and thereafter must prepare a final accounting for the court before he/she may be discharged from his/her responsibilities.

New Medicare Savings Program

Posted August 25, 2017


Medicare offers insurance for expenses due to hospital care (Part A), other medical care (Parts B and C), and prescriptive drugs (Part D).  Medicare Savings Programs (or “MSPs”) are offered by TennCare to help low-income people by paying some of Medicare’s out-of-pocket costs. Those costs include premiums, deductibles, coinsurance, and copayments.  Four Medicare Savings Programs exist:

  • Qualified Medicare Beneficiary (or “QMB”) helps with Part A and B premiums, deductibles, coinsurance, and copayments.
  • Specified Low-Income Medicare Beneficiary (or “SLMB”) helps with Part B premiums only.
  • Qualifying Individual (or “QI”) helps with Part B premiums only.
  • Qualified Disabled and Working Individuals (or “QDWI”) helps people currently working with Part A premiums only.



Please keep your information up-to-date with TennCare. You will need to fill out an annual redetermination packet that will be sent to you in the mail. When you receive the redetermination packet, please fill out the information, make a copy for yourself, and send it back as soon as possible.



Please call the Tennessee Health Connection at 1-855-259-0701 and request an application. They will screen your information to determine if you qualify for MSP benefits.



Please call the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213 to apply for Medicare benefits. If you qualify and begin receiving Medicare, then you should follow the steps above to apply for MSP benefits.



Please call West Tennessee Legal Services (“WTLS”) to see if we can help. If your MSP benefits have ended, your Medicare Premiums will be deducted from your monthly check. We may be able to get your MSP benefits back.



You may qualify by meeting each of the following requirements.


Requirement 1 of 2:

Medicare Part A Eligibility
The first requirement is that you already receive (or are qualified for) Medicare Part A.  Generally, you are eligi/ble for Medicare Part A if:
You are at least 65 years old and either a U.S. citizen or a permanent legal resident for five (5) consecutive years; or
You already receive retirement or disability benefits; or
You have either end-stage renal disease (ESRD) or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease or ALS).


Requirement 2 of 2:

Income and Resource Limits

The second requirement is that your income and available resources fall below certain limits.  The limits are specific and change, but you generally may qualify if

You earn fewer than $1,400 per month individually (or are a married couple earning less than $1,850);
You have fewer than $7,400 in savings (or are a married couple with less than $11,100)
Also, QDWI is available if your monthly income is not greater than $4,105 (or $5,499 as a married couple).


                               Special Thanks to:

Medicare Savings Program PDF

Domestic Violence Cycle of Violence

Information about what to do if you are a victim of domestic violence.


Garnishment and Slow Pay Motions

Information about what to do if you have been garnished.


Bill Collectors Bugging You

Information about what to do about bill collectors who keep calling.


Sworn Denial

Information about what to do if you have been sued for money that you do not owe.



Representing Yourself in General Sessions

Information about how to represent yourself in General Sessions Court.




AmeriCorps Serving Here

West Tennessee Legal Services hosts a 2017-2018 Elder Justice Fellow through Equal Justice Works/AmeriCorps Legal Fellowship Program.  Our Elder Justice Fellow provide legal assistance and support services to victims of elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation, and to promote pro bono capacity building in the field. Our Elder Justice Fellow, Matt Scwimmer, serves the following counties in West Tennessee: 

Matt is available for presentations to groups interested in various topics addressing issues related to elder abuse. Contact him at

Matt Schwimmer
Equal Justice Works Fellow
Elder Justice AmeriCorps Program
West Tennessee Legal Services, Inc.
P.O. Box 2066
Jackson, TN 38302-2066
Telephone: (731) 426-1344
Fax: (731) 422-9079

TennCare Troubles





TennCare has sent papers to many people to see if they can keep their TennCare. The papers are called a “renewal packet.” They can be hard to fill out. People  are being cut off TennCare if they don’t fill out the  papers and send them back. Then their TennCare ends. It stops paying for their doctors, hospitals and medicine.


CUT OFF BECAUSE TENNCARE SAYS YOU DIDN’T SEND IN THE PAPERS? If you never got the papers, call Tennessee Health Connection (THC) at 1-855-259-0701 and tell them. Find out what address they sent the papers to. If it is the wrong address, tell them so. Give them the right address. Ask them to send you the papers at that address.


It is their mistake. Ask for an appeal. Also ask them to send a new set of papers to the right address. And ask them to put you back on TennCare while you fill out the papers.

WHAT IF YOU NEVER SENT THE PAPERS BACK AND DON’T HAVE THEM NOW? Call THC at 1-855-259-0701. Ask them to send you the papers again. Make sure they have your right address. If you return the papers within 90 days since you were cut off and you are still eligible, they have to put you back on TennCare and pay for any medical bills since they cut you off.
WHAT IF YOU GOT THE PAPERS BUT NEVER SENT THEM BACK? Fill them out NOW. If you return the papers within 90 days since you were cut off and you are still eligible, they have to put you back on TennCare and pay for any medical bills since they cut you off.

Call THC1-855-259-0701 and file an appeal. Ask them to put you back on TennCare while they look at your appeal. If you get mail about the appeal, give them any facts or proof they ask for.

WHAT IF YOU AREN’T ON TENN- CARE, AND YOU DON’T HAVE MEDICAL BILLS YOU NEED PAID? You can also call healthcare.gov at 1-855-259-0701.  Fill out a new application for TennCare.
HAVE A HEALTH OR NERVE PROBLEM MAKING IT HARD FOR YOU TO FILL OUT THE PAPERS? Call 1-855-259-0701 and tell them about your health or nerve problem. Tell them you need help with papers.


PHONE: 731-423-0616


Senior Services

West Tennessee Legal Services has launched a senior-friendly, senior specific website to expand access by senior citizens to important legal information.  Click to TNSeniorLaw.Org to visit the site.

10 Steps to Help You Fill Your Grocery Bag

SNAP Information

Steps To Help You
Fill Your Grocery Bag

Learn if You or Someone You Know Might Be Eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

As of October 1, 2008, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the new name for the Federal Food Stamp Program. Your State may use a different name, but it is still the same program. The new name reflects changes that make it easier to qualify for nutrition benefits and an increase in benefit amount.

1. Use the Internet Prescreening Tool.

To find out if you could be eligible, check out the Internet prescreening tool at www.snap-step1.usda.gov. Your local library usually has computers you can use.

2.  Call or Go to Your Local SNAP Office.

If you think you might be eligible, call or go to your local SNAP office. Look in the blue pages of your phone book under “Social Services” or “Human Services” to find the number. If you need help finding your local SNAP office, call the national toll-free SNAP information line at 1-800-221-5689.

3.  Get an Application Form (Obtenga un formulario de solicitud para beneficios SNAP).

There are five ways to get an application form:

  • Pick it up at a local SNAP office, or
  • Call the local SNAP office. Ask the SNAP worker to mail it to you, or
  • Ask the SNAP worker if there are other places where you can pick up the form, or
  • Print the form (Imprimir el formulario) from your State’s Web page, or
  • Apply online. (This is not yet available in all States.)

4. Fill Out the Application Form.

Fill out the SNAP application form as much as you can. If you need help, ask the SNAP worker. You can also ask a friend or people who work at places like legal services or food banks to help you fill out the form.

5.  Return the Application Form to Your Local SNAP Office.

Get the application form to your local SNAP office as soon as possible by taking it to the local SNAP office, mailing or faxing it, or by submitting it online where States provide this option. If you pick up your application form at a SNAP office, put your name and street address on the form and sign it. Leave that part of the form (usually the first page) at the SNAP office. This starts the process and helps you get healthy food sooner, if you are eligible. Take the rest of the form with you to fill out later.

6.  Make an Appointment for an Interview.

Make an appointment for an interview with a SNAP worker. If you are at a SNAP office, ask the SNAP worker to write down what you need to bring to the interview. If you are calling for an appointment, ask the SNAP worker what you need to bring.

Here are examples of some papers that you might need to bring:

  • Driver’s license or State identification card;
  • Birth certificate;
  • Pay stubs;
  • Agency letter showing money received, like Social Security, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Veterans Affairs benefits (VA), child support, alimony, unemployment, retirement;
  • Rental agreement or letter from your landlord, or mortgage statement that shows your address;
  • Utility bills, like electric, gas, water;
  • Cancelled checks for daycare or child support payments for your child(ren); and
  • Medical bills that you pay (if you are 60 or older or disabled).

7.  Get Papers or Other Information.

Get the papers or find the other information that the SNAP worker needs to finish your application. If you need help getting the papers, ask the SNAP worker, a relative, a friend, or a community representative to help you.

8.  Go to the Interview.

Go to the interview with the SNAP worker. Bring your papers with you. Ask the SNAP worker to make copies. Keep your original papers. If you need help filling out the application form or getting the information needed to finish your form, ask the SNAP worker. You may bring a friend or community representative to help you understand how to complete the process. If you can’t go to the SNAP office for the interview, ask for a telephone interview. You can also have a friend or relative go in your place.

9.  If You Are Approved, Go Grocery Shopping.

If you are approved for SNAP benefits, you will receive an EBT card (similar to a bank card or ATM card), and your SNAP benefits will be transferred electronically to the EBT card. To find stores that welcome SNAP benefits, go to the SNAP Retailer Locator at www.snapretailerlocator.com and click the “Select Location” link. Enter a street address, city and State, or zip code. Now you’re ready to go grocery shopping! Add lots of fruits, vegetables, whole- grain foods, and other good food to your shopping cart. Ask your local SNAP worker for information about nutrition education (SNAP-Ed) classes for you and your family. SNAP-Ed can help you learn more about stretching your food dollar; shopping; cooking easy, quick, tasty and healthy meals; and being more physically active for better health.

10.  If You Are Not Approved, Ask Why.

Call or visit the SNAP office where you applied to ask why you were not approved. You may ask to speak with the SNAP worker’s boss. If you think there is a mistake, ask for a “fair hearing.” This means that a State person will meet with you and the local SNAP office to discuss your application. There is no cost for a fair hearing.


Need More Information on SNAP?
Call: 1-800-221-5689
Visit: www.fns.usda.gov/snap


United States Department of Agriculture
Food and Nutrition Service
Revised January 2011

USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.

10 Steps to Fill Your Grocery Bag PDF

Fair Housing/Fair Lending Presentation

Information about how to protect yourself when buying a home.


Bill Reduces Costs of Expungements

Posted May 30, 2017

According to the Nashville AP, Gov. Bill Haslam has signed a law that will make it easier for people convicted of mostly low-level offenses to get their criminal records wiped clean.  The law reduces the costs of expunging criminal record convictions from $450 to $270, making it more affordable.  The bipartisan measure was championed by two Shelby County lawmakers in an effort to help non-violent offenders who have turned their lives around.  The measure, which was sponsored by Rep. Raumesh Akbari, a Democrat from Memphis, and Sen. Mark Norris, a Republican from Collierville, takes effect immediately.

Avoiding Disaster Repair Rip-Off

Avoiding Disaster Repair Rip-Off: Choosing A Contractor

Many times following a natural disaster one of the major problems faced by the victims is predatory home repair rip-offs. These unscrupulous individuals will appear on the scene of the disaster very quickly looking for victims. There will be individuals who legitimately want to help and are simply offering to provide you with a valuable service. These builders or contractors, who are properly licensed and credentialed, are your best bets during this difficult time. West Tennessee Legal Services and the Jackson Area Homebuilders Association want you to have some tips to help you choose a builder or contractor and avoid the rip-off artists who might contact you.


▶     Make sure you know the person with whom you are dealing and the company he or she represents. Deal only with licensed and insured (or bonded) contractors. Require proof of the identity of their company and of the license and insurance. Don’t make the mistake of only looking at a business card. These cards are easy to get and often contain false information.

▶     To investigate the person or company, get a list of references with phone numbers and addresses, and check them out. Ask for proof of license and insurance or bonding. Call the Better Business Bureau to see if there are any complaints against them, and to report any suspicious or inappropriate actions. You can also check with friends, relatives, insurance agents, and adjusters for information on the company or to get suggestions for other contractors.

▶     Write down the license plate number of the vehicle driven by the builder or contractor to aid in identification. Take note of the color, make, and model of the vehicle that is being driven, with special attention to whether or not the vehicle has company logos, names, addresses, phone numbers or identifying information. Be especially suspicious of unmarked trucks, vans, or other vehicles. If you have already been scammed, to call law enforcement.

▶     If you have questions about the identity or credentials of a builder or contractor, one of the most helpful things you can do is call the Jackson Area Homebuilders’s Association at the number listed above for a list of reputable contractors. The Association services eleven counties, including Madison, Gibson, Haywood, Crockett, Carroll, Benton, Decatur, Henderson, McNairy, Chester, and Hardin counties. At this time of need, the Association will also serve residents of Hardeman county who were affected by the storm.

▶     Be very suspicious of high pressure door-to-door tactics and offers of reduced prices due to “leftover materials” from other jobs. This is especially important to remember when you are under pressure or are stressed from the loss you have suffered. These rip-off artists depend on being able to pressure you to act fast to get the “bargain” they offer. Many of the scam builders will have inferior or inappropriate materials and will not provide you with adequate workmanship. They often pressure you to spend a large amount of money on only temporary repairs. They may even damage your home. They will be gone as quickly as they appeared, and you may have no opportunity to question them about the work or take legal action against them.

▶   Be suspicious of a builder or contractor who asks you to pay for the whole job at the beginning. You should never pay even a deposit until you are sure of the contractor and the company. Even then, you should never pay more than one-third of the amount up front.

▶     Pay by check or money order, but not cash. This is so you have a record of the transaction. You should question the builder or contractor very closely about his coverage for worker’s compensation, property damage to your home, and general liability.

▶     Never write a check or pay cash to the individual contractor for building materials. Make the builder give you a written list of the materials required for the job, and then you go directly to the supplier of your choice, and consult with them. Many times these stores will have personnel who know the contractor and who may know about the materials needed for the job. Once you purchase the materials and they are delivered, you should monitor the use of the materials by the builder.

▶     Maintain contact with the materials supplier and ask them to contact you if the builder attemps to return or exchange any materials, especially in return for cash. Remember that you purchased the materials; you own them; and the builder or contractor should not be allowed to take away the “leftover” materials that are in good condition. The contractor or builder may be required under the contract, to clean up the work site and haul away scraps and trash.

▶     Be aware that, under certain circustances, builders, contractors, and suppliers can take a lien to secure payment for such things as labor, materials, or payment for work that is partially completed. If this happens, contact an attorney immediately.

▶     If you have insurance, you should contact your insurance agent immediately. If at all possible, you should wait for the adjuster since your insurance policy may require the adjuster’s visual inspection before the insurance authorizes payment for repairs. If possible, you should make only temporary repairs until an adjuster looks at the damage. Get at least three estimates from three different reputable builders. Ask if there is a charge for the estimate. Remember that the best person for the job is not necessarily the lowest bidder.

▶     Always keep a written record of your activities in a diary, notebook, or calendar. This is an important source of information when trying to recall details about your discussions with the contractors and builders and other post disaster events.

▶     When you decide on a builder or contractor, don’t let them force you to sign the contract immediately. First, read the contract carefully and ask as many questions as it takes for you to understand the terms. If you can’t read or don’t read well, ask someone you trust to read it to you, or consult a lawyer. You should make sure that the contract specifies when the work will start and when it will finish. Make sure it has clear, understandable terms as to what happens and who is liable if either party “breaches” (doesn’t act according to the terms) the contract.

▶     For door-to-door sales a proper contract should contain a section that addresses the “buyer’s right to cancel.” Usually, the homeowner has up to three business days to cancel the contract, but the cancellation should be in writing. Many times the homeowner will get promises from the builder or contractor to do other repairs or work that is not in the contract. This might come up when the homeowner notices additional damage or wants to change the way something is being done. It is extremely important to add these additional items to the contract. If you don’t do this, the builder or contractor may not have to do them or may fail to do them, claiming no memory of your discussion.

▶     Never sign a contract with blanks that are not filled in properly. Never release the final payment for the work until all of the work is completed according to the contract. If there is anything about the contract that you do not understand, you should consult a lawyer.

▶     You should be extremely careful about signing a contract for building or repair service that requires you to use your home or property as security or collateral for the work.  This is very risky. If you fail to act according to the agreement, you could be in danger of losing your home. Many times, unscrupulous builders or contractors will inspect your home and tell you that your repair will cost a large amount of money. Then, they will explain that they just happen to know someone who will lend you the money, usually in exchange for using the title to your home as security for the loan. The loan is usually at a very high interest rate and spread out over a long period of time.  Many of these contracts will not have provisions designed to protect the homeowner or borrower. You should always have a lawyer review the contract or agreement before you sign it. After the agreement is signed, it is much more difficult to get help with problems, even from a lawyer.



Senior Services Resources

Area Agencies on Aging & Disability (AAAD)

  • Northwest AAAD
    124 Weldon Dr.
    Martin, TN 38237
    (731) 587-4213
    Counties: Benton, Carroll, Henry, Lake, Obion, Dyer, Crockett, Weakley, Gibson
  • Southwest AAAD
    102 E. College St.
    Jackson, TN 38301
    (731) 668-7112
    Counties: Madison, McNairy, Hardin, Hardeman, Decatur, Haywood, Chester, Henderson
  • Tennessee Commission on Aging & Disability
    (615) 741-2056

OPTIONS for Community Living

Call your local AAAD or the statewide line at (866) 836-6678.
State-funded program to provide homemaker services, personal care, and home delivered meals for those who qualify.

Tennessee State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP)

(877) 801-0044
Offers free and objective counseling for Medicare and other health issues

Legal Help

  • West Tennessee Legal Services
    (800) 372-8346 or (731) 423-0616
    Offices located in Jackson, Selmer, Dyersburg, & Huntingdon
    Serving: Madison, McNairy, Hardin, Hardeman, Decatur, Haywood, Chester, Henderson, Benton, Carroll, Henry, Lake, Obion, Dyer, Crockett, Weakley, and Gibson Counties
  • Memphis Area Legal Services
    Shelby County - (901) 523-8822 or (866) 361-9001
    Fayette, Tipton, & Lauderdale Counties - (888) 207-6386
  • Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands
    (800) 238-1443
  • Legal Aid of East Tennessee
    Knoxville office – (865) 637-0484
    Chattanooga office – (423) 756-4013
    Cleveland office – (423) 303-2266
    Maryville office – (865) 981-1818
    Johnson City office – (423) 928-8311
    Morristown office – (423) 587-4850
  • TN Free Legal Answers (statewide, online only)
    An online tool to ask a legal question and get an answer from a Tennessee attorney
    (844) 435-7486
    A help line and website with a variety of legal self-help tools
  • Tennessee Justice Center
    (877) 608-1009 or (615) 255-0331
    Helps Tennesseans with health care issues
  • Stateside Legal
    Legal tools for military members, Veterans, and their families

State Ombudsman Program

This program provides help to the elderly living in nursing homes, homes for the aged, assisted living facilities, and adult are homes. The ombudsman helps the elderly and their families answer questions and advocate for solutions to problems with the long-term care facilities.

  • Southwest Tennessee Ombudsman
    Norma Bell
    Southwest AAAD
    (731) 668-6411
    Serves: Madison, McNairy, Hardin, Hardeman, Decatur, Haywood, Chester, Henderson Counties
  • Northwest Tennessee Ombudsman
    Kimberly Boyd
    West Tennessee Legal Services, Inc.
    (731) 694-1835
    Serves: Benton, Carroll, Henry, Lake, Obion, Dyer, Crockett, Weakley, Gibson Counties
  • State Long-Term Care Ombudsman
    Lauren Meeker
    (877) 236-0013 or (615) 837-5112

Other Tennessee Resources

  • Tennessee Department of Human Services
    Services and assistance for adults who are mentally and physically impaired.
    (615) 532-4000
  • Tennessee Adult Protective Services
    Investigates alleged abuse of elderly and disabled
    (888) 277-8366
  • Nurse’s Aide Abuse Registry
    Tennessee Department of Health
    (800) 778-4504
    Maintains a registry of aides who have abused an older adult.
  • Tennessee Respite Coalition
    (888) 579-3754
    Provides relief to family caregivers through a statewide respite hotline, voucher program, volunteer respite and senior companion program.
  • Mental Health America
    (615) 269-5355 or (866) 535-3825
    Provides support groups, in home caregiver trainings, and educational programs for family members of those affected by mental illness
  • Tennessee Disability Pathfinder
    (800) 640-4636
    Free information and referral resources for persons with disabilities.
  • Tennessee Department of Veteran Services
    (615) 741-2931
    Provides help to Tennessee Veterans and their families
  • Tennessee Property Tax Relief Program
    (615) 747-8858
    May provide property tax relief to eligible senior citizens and disabled individuals
  • Tennessee Board for Licensing Health Care Facilities
    (615) 741-7221
    Responsible for maintaining the requirements for licensure and has authority to remove or suspend a license
  • Tennessee Bar Association
    (615) 383-7421 or (800) 899-6993
    For information about Tennessee attorneys
  • Tennessee Division of Consumer Affairs
    (800) 342-8385 or (615) 741-4737
    Investigates consumer disputes from Tennessee residents

Other Resources - Financial

Other Resources – Health Care

  • Alzheimer’s Association
    (800) 272-3900
    Referrals to local support groups, educational materials, and a helpline.
  • Medicare
    (800) 633-4227
  • QSource Medicare Beneficiary Protection Program
    Can submit quality of care concerns or ask Medicare coverage questions.
  • Elder Care Locator
    (800) 677-1116
    Help identifying community resources for seniors.
  • Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services
    (877) 267-2323

Other Resources

  • Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
    (855) 411-2372
    Works to prevent fraud, deception, and unfair business practices.
  • AARP
    Offers drivers safety, tax assistance, and other senior resources
  • National Council on Aging
    Offers senior resources for economic security and healthy aging.
  • National Council for Aging, Aging in Place
    Offers senior resources for financial, emotional, and physical well-being.

    Acknowledgements & Disclaimer:   This Fact Sheet was prepared by West Tennessee Legal Services (WTLS) and made possible by Serving Tennessee Seniors-administered by The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee at the request of the Chancery Court. WTLS thanks the Tennessee Bar Association for its permission to use The Legal Handbook for Tennessee Seniors (2014 edition) as a primary information source. This publication is supported, in part, by funds provided by the Southwest Area Agency on Aging and Disability, the Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  The content herein does not necessarily reflect the opinion or policy of the Southwest Area Agency on Aging and Disability or any agency of Tennessee or the U.S. government. Fact Sheets are for information only and not intended to replace legal advice.   If you are in need of legal help, call WTLS at (800) 372-8346, or seek the help of a private attorney. (Revised 10/2017)

Resources PDF


How do I stop telemarketing calls?

Tell them not to call back. If they call back, they are breaking the law. You can also add your number to the Do Not Call Registry at www.donotcall.gov.

How do I stop pre-recorded scam calls?

Pre-recorded scam calls ask you to hit a number and then connect you with someone who tries to get your personal information. Pre-recorded calls from a company that you have not authorized to call you are illegal. If the call itself is illegal, you can bet that the scammers will not check the Do Not Call Registry or stop calling when you ask.

What are some tips to protect myself from scams?

To avoid becoming a scam victim:

  • Get caller ID, and do not answer if you do not recognize the number.
  • If you answer and it is a pre-recorded scammer, hang up immediately.
  • Never give your personal information over the telephone to someone you do not know.
  • Never give your bank account or credit card information over the telephone to someone you do not know.
  • A government will never call you on the telephone if you owe money.  You will get a letter first.
  • Be suspicious of any caller who demands payment by wiring money or gift cards.

What do I do if I have a dispute with a business?

Send a letter to the business by certified or registered mail explaining your dispute.  Keep a copy of the letter for your records. Send copies of receipts, contracts, or other papers that support your dispute. Never send your original documents. If the business does not resolve the dispute, file a complaint with the Tennessee Division of Consumer Affairs at https://tn.gov/commerce/topic/consumer-file-a-consumer-complaint. The Division can mediate consumer disputes with businesses. You can also talk to your local legal aid or a private attorney about legal remedies that might be available.

Telemarketers PDF

Mail Order Merchandise

When will I receive merchandise that I ordered by mail?

The seller is required to ship the merchandise to you within the time limits stated in its ad or within 30 days if no time is stated.

What if the merchandise is not shipped as promised?

If the merchandise is not shipped as promised in the ad or within 30 days, you have the right to cancel your order and have your money refunded within 7 days of cancellation.  If you paid with credit, the seller has one billing cycle to adjust your account. If the seller tells you that it cannot ship the merchandise as promised, you may cancel the order and get your money back or agree to a new shipping date.

What if I am shipped merchandise that I have not ordered?

You do not have to pay for merchandise you have not ordered or requested, and it is illegal for the sender to pressure you to return it or send you a bill.

What do I do if I have a dispute with a business?

Send a letter to the business by certified or registered mail explaining your dispute.  Keep a copy of the letter for your records. Send copies of receipts, contracts, or other papers that support your dispute. Never send your original documents. If the business does not resolve the dispute, file a complaint with the Tennessee Division of Consumer Affairs at https://tn.gov/commerce/topic/consumer-file-a-consumer-complaint. The Division can mediate consumer disputes with businesses. You can also talk to your local legal aid or a private attorney about legal remedies that might be available.

Mail Order Merchandise PDF

Home Repairs

How do I choose a contractor for home repairs?

Use the following tips when choosing a contractor for home repairs:

  • Get several written estimates to compare prices.
  • Ask the contractor for references, and check the references.
  • Be suspicious of door-to-door solicitations.
  • Check the Better Business Bureau for past complaints against the business.
  • Demand and verify proof of the contractor’s liability insurance coverage.
  • Some contractors are required to hold a license. Verify a State license at http://verify.tn.gov.

How do I protect myself from contractor disputes?

Consider the following tips to protect yourself:

  • Always get your agreement in writing and signed by you and the contractor.
  • Always get the price and guarantees or warranties of the work in writing and signed by you and the contractor.
  • Always get any changes to the contract in writing and signed by you and the contractor.
  • Agree in advance that full payment is not due until the work is complete.
  • If the contractor or loan company requires a deed of trust (mortgage) on your home, you have 3 business days to cancel, if the work has not begun during that time. If you get behind on payments, the loan company or contractor can foreclose on the deed of trust.
  • If a contractor is not paid after completion of his work, he can file a materialman’s lien against your home. If you learn that a lien has been filed against your home, call an attorney.

What do I do if I have a dispute with a business?

Send a letter to the business by certified or registered mail explaining your dispute.  Keep a copy of the letter for your records. Send copies of receipts, contracts, or other papers that support your dispute. Never send your original documents. If the business does not resolve the dispute, file a complaint with the Tennessee Division of Consumer Affairs at https://tn.gov/commerce/topic/consumer-file-a-consumer-complaint. The Division can mediate consumer disputes with businesses. You can also talk to your local legal aid or a private attorney about legal remedies that might be available.

Home Repairs PDF

Door to Door Sales

What is a door-to-door sale?

A door-to-door is when someone sells you a product or service at your home.

Can I get out of a door-to-door sales purchase?

If you change your mind, you have 3 days to get out of a door-to-door sale. If you decide to cancel your purchase, you must send a letter to the company before midnight of the third business day after the date of purchase.

All door-to-door sale contracts must tell you about the right to cancel in 3 days. Some have a detachable form you can complete and mail to cancel the purchase. If your contract does not have a detachable form, send a letter telling the business you want to cancel. Send your cancelation by certified mail.

What happens after I cancel the contract?

The company has 10 days after getting your cancellation to refund any money received, return any documents you signed, return any goods you traded in, and inform you whether it will pick up or let you keep any items that were left with you. Products left with you must be available to the seller in the same condition as you got them. It is not your responsibility to ship the items back to the business or pay postage expenses for shipping.

What do I do if I have a dispute with a business?

Send a letter to the business by certified or registered mail explaining your dispute.  Keep a copy of the letter for your records. Send copies of receipts, contracts, or other papers that support your dispute. Never send your original documents. If the business does not resolve the dispute, file a complaint with the Tennessee Division of Consumer Affairs at https://tn.gov/commerce/topic/consumer-file-a-consumer-complaint. The Division can mediate consumer disputes with businesses. You can also talk to your local legal aid or a private attorney about legal remedies that might be available.

Door to Door Sales PDF

Debt Collection

What is a debt collection agency?

When you get behind on payments, the creditor (bank, credit card company, or medical provider) may send your debt to another company for collection.

How do I know my debt has been sent to a collector?

Usually, you will get a letter from the collection agency telling you it is collecting the debt. The letter will explain that you have 30 days to tell the collector if you dispute the debt. If you dispute the debt, the collector cannot contact you again until it sends you proof of the debt.

How do I stop debt collector calls?

You can send a letter to the collector telling it not to contact you. When the collector gets your letter, it cannot contact you, except to tell you it plans to sue you in court.

Can a debt collector call me at any time?

A debt collector cannot call you at unreasonable times (before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m.).

Are there things a debt collector cannot do when it collects a debt?

A debt collector cannot:

  • Threaten to hurt you, your family, or your property,
  • Use dirty or bad language,
  • Publish a list of names of people who refuse to pay their debts,
  • Call many times a day, or
  • Lie or make false statements.

For example, a debt collector cannot:

  • Claim you have committed a crime,
  • Make you think it is someone else (like a lawyer or sheriff),
  • Threaten to put you in jail,
  • Say it operates or works for a credit reporting agency,
  • Misrepresent the amount you owe,
  • Indicate that papers it sent are legal forms if they aren’t, or
  • Tell you they are going to garnish your Social Security or other benefits.

What do I do if I think a debt collector has done something illegal?

File a complaint with the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau at https://www.consumerfinance.gov/complaint/.  You should also talk to a lawyer about your legal remedies under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

Debt Collection PDF

Creditor Lawsuits

Can I be sued if I do not pay my debt?

If you don’t pay a debt, a creditor or its debt collector can sue you.  If it wins, the court will enter a judgment against you. The judgment states the amount of money you owe.  Once the judgment is final, the creditor can collect its judgment.

Can my benefits be garnished?

Most federal benefits are exempt from garnishment.  The following benefits cannot be taken by most creditors:

  • Social Security benefits
  • Social Security Disability benefits (SSDI)
  • Supplemental Security Benefits (SSI)
  • Veterans’ Benefits
  • Civil Service and Federal Retirement and Disability Benefits
  • Service Members’ Pay
  • Military Annuities and Survivors’ Benefits
  • Student Assistance
  • Railroad Retirement Benefits
  • Merchant Seamen Wages
  • Federal Emergency Management Agency Federal Disaster Assistance

Federal benefits can be garnished under certain circumstances, including payment of delinquent taxes, alimony, child support, student loans, or other debts owed to the government.

Can my wages from work be garnished?

If you earn more than $217.50 per week in wages, your wages can be garnished by a creditor with a judgment.

You can prevent wage garnishment by setting a payment plan with your creditor. You should get your payment plan in writing and make your payments as scheduled. If you miss a payment, your wages can be garnished, and you will not be able to get another payment plan. You can also stop wage garnishment by filing an Installment Payment Motion with the court, asking the Judge to set a payment plan. 

Can the creditor take my car or money from my bank account?

A creditor with a judgment can take your car or money from your bank account if you do not protect them. Tennessee law lets you protect up to $10,000 in personal items.  You can protect these items, including your car and bank account, by filing a list of the items at the court clerk’s office.

Can a creditor take my home?

A creditor with a judgment can place a judgment lien against any real estate you own by registering a copy of its judgment with the Register of Deeds in the county where your property is located.

Creditor Lawsuits PDF

Credit Report

How do I get a copy of my credit report?

You can receive one free credit report every 12 months from each of the nationwide consumer credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion).  You can get the report at www.annualcreditreport.com, or by calling (877) 322-8228.

Why is it important to check my credit report?

Identity theft is more and more common. By reviewing your credit report regularly, you can check for accounts that you did not open, debts that you do not owe, and inaccurate addresses and other demographic information.

What if information in my credit report is incorrect?

You can send a letter to the credit reporting agency with a list of the incorrect information in your credit report. The credit reporting agency must investigate your dispute within 30 days. When the investigation is complete, the credit reporting agency must send you the results in writing and a free copy of your report if it makes a change to your report. If the credit reporting agency refuses to correct inaccurate information in your report, you should talk to a lawyer about legal remedies available to you under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

What if I am the victim of identity theft?

Visit the Federal Trade Commission’s identity theft one-stop website, www.identitytheft.gov. You should also consider filing a police report. Ask your local legal aid for help, or talk to a lawyer.


Credit Report PDF

Credit Cards

What is a finance charge?

The finance charge is the interest you pay on the unpaid balance of your account. All issuers of credit cards give you a period of time within which, if you pay in full, no finance charge will apply.

What if my credit card is lost or stolen?

If your credit card is lost or stolen, you should immediately call your credit card company to report the card as lost or stolen. It is a good idea to keep a list of your credit card numbers and the credit card company contact numbers. If your card is lost or stolen, the most you will have to pay for unauthorized charges is $50.00, even if someone runs up thousands in charges before you are able to report the card as lost or stolen.

What if my credit card bill is wrong?

If you think your credit card bill is wrong, send a letter to the credit card company within 60 days after the bill was mailed to you.  Your letter should include your name and account number, a statement that you believe the bill contains an error and why you think there is an error, and the amount of the error. While you are waiting for an answer to your letter, you do not have to pay the disputed amount. You must pay parts of the bill that you do not dispute.

The credit card company must acknowledge your letter within 30 days, and in no more than 90 days, must correct your account or explain why the bill is correct. If the credit card company made a mistake, it must credit your account for the full amount in dispute or partially correct your account and explain what you still owe. Then, you will have the time usually allowed on the account to pay any balance. If the credit card company finds no error, it must send you a statement of what you owe. If you are still not satisfied, you can send another letter to the credit card company within the time you have to pay the bill; however, the credit card company’s obligations have now been fulfilled.

What do I do if I have a dispute with a business?

Send a letter to the business by certified or registered mail explaining your dispute.  Keep a copy of the letter for your records. Send copies of receipts, contracts, or other papers that support your dispute. Never send your original documents. If the business does not resolve the dispute, file a complaint with the Tennessee Division of Consumer Affairs at https://tn.gov/commerce/topic/consumer-file-a-consumer-complaint. The Division can mediate consumer disputes with businesses. You can also talk to your local legal aid or a private attorney about legal remedies that might be available.

Credit Cards PDF


What is a contract?

Almost every purchase you make involves a contract between you and the seller.  If you have ever bought a car, hired a worker to make a repair, or bought a shirt on a credit card, you have entered into a contract.

How do I protect myself?

The following are some tips when entering into a contract:

  • Insist that the salesperson let you take home a copy of the contract before you sign it.
  • Read the contract, including the small print, before you sign.
  • If you have questions or do not understand, do not sign until you talk to an attorney.
  • Insist that all promises be put in writing in the contract before you sign; otherwise, they are probably not enforceable.
  • Never sign a contract with blank spaces that the salesman says he will fill in later.
  • Insist that incorrect information in the contract be corrected before you sign.
  • Watch for arbitration agreements, or agreements that limit your rights to sue in court. If your contract contains an arbitration agreement, ask that it be removed from your contract or follow the instructions to opt out.

What do I do if I have a dispute with a business?

Send a letter to the business by certified or registered mail explaining your dispute.  Keep a copy of the letter for your records. Send copies of receipts, contracts, or other papers that support your dispute. Never send your original documents. If the business does not resolve the dispute, file a complaint with the Tennessee Division of Consumer Affairs at https://tn.gov/commerce/topic/consumer-file-a-consumer-complaint. The Division can mediate consumer disputes with businesses. You can also talk to your local legal aid or a private attorney about legal remedies that might be available.

Contracts PDF

Durable Power of Attorney Healthcare

What is a durable power of attorney for healthcare?

A durable power of attorney for healthcare is a document that lets you name someone to make health care decisions for you.

Why is it important to have a power of attorney?

A power of attorney is an important document for everyone to have. If you do not have a power of attorney and become unable to make healthcare decisions for yourself, no one will have legal authority to make healthcare decisions for you. Your family or friends would have to file a conservatorship to have someone named as your decision-maker.  A conservatorship is a formal proceeding in a court, usually requires an attorney, and is usually very expensive.

What does the “durable” mean in the title?

A power of attorney should have language making it “durable,” meaning that it will continue to be in effect even if you become incapacitated, or unable to make decisions for yourself.  If a power of attorney is not durable, it will not be effective after you become incapacitated.

When does the power of attorney for healthcare go into effect?

Most healthcare power of attorneys go into effect when you are not able to make decisions for yourself.

What kind of decisions can my agent make for me?

You can allow your agent to make a wide range of healthcare decisions for you, including choices about the scope of your medical treatment and the handling of your body after your death.

Who should I choose as my agent?

You should choose a trusted family member or friend as your agent.  It is best to choose someone who lives local since some decision-making may require in-person contact.  If you need an agent but have no trusted family or friends to act as your agent, the Public Guardianship Program could be an option.  You must be over the age of 60 to qualify.  For more information about the Public Guardianship Program, visit https://www.tn.gov/aging/topic/public-guardianship

What do I do with my power of attorney for healthcare once I sign it?

You should give copies to your regular treating doctor and other medical providers.  You should also be prepared to give a copy to the hospital any time you are admitted for care.

What if I change my mind?

You can revoke you durable power of attorney for healthcare at any time by signing a statement that you no longer want the durable power of attorney in place.  You should give copies of your revocation to any hospitals, doctors, or clinics to which you gave copies of your power of attorney.

Durable Powers of Attorney Healthcare PDF


What is a will?

A will is a written document saying what you want to happen to your assets at your death. Generally, a will should list your beneficiaries (who you want to get the assets) and which items you want them to get.  A will should also name an executor, who is the person who will be responsible for taking your will to probate court and handling your estate.

What if I do not have a will?

If you die without a will, you are said to have died “intestate.” Tennessee law will decide how your property will be distributed. An administrator will be appointed by the court to collect your assets, pay your debts, pay your funeral and burial expenses, and distribute any remainder of your possessions to your relatives as determined by Tennessee law.

If you die with a spouse and no children, your assets will go to your spouse. If you die with a spouse and a child, your assets are divided equally between them. If you die with a spouse and more than one child, your spouse gets 1/3 and the remaining 2/3 is divided among your children.

What are the requirements for a valid will?

Under Tennessee law, a will has the following requirements:

  • Be made by someone 18 or older;
  • Be  made by someone of “sound mind”;
  • Be in writing and signed;
  • Be witnessed by at least 2 people who will not get any property under the will.  The witnesses must sign their names in the presence of the person making the will.

Can I write my own will?

A will that is entirely in the handwriting of the person making the will is called a “holographic will.” Holographic wills are valid in Tennessee.  A holographic will does not have to be witnessed, but it must be signed and dated and must indicate that it is intended to be a will.

Should I hire a lawyer to write my will?

While the law does not require you to use a lawyer to write your will, hiring a lawyer is a good idea because improper drafting can cause unnecessary expense and could result in your wishes not being followed.

What will the lawyer ask me when I meet with him or her about my will?

A lawyer will likely ask you for the following information:

  • A list of the family, friends, or organizations to whom you want to leave your property.
  • A list of all of your property and how it is titled.
  • How you want your property divided.  For example, you may want to have your property split equally among your children; however, you should consider alternative recipients in case you outlive your first choices. For example, you might name your grandchildren as alternates in the event one or more of your children does not survive you.
  • Who you want as your executor.

Can I change my will?

You can change your will, and it is important to review your will from time to time to make sure it still expresses your wishes.  You may want to change your will if you move to a new state, get married or divorced, or if there are any other major life changes.

How do I change my will?

You can change your will by making a new will or signing an amendment, called a “codicil.” If you make a new will, you should destroy your old will after you sign your new will to avoid confusion. You should not write on a current will because erasing or marking through parts of a will may invalidate the entire will. If you need to make changes, make a new will or a codicil.

Wills PDF

Special Needs Trusts

What is a special needs trust?

A special needs trust is created by a family member or other person for the benefit of a disabled person (the beneficiary) using the disabled person’s money or money he or she will receive.

Why would you need a special needs trust?

These trusts are usually set up when a disabled person gets money from a lawsuit, settlement, an estate, or insurance policy.

Can you still get government benefits with a special needs trust?

Yes. A special needs trust is usually created to keep the disabled person eligible for government benefits. Upon the death of the disabled individual, the trust must reimburse Medicaid for benefits paid on behalf of the disabled person before the trust can be disbursed to any other surviving beneficiaries or heirs.

Special Needs Trusts PDF

Revocable Trusts

What is a revocable trust?

A revocable trust is a document used to manage assets. The trust agreement appoints a trustee, who holds the assets (trust property) and manages the trust. Usually, the person creating the trust (the grantor) acts as the trustee so long as he or she is competent.  The grantor can change or cancel the trust at any time during his or her life. When the grantor dies or becomes incompetent, the trust becomes irrevocable, meaning it cannot be changed or canceled. 

How long do assets stay in the trust?

The assets in a trust can remain in a trust forever, subject to certain tax and other limitations. A grantor can keep a trust in place for a spouse, children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren.

Why would you want a revocable trust?

Many people prefer revocable trusts because the terms of the trust are private and do not become public at the grantor’s death. The assets in the trust do not pass through the probate court. If you are interested in a trust, you should talk to an attorney about creating a trust that meets your needs.

Revocable Trusts PDF

Life Insurance

Do my life insurance proceeds pass through my will?

No, life insurance proceeds pass outside of probate. They are payable to the beneficiary named on the beneficiary designation form with the insurance company.

What if I do not name a beneficiary?

If you do not name a beneficiary, the life insurance proceeds are payable to your estate, and then they will pass under your will at your death.  If you do not have a will, the proceeds will pass by intestate succession, which is decided by the State but is usually to your closest living heirs first.

How do I change my life insurance beneficiary?

You should talk to your life insurance company. Usually, you have to fill out and sign special papers to change your beneficiary.

Life Insurance PDF

Joint Tenancy Ownership

What is joint tenancy ownership?

Joint tenancy ownership is where 2 or more people hold title to an asset together. Unlike other types of joint ownership, upon the death of one of the owners, the deceased person’s interest passes automatically to the surviving joint tenants. This is called the “right of survivorship.”

How do I create a joint tenancy?

A joint tenancy is created in a document, usually a deed, that must specifically say ownership is with a “right of survivorship.”

Does property I own as a joint tenant pass through probate?

No, property owned as joint tenants does not pass through probate. At your death, your portion of the property goes to the other owners.

Can I use a joint tenancy to plan my estate?

Sometimes joint tenancy is the best way to plan your estate, but it is best to talk to an attorney first.

What are some considerations before creating a joint tenancy?

Joint ownership can complicate your affairs while you are still living. Joint ownership gives another person equal control over your property. Adding names to a title or deed can also affect your eligibility for tax credits and government benefits. Additionally, creditors of joint owners could collect against the jointly owned property.

Joint Tenancy Ownership PDF

Charitable Gift Planning

What are charitable gifts?

Charitable gifts are donations to charitable, religious, educational, cultural, service, and healthcare related organizations. Our tax laws recognize the role of charitable organizations in meeting public needs that are a benefit to society, and as a result, these laws provide incentives to encourage charitable gifts. When planning your estate, you should talk to an attorney about whether charitable giving is an option for you to consider.

What types of charitable gifts are available when planning my estate?

There are many ways to make charitable gifts, and the following are a few options that are available:

  • Cash gifts – These are usually made by check and are the most popular form of charitable giving.
  • Gifts of appreciated assets – These are gifts of assets that have increased in value since their purchase. If you sell stocks, bonds, mutual funds, or real property that have appreciated in value, then you will have a taxable capital gain. If those same assets are gifted to a charitable organization, then the gifted assets are deductible at their full fair market value if they have been held for longer than 12 months, as long as the fair market value of the gifted asset does not exceed 30% of your adjusted gross income.
  • Gifts of retirement assets – When an individual dies with a large retirement savings in their retirement plan, a beneficiary can be left with a large tax burden that consumes most of the gift.  When the retirement assets are given to a tax-exempt organization, the tax-exempt organization does not have to pay income tax on the assets.
  • Charitable remainder trust – This is an irrevocable trust that holds and invests assets for the benefit of one or more individual income beneficiaries with the remainder to one or more charities. It allows you and a charity to share income and remainder interest.  These trusts are usually set up so you can contribute assets to provide income during a specific period of time (like your lifetime), and after the end of the term, the remaining assets go to a charity of your choice.
  • Charitable lead trust – This is an irrevocable trust that allows you to place assets in a trust that will benefit a charitable organization for a set period of time and them ultimately pass to your heirs.
  • Charitable gift annuity – This allows you to donate assets to a charitable organization in exchange for an annuity contract while also providing a charitable deduction at the time of the gift. The total expected income determines what portion of the initial gift is tax deductible. Then, the charity receives the remainder of the donated assets after your death. This option is beneficial if you need income, want an immediate tax deduction, and want to support a single charity.
  • Bequest under a will or revocable trust – A charitable gift can be made in a will or a revocable trust. It can be a specific dollar amount, a specific asset, or a percentage of your estate. This can be changed or canceled during your life if your circumstances or family needs change.

If you are considering one of these charitable giving options, you should talk to your estate planning team to decide which option best fits your situation.

Charitable Gift Planning PDF

Estate Planning

What is Estate Planning?

Estate planning is the organizing and ordering of someone’s property, called an “estate,” so it is transferred at death in the most efficient manner.  It usually involves a coordinated effort by you and your professional advisors (attorney, accountant, insurance agent, financial advisor, certified financial planner, and others) to minimize death taxes and expenses of death or disability, and to provide for your beneficiaries in the way that you intend.  An estate plan is usually done with the preparation of legal documents like wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and medical directives.

The fact sheets in this section will provide additional information about estate planning tools.

Estate Planning PDF

Reverse Mortgages

What is a reverse mortgage?

A reverse mortgage is a special kind of home loan that lets you convert a portion of the equity in your home into cash.

How is a reverse mortgage different from a traditional mortgage or home equity loan?

Unlike a mortgage or home equity loan, you do not have to make monthly payments.

Who offers reverse mortgages?

Most reverse mortgages are insured by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Federal Housing Administration (FHA) as a Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM). Privately insured reverse mortgages nearly vanished during the recession. Some private reverse mortgages are still available for very high value homes.

How do you qualify for a HECM loan?

To qualify for a HECM, you must:

  • Be 62 years of age or older,
  • Own your home with no mortgage or have a mortgage balance that is small enough to be paid off with the proceeds of the reverse mortgage,
  • Live in your home,
  • Be able to pay real estate taxes, utilities, and hazard and flood insurance premiums on the home, and
  • Get consumer information from a HUD-approved HECM counselor.

How much money can I get from my home?

Generally, the more valuable your home is, the older you are, and the lower the interest rate, then the more you can borrow. The amount you can get depends on your age, the current interest rate, and the appraised value of your home.

How can you get the money from the HECM loan?

You have 5 options for getting HECM loan money:

  • Tenure – equal monthly payments for as long as you continue to live in the home
  • Term – equal monthly payments for a fixed period of months that you select
  • Line of credit – payments or installments at times and in amounts of your choosing, until the line of credit is exhausted
  • Modified tenure – combination of line of credit with monthly payments for as long as you continue to live in the home
  • Modified term – combination of line of credit with monthly payments for a fixed period of months that you select

How can HECM loan money be used?

HECM loan proceeds can be used for any legitimate purpose, such as to supplement Social Security or retirement benefits, home maintenance, payment of real estate taxes and insurance, medical bills, and living expenses.

When must a HECM loan be repaid?

A HECM loan must be repaid when:

  • You die;
  • You sell the home;
  • You move to another home;
  • Due to physical or mental illness, you no longer live in the home for more than 12 months in a row;
  • You do not pay the taxes or insurance or violate any other borrower obligation (for example, you fail to keep the home in good repair).

What is the cost of a HECM loan?

The costs of a HECM loan usually include an origination fee, closing costs, a mortgage insurance premium, a servicing fee, and interest. You should never pay a fee to a planner or loan finder to get a HECM loan.

What should I consider before taking a reverse mortgage?

As of late 2012, nearly 1 in 10 reverse mortgages were in default.  Before taking a reverse mortgage, consider:

  • The cost of real estate taxes and insurance.  You are at risk of foreclosure if you fall behind on these expenses.
  • Taking proceeds in monthly installments, instead of lump sum.  By taking proceeds in lump sum and using them to meet basic living expenses, you may outlive your life expectancy and be left with no equity for your remaining years.
  • Potential risks for couples.  If your husband borrows the reverse mortgage in his name only and you outlive your husband, you would be left to pay the reverse mortgage loan in full in order to keep the home.

Reverse mortgages are complex, and the terms can be confusing.  You should talk to an attorney before getting a reverse mortgage.

What are some additional resources about reverse mortgage?

Reverse Mortgages PDF


What does this program do? 

Also known as the Section 504 Home Repair program, this program provides: 1) loans to very low-income homeowners to repair, improve, or modernize their homes, or 2) grants to elderly very low-income homeowners to remove health and safety hazards from their homes.

Who may apply for this program?

To qualify, you must:

  • Be the homeowner and live in the house;
  • Be unable to obtain affordable credit elsewhere;
  • Have a family income below 50% of the area median income; and
  • For grants, be age 62 or older and not be able to repay a repair loan.

What is an eligible area?

Applicants must check the address of their home to determine eligibility.

How may funds be used?

Loans may be used to repair, improve, or modernize homes or remove health and safety hazards. Grants must be used to remove health and safety hazards.

How much money can I get?

The maximum loan is $20,000. The maximum grant is $7,500. Loans and grants can be combined for up to $27,500 in assistance.

What are the terms of the loan or grant?

Loans can be repaid over 20 years. The loan interest rate is fixed at 1%. Full title service is required for loans of $7,500 or more.

Grants have a lifetime limit of $7,500. Grants must be repaid if the property is sold in less than 3 years. If applicants can repay part, but not all of the costs, applicants may be offered a loan and grant combination.

How long does an application take? 

Approval times depend on funding availability in your area. Talk to a USDA home loan specialist in your area for help with the application

Who can answer questions, and how do I get started?

Contact a USDA Service Center in your area:

Alamo (731) 696-5547 ext. 3
Bolivar (731) 658-3631  
Brownsville (731) 772-2965 ext. 3
Camden (731) 584-8186 ext. 3
Dresden (731) 364-5430  
Dyersburg (731) 287-9224 ext. 3
Huntingdon (731) 209-4153 ext. 3
Jackson (731) 668-1544 ext. 3
Lexington (731) 968-3551 ext. 3
Paris (731) 642-0761 ext. 2
Savannah (731) 925-3831  
Selmer (731) 645-5466 ext. 3
Tiptonville (731) 253-7532 ext. 3
Trenton (731) 855-0023 ext. 3
Union City (731) 885-6480 ext. 3


Real Property Transfers

What is real property?

Real property is land, property built on the land, or permanent improvements to the land or property. The most common type of real property that people own is a home.  Personal property may become a part of the real property if it is attached in a permanent way. For example, a furnace usually becomes a part of your home. These attachments are known as “fixtures” in legal terms. 

What kinds of real property transfers are there?

There are three ways to transfer property:

  • General Warranty Deed - all warranties required by law are granted. There are six specific warranties, which all guarantee something about the owner’s ability to transfer the property without any undisclosed surprises happening after the transfer.
  • Special Warranty Deed – only warrants that the seller was the owner of the land and that they have the ability to transfer the property. Anything that happened before they bought or after they sold the property is not their responsibility.   
  • Quit Claim Deed - there is no warranty. You have little or no way to sue previous owners if it turns out they had a lien against the property, did not own the property, or there was some other problem. People often transfer property with a Quit Claim Deed for a very small amount of money.

Before transferring property through any sort of deed, talk to an attorney about the effect this may have on your taxes or on your eligibility for Medicaid/TennCare or other benefits.

What happens if there is more than one person on the deed?

If you buy or own a property with another person or add someone to your deed, you must carefully describe the kind of interest all owners have. In Tennessee there are three types of joint ownership:

  • Joint Tenancy with the Right of Survivorship - This creates equal shares in the property, and the share belonging to one of the owners upon his or her death automatically goes to the other owner. However, the deed must have the words “right of survivorship” for this to apply.
  • Tenancy in Common - This creates equal shares of property for two or more owners. This is what Tennessee courts assume you wanted unless the deed says that the owners have a right of survivorship. 
  • Tenancy by the Entirety - This is only for spouses and comes with positives and negatives that you need to ask an attorney about to fully understand.

Can I transfer my home but still live in it?

Yes. You can leave yourself a life interest in the home. This is called a “life estate,” and it gives you the right to live in the home for the rest of your life. Without a life estate, you will need the new owner’s permission to stay in the home. 

Will transferring property affect my ability to receive government benefits?

Transferring property is most likely to affect senior citizens who need TennCare/Medicaid to help pay for nursing home care. If you apply for TennCare (Tennessee’s Medicaid program), they will “look back” 5 years from the date of your application. If you transferred any property for less than the full value, then you may be subject to a “penalty period,” which means you must wait before you can get TennCare. If the property was transferred more than 5 years before the date of application, there should not be any penalty. You should talk to an attorney if you want to transfer your home, and you think you may at some point need nursing home care.

Will TennCare try to get payment from me if I get TennCare benefits?

Yes. To pay the State back for paying for your nursing home care, TennCare has a process called “Estate Recovery.” This means TennCare will file a claim against your estate after your death up to the value of the care provided. This may involve a Court ordering your property sold. 

Are there any exceptions to estate recovery?

Yes, there are some exceptions. If you are survived by a spouse, child under the age of 21, or a child of any age who is blind or disabled who is living in the property, TennCare will wait before attempting to sell your property. You should talk to an attorney to see if any of these exceptions apply to you. 

If my property does not cover the cost of my care, will my family be liable for the cost of my care?

Generally, no. TennCare can only recover from your estate. Family members will not be personally liable.

What other legal issues should I consider before I transfer my property?

Consider the following before transferring property:

  • Any property you deed to someone else is completely under their control unless you leave yourself some interest in the property, such as a life estate. If you deed your home away without this, you lose your right to live there.  
  • You should talk to an accountant about tax issues that might arise with property transfers. 
  • You should always talk to a lawyer if you plan to transfer property, even to family.  This will ensure that you are fully informed, and if there is some kind of fraud, a lawyer is likely to catch it before you become a victim. This is particularly important if you have been diagnosed with dementia or some other illness that causes mental decline.
  • Talk to a lawyer about any potential covenants on the property, zoning issues, and municipal code issues. There may be requirements of which the previous owner was not aware. 
  • If you have a mortgage or other lien on the property, talk to a lawyer about the risks you could face if you transfer the property. 

Real Property Transfers PDF

USDA Housing

What are USDA properties?

Rural Rental Housing Loans are direct, competitive mortgage loans made to provide affordable rental housing for very low-, low-, and moderate-income families, elderly persons, and persons with disabilities.

Am I eligible?

Very low- and moderate-income families; elderly persons; and persons with disabilities are eligible to live in USDA Housing. Those living in substandard housing are given first priority. When rental assistance is used, top priority is given to very low-income households.

Where are USDA properties located?

USDA properties are located in most rural counties throughout Tennessee.  Per regulations, USDA rental properties cannot be located in metropolitan areas.  For a list of apartments in your area, contact your USDA office at (615) 783-1300.

What is the waiting list and application process?

Individual USDA rentals maintain waiting lists, and wait times vary depending on the building and the area. Individuals are screened by property ownership and management. Application processes can vary, but must meet minimum federal guidelines. Applicants must meet income and other eligibility requirements. During the application process, the complex will collect information on family income, assets, and family composition. The complex will verify this information with other agencies, your employer, and bank, and will use the information to determine your eligibility and the amount of your housing assistance payment.  

USDA Housing PDF

Section 8 Vouchers

What are housing choice vouchers?

The housing choice voucher program (Section 8 vouchers) is the federal government’s major program for helping low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled to afford decent and safe housing in the private rental market. Since housing assistance is provided on behalf of the family or individual, participants find their own housing, including single-family homes, townhouses, and apartments.

Housing choice vouchers are administered locally by public housing agencies (PHAs). The PHAs receive federal funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to manage the voucher program. 

A family that is issued a housing voucher must find a housing unit of the family’s choice where the landlord agrees to rent under the program. The family is free to choose any housing that meets the requirements of the program and is not limited to units located in housing projects. Rental units must meet minimum standards of health and safety, as determined by the PHA. A housing subsidy is paid to the landlord directly by the PHA on behalf of the family. The family then pays the difference between the actual rent charged by the landlord and the amount subsidized by the program.

Am I eligible for a Section 8 voucher?

Eligibility for a housing voucher is determined by the PHA based on gross income and family size and is limited to U.S. citizens and non-citizens who have eligible immigration status. Income levels vary by location. The PHA serving your community can give you the income limits for your area and family size.

When you apply, the PHA will collect your income, assets, and family size. The PHA will verify this information with other agencies, your employer, and bank, and will use the information to determine if you are eligible and the amount of your housing assistance payment. If the PHA determines that your family is eligible, the PHA will put your name on a waiting list, unless it is able to help you immediately. Once your name is reached on the waiting list, the PHA will contact you and issue you a housing voucher.

How do I apply?

If you are interested in applying for a voucher, contact your local PHA. You can find local contact information for the local PHAs in West Tennessee on our Housing Assistance Intro to Income Based Rental Properties fact sheet, or see www.hud.gov.

Local preferences and waiting lists - what are they and how do they affect me?

Since the demand for housing assistance often exceeds the resources available, long waiting periods are common. In fact, a PHA may close its waiting list when it has more families on the list than can be helped in the near future.

PHAs may set local preferences for selecting applicants from its waiting list. Families who qualify for local preferences move ahead of other families on the list who do not qualify for any preference. Each PHA has the discretion to set local preferences to reflect the housing needs and priorities of its particular community.

What happens after I am approved for a voucher?

Once you are approved for a voucher, your PHA will tell you the unit size for which you are eligible based on your family size and composition. The housing unit you select must meet an acceptable level of health and safety before the PHA can approve the unit. When you find a unit that you want to rent and reach an agreement with the landlord over the lease terms, the PHA must inspect the unit and determine that the rent requested is reasonable.

Can I move and continue to get my voucher?

Moves are allowed if you tell the PHA ahead of time, end your existing lease within the lease provisions, and find acceptable alternate housing. If you want to move to another PHA’s jurisdiction, you must consult with your PHA about moving procedures.

What are my obligations as a tenant?

When you select a unit and the PHA approves the unit and lease, you will sign a lease with the landlord for at least one year. You may be required to pay a security deposit to the landlord. After the first year, the landlord may require a new lease or allow you to stay in the unit on a month-to-month lease. You must comply with the lease and the program requirements, pay your share of the rent on time, maintain the unit in good condition, and notify the PHA of any changes in your income or family size.

What are the landlord’s obligations?

The landlord must provide decent and safe housing to a tenant at a reasonable rent. The unit must pass the program’s housing quality standards, and the landlord must maintain the unit up to those standards as long as the landlord receives housing assistance payments.

What are the housing authority’s obligations?

The PHA administers the voucher program locally. If the landlord fails to meet his obligations under the lease, the PHA has the right to terminate assistance payments. The PHA must check your family’s income and size at least annually and must inspect each unit at least annually to make sure it meets minimum quality standards.

Section 8 Vouchers PDF

Project Based Section 8 Housing

What is “project-based” rental assistance?

Project-based rental assistance means rental assistance comes with the apartment. You pay 30% of your income toward rent, and the federal government, through the Section 8 rental assistance program, pays the difference between your payment and the actual rent charged.

How are project-based vouchers different from Section 8 tenant-based vouchers?

Under the Section 8 tenant-based voucher program, you may select an apartment of your choice. When you move out of the apartment, you can transfer the rental assistance to another apartment of your choice. Under the Section 8 project-based voucher program, the rental assistance is tied to specific apartments. It is not a mobile subsidy that can be taken with you from place to place. If you move, you do not have the right to continued housing assistance.

Where are these apartments located?

Project-based apartments are located in or near most major cities and towns throughout Tennessee. For a list of apartments in your area, contact the Tennessee Housing and Development Agency at (800) 228-8431.

What if I am already on a Section 8 waiting list?

If you are already on a tenant-based Section 8 waiting list, applying for a project-based apartment will not affect your position on that list.

Who is eligible?

Project-based Section 8 housing is limited to low-income families and individuals. A complex determines your eligibility based on: 1) your annual gross income; 2) whether you qualify as elderly, a person with a disability, or as a family; and 3) U.S. citizenship or eligible immigration status. If you are eligible, the complex will check your references to make sure you and your family will be good tenants.  Management will deny admission to any applicant whose habits and practices may be expected to have a detrimental effect on other tenants or on the project's environment.

Project-based Section 8 complexes use income limits developed by HUD. Income limits vary from area to area, so you may be eligible at complex, but not at another. The complexes serving your community can provide you with the income levels for your area and family size.

After I apply, can I add or remove household members?

Once you have submitted an application, it is very important that you notify the complex of any changes in your family that could affect the size of the apartment you need. You may add or remove people from your application by submitting the change in writing to the complex management. Adding or removing household members may affect your eligibility for some apartments. If the change increases or decreases the number of bedrooms your family needs and the locations to which you have previously applied do not have any apartments with that bedroom size, your name will be removed from that list.

What can I expect once I am selected from the waiting list?

You will receive a letter that an apartment is available and you will be instructed to contact the property owner for screening. Property owners each have their own tenant selection standards that they use to choose suitable tenants for their rental apartments. The owner will either approve or deny your application based on their standards.

Project Based Section 8 Housing PDF

Low Income Public Housing

What is Public Housing?

Public housing was established to provide decent and safe rental housing for eligible low-income families, the elderly, and persons with disabilities. Public housing comes in all types, from single family houses to high-rise apartments for the elderly. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) administers federal aid to local housing agencies (HAs) that manage the housing for low-income residents with rent they can afford.

Who is eligible?

Public housing is limited to low-income families and individuals. An HA determines your eligibility based on: 1) your gross income; 2) whether you qualify as elderly, a person with a disability, or as a family; and 3) U.S. citizenship or eligible immigration status. If you are eligible, the HA will check your references to make sure you and your family will be good tenants. HAs will deny admission to any applicant whose habits and practices may be expected to have a detrimental effect on other tenants or on the project's environment.

HAs use income limits developed by HUD. Income limits vary from area to area, so you may be eligible at one HA but not at another. The HA serving your community can provide you with the income levels for your area and family size.

How do I apply?

If you want to apply for public housing, contact your local HA. If you have trouble contacting the HA, contact the local HUD Field Office. West Tennessee is served by the Memphis Field Office, (901) 544-3367.  You can find contact information for your local HUD Field Office at www.hud.gov.

How does the application process work?

The HA will collect information about your income, assets, and family composition. The HA will verify this information with other agencies, your employer, and bank, and will use the information to determine if you are eligible and the amount of your housing assistance payment.

Will I need to produce any documentation to the Housing Authority?

Yes, the HA representative will request whatever documentation is needed (like birth certificates and tax returns) to verify the information on your application. The HA will also rely on information from your employer. You will be asked to sign a form to authorize release of information to the HA.

When will I be notified?

An HA has to provide written notification. If the HA decides that you are eligible, your name will be put on a waiting list, unless the HA is able to help you immediately. Once your name is reached on the waiting list, the HA will contact you. If the HA decides you are not eligible, the HA must say why and, if you wish, you can ask for an informal hearing.

Will I have to sign a lease?

If you are offered a house or apartment and accept it, you will have to sign a lease with the HA. You may have to give the HA a security deposit. You and the HA representative should go over the lease together. This will give you a better understanding of your responsibilities as a tenant and the HA's responsibilities as a landlord.

Are there any selection preferences?

Sometimes there are selection preferences. Giving preference to specific groups of families enables an HA to direct their limited housing resources to the families with the greatest housing needs. Since the demand for housing assistance often exceeds the resources available, long waiting periods are common. A HA may close its waiting list when there are more families on the list than can be helped in the near future.

Each HA has the discretion to set preferences to reflect needs in its own community. These preferences will be included in the HAs written policy manual. You should ask for their preferences, so you will know if you qualify for a preference.

How is rent determined?

Your rent, which is the Total Tenant Payment (TTP), is based on your family’s gross annual income less deductions. HUD allows HAs to exclude from annual income the following: $480 for each child; $400 for any elderly family or a person with a disability; and some medical deductions for families headed by an elderly person or a person with disabilities.

The formula used in determining the TTP is the highest of the following:

  • 30% of the monthly adjusted income (annual income less deductions);
  • 10% of monthly income;
  • Welfare rent, if applicable; or
  • A $25 minimum rent or higher amount (up to $50) set by an HA.

Low Income Public Housing PDF

Low Income Housing Tax Credit

What is the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program?

The Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program provides housing for low- to moderate-income renters in exchange for tax credits for the developers. The LIHTC program is overseen by the Tennessee Housing and Development Agency. 

What is the waiting list and application process?

Individual tax credit buildings maintain waiting lists, and wait times vary depending on the building and the area.

Individuals are screened by property ownership and management. IRS regulations specify that projects financed through the LIHTC program are not required to collect Social Security numbers from potential residents. However, LIHTC projects still ask for Social Security numbers on applications and use them to determine applicants’ financial eligibility and suitability as tenants. Failure to provide Social Security numbers could delay an LIHTC property’s ability to review their applications for housing.

Where are Tax Credit properties located?

Tax Credit apartments are located in or near most major cities and towns throughout Tennessee. For a list of apartments in your area, contact the Tennessee Housing and Development Agency at www.thda.org or by telephone at (800) 228-8431.

Low Income Housing Tax Credit PDF

Income Based Rental Properties

What is an Income Based Rental Property?

Income based rental properties are properties with rent based on the renter’s income.  There are several types of income based rental properties for low-income renters in Tennessee. The most common are:

  • Housing Choice (Section 8) Vouchers
  • Low Income Public Housing
  • HUD Subsidized Project Based Section 8
  • Low Income Housing Tax Credit
  • USDA Housing

What are the requirements to be eligible for income based rental properties?

The general requirement to be eligible is that you are low income. Units are often set aside for particular populations, such as families with children, survivors of domestic violence, or disabled, elderly, or currently homeless. Most programs screen applicants for evictions, credit, criminal backgrounds, and rental history and require tenants to regularly report changes in household members and income. Most programs require inspections to ensure and maintain housing quality.

Each program can provide you with a list of its eligibility criteria. Some units have more than one subsidy attached to them. Talk to an attorney for help if you do not know which program rules apply in your situation.

What is the Public Housing Authority?

The Public Housing Authority (PHA) runs Housing Choice (Section 8) Vouchers, Low Income Public Housing programs, and some Project-Based Section 8 programs.

How do I contact my local PHA?

The contact information for the PHAs in West Tennessee are:

Bolivar (731) 658-3419
Brownsville (731) 772-0274
Covington (731) 476-6135
Dyersburg (731) 285-6771
Humboldt (731) 784-9772
Huntingdon (731) 986-4442
Jackson (731) 422-1671
Lexington (731) 968-7506
Martin (731) 587-3186
Memphis (901) 544-1100
Milan (731) 686-8571
Paris (731) 642-4451
Ripley (731) 335-1901
Savannah (731) 925-2020
Shelby County (901) 353-0590
Trenton (731) 855-1231
Union City (731) 885-1971

Income Based Rental Properties PDF

Long Term Care Insurance

Why purchase Long Term Care Insurance (“LTCI”)?

According to Elder Law Answers, 1 in 3 people over age 65 will need some type of nursing care. The Tennessee Health Care Association says that the cost of nursing home care in Tennessee ranges from $3,000 to $6,000 a month. Keep in mind that the rate of inflation could significantly increase this cost over the next several decades. If you purchase LTCI early enough, you can keep costs to about $1,700 to $5,000 a year.  This amount is even less if you take into consideration the tax breaks LTCI allows.  While still steep, LTCI can save you tens of thousands in the long run. 

Will purchasing LTCI have any effect on my taxes?

Yes. The federal government wants to shift medical expenses to insurance companies.  Currently, you can itemize LTCI premiums as a medical expense when filing your taxes.  The older you are, the more you can deduct. This provides some relief for the high cost of LTCI. 

If I am married can my spouse and I get joint LTCI?

Yes. Married people frequently pool their LTCI. For example, you may both buy coverage for 6 years. If one spouse uses some but not all of this coverage, the remainder will still be available to both. Joint LTCI will typically cost a little more than individual LTCI, but the benefit of the pooled coverage can be significant.

What does LTCI cover?

This depends on the policy purchased, but common services covered are:

  • Home care - An agency or individual who performs such services as bathing, grooming, and help with housekeeping.
  • Assisted living - A residence with apartment-style units that makes personal care and other individualized services, such as meal delivery, available when needed.
  • Adult day care - A program outside the home that provides daytime health, social, and other services in a supervised setting for adults in need of help.
  • Respite care - Temporary help to relieve family caregivers.
  • Stays in a nursing home - A residential facility that provides a full range of skilled health care, rehabilitation, personal care, and daily activities in a 24/7 setting.
  • Alzheimer's care.

Different types of care receive different amounts of coverage. For example, because home care is cheaper than assisted living, the amount LTCI will pay is less for home care.  Seriously consider how you would like to receive care if you may one day need it.

It is also important to note that you do not have to buy coverage that pays for the entire daily cost of care. You can purchase less than the total cost of daily care and pay for the rest with your own funds, which could potentially save money depending on the length of coverage you will need and the cost of the LTCI.  You will have to compare plans to make this decision.


How long does coverage typically last?

This depends on the amount of coverage you need and how much you can afford.  Lifetime coverage is available, but there are plans that cover a certain number of years.

Although studies vary on this point, the average length of stay in nursing homes is generally a little over 2 years, although the majority of people are in a nursing home for less than 6 months. Therefore, the length of coverage provided by LTCI covers the length of stay for most people. Only worry about additional coverage if you have a family history of conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.

When should I buy LTCI?

The sooner you buy LTCI, the cheaper it will be. AARP recommends that people buy this insurance in their early to mid-50’s while still relatively healthy in order to keep premiums low. The American Association for Long Term Care Insurance shows that more than half of people who purchase LTCI do so between the ages of 55 and 64. 

What happens if I need Long Term Care Supports and Services, but I don’t have LTCI?

There are two options in Tennessee:  

  • Private Pay - With smart saving and investment over the course of a lifetime, individuals can potentially afford the high costs of private pay. However, if you need nursing home care for several years, the cost is likely to be out of almost anyone’s price range. 
  • Medicaid/TennCare - To qualify the individual must have a very small amount of assets and income. 

What is hybrid LTCI?

Hybrid LTCI is LTCI bundled with either an annuity or life insurance. Combining LTCI with life insurance guarantees a return on the investment if no long term care is needed.  The major benefit of hybrid LTCI is that it removes the “use it or lose it” nature of normal LTCI. However, the downside is that the up-front premiums will likely be higher.

What are some resources I should check out before purchasing?

  • AARP’s Understanding Long Term Care Insurance,




What is TennCare CHOICES?

Nursing home care costs about $6,000 per month. Most older Tennesseans cannot afford this expense, even with careful retirement planning. CHOICES is designed to fill that gap. TennCare CHOICES is the state program that helps pay for long-term care services, or nursing home care. People on CHOICES also get TennCare insurance.

What are the CHOICES categories?

CHOICES is divided into three groups:

  • Group 1 – This is nursing home Medicaid. If you meet the medical and financial criteria, Group 1 pays for your nursing home care.
  • Group 2 – This is for home care instead of nursing home care. You must meet the medical and financial criteria for nursing home care.
  • Group 3 – This is at-home care like Group 2 except with less benefits. Group 3 is for people who do not qualify for nursing home care but need some care at home to prevent the need for nursing home care. Only people receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) can get Group 3 services.

What are the qualification for CHOICES if I am single?

To get CHOICES, you must:

  • Have less than $2,000 in countable assets;
  • Qualify medically; and
  • Have monthly gross income of less than $2,205 (2017) or have a Qualified Income Trust (QIT), which is sometimes called a Miller Trust. A QIT is not an asset trust. It is a sieve for income. After the income is deposited to the QIT account, it is used to pay your portion of your nursing home care bill. If you need a QIT, you will need an attorney to prepare the trust document for you.


Do I have to sell all of my assets and spend all of my money before I can qualify for CHOICES?

No, there are certain exempt assets, or assets that do not count toward eligibility, such as the following:

  • Your home,
  • One car,
  • Your personal stuff,
  • Burial plots,
  • Burial fund up to $1,500 or a pre-paid irrevocable funeral and burial or cremation plan,
  • Spouse’s retirement account (Individual Retirement Account or 401(k)),
  • Property or stuff that are unavailable to you for reasons beyond your control,
  • Property jointly owned with someone else, but he or she refuses to sell the property, and
  • Special Needs Trust approved by federal and Tennessee law.

Will TennCare take my real estate if I receive TennCare?

TennCare can recover money spent for your care through “estate recovery.” TennCare does not take your real estate until after you die. In some instances, TennCare may delay taking your real estate. Your family will not be personally responsible to TennCare.

Can I give away an asset to become eligible for TennCare?

No, giving away assets can make you ineligible for TennCare. When you apply for TennCare, you must disclose any transfers of assets for less than fair market value in the last 5 years (called the “look back period”). For example, if you sold your farm to your children for $1, you have made a transfer for less than fair market value and would have to report this transfer on your TennCare application.

If you have given away assets in the 5 years before your application, your application will be denied. TennCare can assess a penalty period, but the penalty period will not start ticking under you are otherwise eligible for Medicaid, meaning you must be in a nursing home, below $2,000 in countable assets, and have a Qualified Income Trust in place if your income is too high. Before making any transfers of assets, talk to an attorney who is knowledgeable in Medicaid law.

If my husband or wife is in a nursing home, do I have to spend all of our assets before he or she will qualify for TennCare?

No. You, the “community spouse,” will need a resource assessment, which is a list of all of the assets of both spouses. The request for a resource assessment is made to TennCare when the CHOICES application is submitted. You should talk to an attorney knowledgeable in Medicaid law before submitting a resource assessment.

On the resource assessment, the assets of both spouses are listed as either countable or non-countable assets. Countable assets are cash, bank accounts, stocks, bonds, real estate other than the home where you live, and other assets that can be converted to cash. Non-countable assets are the home where you live, one car, personal stuff, and your retirement accounts. The value of the countable assets are totaled, and the total is divided by 2. You are allowed to keep ½ of the countable assets up to a certain amount, which changes annually. In 2017, the amount is $120,900.

The remaining funds, if any, must be spent down to $2,000 before the nursing home spouse qualifies financially for CHOICES. These funds can be spent on anything that benefits either spouse. If you are required to spend down funds to become eligible, keep receipts and proof of how you spent down the funds.

How is my income handled if I am approved for CHOICES?

Usually, you can keep enough of your income to pay your health insurance premium and keep a $50 personal needs allowance. The remainder of your income is your patient liability, or the amount you must pay to the nursing home each month for your care.

If you are a married nursing home spouse, your spouse still at home can keep all of her income and enough of your income to bring her up to $2,002.50 (2017) per month, which is called the minimum monthly maintenance allowance.

How do I apply for CHOICES?

If you already have TennCare, you should call the Managed Care Organization listed on your insurance card. If you do not have TennCare, you should call your local Area Agency on Aging and Disability (AAAD).

What if I am denied CHOICES?

If you are denied, you have the right to appeal. You will receive written notice of the denial, and the notice will tell you how to appeal. It will give you a telephone number, fax number, and address for you to let the agency know you want to appeal. You usually only have a limited time to appeal. If you want to appeal, you should do so immediately upon receiving your denial. You should talk to an attorney or your local legal aid if you want legal representation at your hearing.


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William F. Kendall, III

Mary Jo Middlebrooks

Laura A. Keeton

Vanedda Webb

Kourtney Simmons

John Hamilton

James Pearson

Charles H. Barnett

Barbara R. Hudson

Board of Directors


Jackson Office - 210 West Main Street, Jackson, TN 38301

  • Kathryn Avent-Mann - IT Manager/Paralegal
  • Beth Bates - Managing Attorney
  • Bill Bellor-Yeh - Tennessee Senior Law Attorney
  • Vanessa Bullock - Housing Managing Attorney
  • Sandy Bingham - Senior Financial Assistant
  • Ginny Brimm - PAI Attorney
  • Kim Boyd - Long-Term Care Ombudsman
  • Kenneth Caldwell - Case Manager
  • Catherine B. Clayton - Executive Director
  • Carita Cole - Case Manager
  • Teresa Cook - Lead Agent Representative
  • Emma Covington - Paralegal
  • Zach DeFoor - Consumer/Housing Attorney
  • James DiMarco - Housing Attorney
  • Ronnie Dukes - Tennessee Senior Law Outreach Coordinator
  • Byron Elam - Tennessee Senior Law Paralegal
  • Kathy Goff - Executive Assistant
  • Randy Hampton - VOCA Attorney
  • Valerie Hatch - Grant Administrator
  • Laura Hilton - Test Coordinator
  • Ashley Holliday - Managing Attorney
  • Shanna Johnson - Case Manager
  • Gracie Kemp - Case Manager
  • Daniel King - VOCA Attorney
  • Karen Laird - Business Manager
  • Heather Moore - VOCA Paralegal
  • Dana Poteete - Housing Paralegal
  • Susan Price - DOJ Attorney
  • Christy Salinas - Bi-lingual/Domestic Violence Paralegal
  • Matt Schwimmer - Tennessee Senior Law Attorney
  • Heather Staggs - VOCA Attorney
  • Mary Stewart - Re-Engagement and Retention Specialist
  • Bettye Sullivan - Legal Secretary/ Receptionist
  • Mark White - Housing Paralegal
  • Diana Wray - Legal Secretary

Dyersburg Office - 208 South Church Avenue, Dyersburg, TN 38024 (By Appointment Only)

  • Jason Jackson - DOJ/VOCA Attorney
  • Jennifer Laird - Paralegal/Victim Advocate
  • Julie Palmer - VOCA Attorney
  • Suzanne West Newhouse - Paralegal/Receptionist

Huntingdon Office - 113 West Paris Huntingdon, Street, TN 38344

  • Megan Allen - VOCA Attorney
  • Michael Creasy - DOJ/VOCA Attorney
  • Suzie Edwards - Intake and Domestic Violence Paralegal

Selmer Office - 141 North Third Selmer, Street, TN 38375

  • Ashley Parker - VOCA Attorney
  • LaFran Plunk - Intake and Domestic Violence Paralegal

Divorce Considerations

Are there different considerations for divorcing later in life? 

While the divorce law is the same, there are challenges unique to senior citizens that don’t apply to the general population. The biggest difference is that there is less time to recover financially. Issues to consider when older adults get divorced include:

  • Financial Issues:  While divorces almost always involve financial issues , such as division of marital assets (including pension and/or other retirement funds), divorced seniors often struggle financially because they do not have as many years of working and saving left as younger divorcing couples. Sometimes, the only retirement benefit available to either spouse is Social Security. You need to be aware of the “10 year rule” – that is, if you’ve been married to your spouse for at least 10 years, you will be eligible to draw Social Security benefits off his/her record if you meet the following criteria:

If your former spouse is living, you can receive benefits based on the former spouse’s work if:

  • Your marriage lasted 10 years or longer;
  • You are currently unmarried;
  • You are age 62 or older;
  • The benefit you are entitled to receive based on your own work is less than the benefit you would receive on your spouse’s work; and
  • Your former spouse is entitled to receive Social Security retirement or disability benefits.

Even if your former spouse has not applied for benefits, you may still be able to receive benefits based on the former spouse’s earnings record, so long as the former spouse: (1) can qualify for benefits; (2) is age 62 or older, and (3) you have been divorced for at least two years.

If your former spouse is deceased, you can receive benefits if:

  • You are age 60 (or age 50 and disabled);
  • You are unmarried (or were remarried on or after age 60);
  • Your marriage lasted at least 10 years;
  • You are not entitled to a higher benefit on your own record.


  • Spousal Support (Alimony):  One of the factors for spousal support, also known as alimony, is how long you have been married. The longer you’ve been married, the more likely that alimony could be awarded. However, the most important factors for a judge to consider in awarding alimony are need and ability to pay. If one spouse has a need for spousal support to maintain a comparable level of living after the divorce, the other spouse has to have to ability to pay. There are other factors, including fault of one party, but if there is no ability to pay then spousal support not be awarded.  
  • Housing/Property Issues: Divorce involves an equitable division of property. While this doesn’t necessarily mean equal, 50/50 is often a starting point. You need to be aware that you may not be able to afford keeping the house which, even if it is paid for, will involve property taxes, maintenance, and other costs that could put you in a financial bind. If you are awarded the house in the divorce, you will give up something else, which could result in a lesser share of a retirement funds, a smaller cash payment, or less alimony. 

    Many older adults over age 62 take advantage of a reverse mortgage where, instead of paying money, the homeowner receives money that increases the amount owed on the home. The reverse mortgage loan is then paid off when the house is sold after the homeowner is no longer living in the house. A post-divorce reverse mortgage may allow a divorced spouse to keep the home; however, if you have a reverse mortgage before you get a divorce and the borrowing spouse moves out of the house, the spouse remaining in the home could end up having to pay off the reverse mortgage loan to stay in the home. WTLS has housing counselors who can help individuals make good decisions about whether they can afford to keep the marital residence after divorce.
  • Medical Insurance Issues:  For older Americans struggling financially and facing health issues, loss of insurance coverage can be devastating. If your health insurance was provided by your spouse’s employer or former employer, a federal law called COBRA allows you to continue your health insurance for up to 36 months from the date your divorce is final. However, COBRA is very expensive.   Before deciding to divorce, you should review your options for potential insurance coverage under COBRA, Medicare, and Medicaid.  
  • Veterans Benefits: What benefits a divorced spouse of a military veteran receives is a complicated issue governed by both state and federal law. The Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act (USFSPA) allows state courts to divide military retirement pay as part of marital assets. The military spouse qualifies for military retirement benefits under USFSPA if the parties were married for at least 10 years and the veteran spent at least 10 years in the military (the “10/10” requirement). While state law can divide retirement pay, the non-military spouse can receive pay from the Defense Finance and Accounting Service only once the “10/10” requirement is proved. Tricare, the federal program that provides health insurance for the military, is only available to a divorced non-military spouse if the parties were married 20 years during which time the other spouses was in the military for at least 15 years. If you have been married at least 20 years and your spouse was in the military for at least 20 years during the marriage you may qualify for Tricare. If you were married at least 20 years and your spouse served in the military for at least 15 but less than 20 of those years, you may qualify for only 1 year of Tricare. Base privileges (commissary and exchange benefits) for the non-military spouse are available only the military spouse spent at least 20 years during the marriage in the military. 

    Some veterans’ benefits are never available to the non-military spouse once a divorce occurs. If the pension was not divided as part of the divorce, a divorced spouse cannot receive the pension upon the death of the veteran because he/she is not a “surviving spouse” at the time of the veteran’s death. Veterans who served in wartime and their spouses over age 65 who are under asset and income limits can receive Aid and Attendance pension benefits to help pay the cost of in-home assistance, assisted living, or nursing home care. Divorced spouses are not eligible for this benefit. 

What is a “Medicaid divorce”? 

A Medicaid divorce may help preserve assets where one spouse needs long-term care.  It is complicated, and you need a lawyer who has a good understanding of family law, estate planning, and state Medicaid laws. Couples have to “spend down” assets owned by both spouses before the incapacitated spouse can qualify for Medicaid, leaving the well spouse impoverished. A prenuptial agreement will not protect you because Medicaid disregards prenuptial agreements. State agencies “look back” and will disallow asset transfers of property within a certain time period in determining an individual’s eligibility for Long-Term Services & Supports (CHOICES). An asset transfer that occurs prior to the look-back period is not counted as a resource; however, an asset transfer within the look-back period is counted. If an asset transfer is disallowed, you will be penalized by becoming ineligible for Medicaid for a number of months. The “look-back” period in Tennessee is currently 5 years or 60 months from the date of the Medicaid application. However, division of assets due to a divorce are not disqualifying transfers.  In a Medicaid divorce, the goal is transfer a larger share of the assets to the well spouse to minimize the spend-down and preserve the quality of life for the well spouse as much as possible while qualifying the spouse in need of medical care for Medicaid as soon as possible.   

Do I need a lawyer? 

The issues involved in a senior divorce can be complex. If at all possible, you should consult with a lawyer. If you cannot afford a lawyer, contact your local legal aid office for help. In some situations, you may want to postpone the divorce to make sure you do not lose important rights to benefits. 

What information do I need to gather in preparation for meeting with a lawyer? 

You need to know your monthly living expenses, family income, all assets and how assets are titled, the terms of any pre-nuptial agreement between you and your spouse, existing medical insurance, whether either you or your spouse currently have or will have in the future Social Security or other retirement benefits, and the names of all credit accounts, including credit cards, lines of credit, utilities and phone or cable bills. If you do not have all this information, your lawyer will help you get it. However, the more information you can provide, the less your divorce is likely to cost.  

Divorce Considerations PDF

Custody & Visitation with Grandchildren

Do grandparents have rights to custody and visitation of their grandchildren?

Yes, under limited circumstances. Generally, the U.S. Constitution provides that parents have the right to raise their children as they see fit without interference. Just because grandparents might do a better job of raising a grandchild does not mean grandparents can interfere unless there is actual danger to a child. Nor do grandparents have any absolute right to be able to visit with their grandchildren.

When might a grandparent obtain custody of a grandchild?  

Parents may agree in certain situations for a grandparent to have temporary custody of a child. To make sure this is done correctly, you should seek the help of a lawyer. So long as a parent is living, the only way a parent can lose custody of a child to a grandparent is if the parent is doing such a poor job of parenting that that child is not safe in the parent’s care. A grandparent who is concerned about the safety of a grandchild has two options:  

  • File a dependency and neglect (D & N) petition in juvenile court in the county where the grandchild(ren) live seeking temporary custody. If at all possible, grandparents should hire a lawyer to represent them in a D & N petition. Parents who cannot afford a lawyer have the right to an appointed lawyer, and an attorney (a guardian ad litem) will be appointed to represent the child(ren)’s best interests but grandparents are not entitled to an appointed lawyer.  
  • Grandparents may also contact the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) if they believe grandchildren are in danger in their parents’ care. DCS cannot reveal who contacted them, so the grandparents’ identity remains confidential.  If DCS’s investigation reveals that the children are being abused or neglected, DCS will take court action to remove children from the parents’ home. DCS is supposed to first place custody of removed children with relatives.

Note: When grandparents are granted temporary custody of children in abuse and neglect situations the Courts are generally required to provide services to the parents to help them regain custody of their children at the earliest possible time. 

What about grandparent visitation? 

If the situation between you and your grandchildren’s parents is so bad that you are completely cut out of the child(ren)’s lives, you might consider filing a petition for grandparents’ visitation rights. If you can afford an attorney, hire one because the issue of grandparent visitation is complex.  

Where is a petition for grandparents’ rights filed?

Generally, the petition is filed in the chancery or circuit court where the grandchildren live. In some counties, the petition may be filed in general sessions court. The clerk of the court can tell you. If the parents were never married, the petition may be filed in juvenile court.

What is required before grandparent’s visitation can be ordered by a court?

One of the following circumstances must exist before a court can order grandparent’s visitation:

  • One of the child’s parents is deceased;
  • The child’s parents are divorced or legally separated from each other, or were never married to each other;
  • One of the child’s parents has been missing for 6 months or more;
  • A court in another state ordered grandparent’s visitation;
  • The child lived in the grandparent’s home for 12 months or more and was subsequently removed by the parent(s); or
  • The child and the grandparent maintained a significant existing relationship for 12 months or more immediately before the relationship was ended by a parent for reasons other than abuse or danger of substantial harm, and the end of the relationship is likely to cause substantial emotional harm to the child.

What has to be proved to establish grandparent’s visitation? 

The court first has to find that a significant relationship existed (which the court presumes if the child lived with the grandparent for 6 consecutive months, the grandparent was the child’s full-time caregiver for at least 6 consecutive months, or the grandparent had frequent visitation with the child for not less than 1 year), and that there would be a danger of substantial harm to the child if the relationship ended, and the grandparent visitation is in the best interests of the child.  

What factors does the court consider in deciding whether grandparent visitation is in the child’s best interests?

In deciding whether grandparent visitation is in a child’s best interest, the judge will consider the following factors:

  • Length and quality of the prior relationship between the child and grandparent;
  • Existing emotional ties of the child to the grandparent;
  • Preference of the child (if child is found to be mature enough to express a preference);
  • Effect of hostility between the grandparent and the child in the child’s presence and the willingness of the grandparent, except in cases of abuse, to encourage the parent-child relationship;
  • Good faith of the grandparent who is filing the petition;
  • If parents are divorced, the time-sharing arrangement between the parents;
  • Where one parent is deceased/missing, the fact that the grandparent asking for visitation is the parent of the deceased/missing parent;
  • Any unreasonable deprivation of the grandparent’s opportunity for visitation with the child by the parent;
  • Whether the grandparent is seeking to maintain a significant relationship with the child;
  • Whether awarding visitation will interfere with the parent-child relationship; and
  • Any court finding that the child’s parent/guardian is unfit.  

Can I seek grandparent’s visitation rights if my grandchild is adopted?  

A grandparent may still seek visitation with a grandchild if the grandchild is adopted by a stepparent or other relative. If the child is adopted by an unrelated person, the grandparent cannot seek visitation with the child.

Can grandparent’s visitation rights be changed? 

Once grandparent’s rights are established, it is difficult for a parent to try to decrease or take those rights away. A party wanting to change grandparent’s rights has to first establish a “material change of circumstances” since the last court order. If the court finds a material change, the court must also find that modification is in the child’s best interests.

Custody & Visitation with Grandchildren PDF

Personal Safety & Security

What are some tips to protect myself at home?

Consider the following tips for keeping yourself safe in your home:

  • Never automatically open your door. Confirm who is there first.
  • Install and use a peephole.
  • Lock your doors and windows.
  • Install deadbolts on your doors.
  • Keep your home well-lit at night.
  • Do not hide your keys under a doormat, plant, or in other obvious places.
  • Be wary of unsolicited offers to make repairs to your home.
  • Ask for identification from delivery persons and strangers.
  • Keep on inventory with serial numbers and photographs of appliances, electronics, antiques, and furniture.
  • Cancel deliveries (like newspapers) when going away for a trip.
  • Arrange for your mail to be held by the post office when going away for a trip.
  • Make your home look like someone is there when you are away. Use an automatic timer for lights when you are gone for several days.

What are some tips for protecting myself in public places?

Consider the following tips for keeping yourself safe when you are out and about:

  • Avoid walking alone at night.
  • Plan your route and stay alert to your surroundings.
  • Walk in well-lit areas.
  • Have you key ready when approaching your car or door.
  • Do not dangle your purse away from your body.
  • Do not carry large, bulky shoulder bags.
  • Never leave your purse unattended.
  • Do not carry any more cash than is necessary.
  • Always lock your car doors.
  • Lock packages or bags in your trunk. If packages are in sight, a thief may be tempted to steal them.
  • If you are attacked, make as much noise as possible.

What are some tips for protecting my banking and financial affairs?

Consider the following tips for keeping your bank account and finances safe:

  • Avoid mailing checks.  Whenever possible, use direct deposit.
  • Never give money or wire money to anyone who calls you identifying himself as a bank official. A bank will never ask you to remove your money.
  • Be wary of con artists and get-rich schemes.
  • Store valuables in a bank safe deposit box.

What are some tips to keep myself safe while using the Internet?

Consider the following tips about Internet safety:

  • Protect your personal information. Never give your personal information over the Internet to a business or person that you do not know.
  • Do research about websites and companies trying to solicit you before you buy goods or reveal personal information.
  • Never trust a link sent to you by someone you do not know. Clicking on the link could send you to a site that looks like your bank but is actually a site to steal your personal information. If you are in doubt, call your bank and speak to a representative.
  • Be wary of emails asking for personal information. No bank, government agency, or reputable company will send you an email asking you to correct or update information, confirm your identity, or enter your password.
  • Never download programs from websites that you do not trust. Viruses can steal your personal information.
  • Be wary of any email or solicitation that creates a sense of urgency. For example, “if we do not hear from you by tomorrow,” or “this offer will not last.” Scammers want you to act quickly and not have time to consider that it might be a scam.
  • Consider installing a service that blocks or reduces spam.
  • Limit online dealings to a few trusted vendors.
  • Use one specific credit card for online purchases. Debit cards are a direct line to your bank account and do not offer the same protections from fraud as credit cards.
  • Be creative with online passwords.
  • Trust your instincts and talk to family members or friends if you are in doubt. If something sounds good to be true, it usually is.

Personal Safety & Security PDF

Student Loans

I owe a student loan that I cannot pay. What will happen?

If you owe a federal student loan and have not made payments, the loan will eventually go into default. Once the loan is in default, the government has special powers to collect the loan, including taking your Social Security benefits. Up to 15% of your Social Security benefits can be taken by the government to repay a student loan in default.

What if I co-signed for a student loan for my child or grandchild?

You are still responsible for the loan, even as a co-signer. If your child or grandchild does not pay the loan, the government will come after you for payment.

How do I stop or prevent my Social Security benefits from being garnished?

You have a few options to prevent or stop garnishment of your benefits. These options are:

  • Applying for a discharge of the loan because of your disability
  • Consolidating the loan with an income-based payment plan
  • Rehabilitating the loan out of default by working out a payment plan
  • Applying for a suspension or reduction of the garnishment due to hardship

What is a disability discharge?

If your doctor will sign a statement that you cannot go back to work in the next 5 years because of your health, then you may qualify for a Total and Permanent Disability Discharge of the loan. To start the discharge process, you must complete an application. You can apply online at www.disabilitydischarge.com, or you can call (888) 303-7818 to ask that an application be mailed to you.

If the application is approved, you will be monitored for 3 years. Each year, the Department of Education will send you a form to sign and return certifying that you have not earned income. If you go back to work during the monitoring period, your discharge could be canceled.

At the end of the monitoring period, your discharge is complete and the debt is waived. However, there are tax consequences of loan forgiveness because the amount of the loan that is forgiven is considered income. You may be insolvent for tax purposes, but you must talk to a tax professional for advice before applying for a discharge.

What is consolidation?

Consolidation lets you combine your defaulted loans into one new loan. The new loan gets you out of default and gives you a fresh start. Once your loan is consolidated into the new loan, you can apply for an income-based repayment plan, which takes into account your income when setting your monthly loan payment. You can apply for consolidation online at www.studentloans.gov or call the Department of Education’s Consolidation Department at (800) 557-7392 to ask for an application.

What is rehabilitation?

Rehabilitation lets you make a payment plan to get out of default. If you make 9 on time payments over 10 straight months, you will complete the rehabilitation and your loan will be out of default. To ask for a rehabilitation plan, you should call your loan holder, who should discuss your options with you, including the pros and cons of loan rehabilitation and loan consolidation. If you decide on rehabilitation, the loan holder should start out with the amount you would pay under an income-based repayment plan, which should be based on your income.

How do I ask for hardship to reduce or stop the garnishment of my benefits?

The Department of Education will need the following documents before they will review a request for a hardship reduction:

  • The notification of offset;
  • The notification letter showing the amount of federal benefit;
  • Proof of yearly income;
  • A completed financial statement that must be returned to the Department of Education or guaranty agency within ten days. If the situation is an emergency, you may submit equivalent information such as an eviction notice or a court order of foreclosure in writing with the completed financial statement.
  • A letter explaining the exceptional circumstances that caused the financial hardship along with any other supporting documents.

You can call the Department of Education at (800) 557-7392 to request a hardship.

Student Loans PDF

Scams & Fraud

Why are older adults targets for scams?

Financial exploitation of older adults has been called the crime of the 21st Century.  Although direct theft or robbery is always a concern, older adults are easy targets for scams and frauds. Older adults are often easy targets due to:

  • Their government or retirement benefits,
  • Physical disability,
  • Lower mental capacity due to dementia or as a natural result of aging,
  • Isolation or loneliness,
  • Potential to get lump sum payments from reverse mortgages, lawsuits, or loans,
  • Gradual loss of supports like family and friends, and
  • Increasing dependence on others.

Why is it important to recognize a scam before becoming a victim?

As we age, money becomes a bigger problem than it once was. Living on a fixed income can be difficult, even for those who do their best to plan for retirement. Medical bills become larger and more common the older we get. If someone steals an older adult’s money, they may have no ability to replenish those funds if they have left the workforce. 

In the age of the Internet and digital technology, information is easier to get than ever.  Companies commonly sell your personal information. Scammers use this information as a tool to gain the trust of the person they are attempting to scam. The more you know, the less at risk you will be.

What are some common scams and fraud that affect seniors?

The following are common scams and fraud that affect older adults:

  • Grandparent Scam - Scammers frequently call early in the morning or late at night to catch the victim while they are tired. The scammer claims to be a child or grandchild and may say they are in jail and need bail money, or some variation of this. NEVER WIRE MONEY TO THIS PERSON! THIS IS THE SAME AS CASH!
  • Charity Scams - This usually comes in the form of phone calls asking for donations. Scammers commonly invoke Veterans, firefighters, and police. Just because the charity has one of these things in its name does not mean it is legitimate. 
  • Overpayment Scams/Home improvement Scams - A common example is a contractor overcharging or charging for unnecessary work. The scammer may begin work on a project and then ask for more money for additional services that you cannot do without because of work they have already completed, or they may overcharge for shoddy work or materials. Always check credentials of anyone providing services. If it seems suspicious, get a second opinion.
  • Sweetheart Scams - Be wary of strangers trying to get close to you. Scammers commonly target lonely or isolated older adults for exploitation. 
  • Lump Sum Scams - If you receive a lump sum payment through a loan, a court judgment or settlement, you may be targeted. If you have the option, collect loans or court judgments in periodic payments.
  • Work-from-Home Scams - The scam may be in the form of pyramid or investment schemes. The scammer preys on people who feel they need to supplement their low, fixed incomes.
  • Lottery/Sweepstakes Scams - If someone says “you’ve won!” be suspicious. If the caller asks you to wire money or “pay to play,” it is a scam.
  • Homeowner Scams - These scams focus on homeowners trying to refinance their mortgages or those with a lot of equity built up in their homes. Scammers also target those who own property and owe a large amount of debt. If you are offered a loan and the terms are too good to be true, it’s a scam.
  • Reverse Mortgage Proceeds Scams - The scam often begins with someone convincing you to take out a reverse mortgage. It may come in the form of Equity Theft or Foreclosure Rescue.
  • Medicare and Medicaid Fraud - This fraud consists of healthcare providers submitting false claims for payment to Medicare or Medicaid, billing for unnecessary services, or giving kickbacks for unnecessary referrals. This is the single biggest source of financial loss among scams and fraud targeting older adults.
  • Social Security Fraud - This generally involves a misuse of Social Security benefits. Representative payees are common culprits if they do not use Social Security benefits for the benefit of the recipient.

How do I protect myself from becoming a victim?

Consider the following tips to avoid becoming a victim:

  • Join the national “Do Not Call” registry by calling (888) 382-1222 or onling at https://www.donotcall.gov/.
  • NEVER give out personal or private information unless you are absolutely sure the person you are giving it to will not misuse it.
  • Hang up on robocalls.
  • Contact the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, the Federal Trade Commission, or the Better Business Bureau if you are unsure of the truthfulness of an offer.
  • Let close friends and family know if you are concerned about being scammed.
  • Shred all documents containing personal information when you no longer need them.
  • Keep important legal and financial information in secure places.
  • Use direct deposit and automatic bill pay whenever possible.
  • Never pay for services in cash, get the contract in writing, and keep your receipts.
  • Seek advice when making major financial decisions.
  • If you want to appoint financial or medical agents or representative payees, only appoint people you trust. Ask your agents to account for any decisions made on your behalf. 

What do I do if I’ve been scammed?

  • Report the scam to the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau at www.consumerfinance.gov.
  • Report to the Tennessee Division of Consumer Affairs at https://tn.gov/commerce/section/consumer-affairs.
  • Report to local law enforcement when appropriate.
  • If you think your personal information is compromised, contact the bank, government organization, or other entity responsible for that information and let them know.
  • Contact an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, call your local legal aid for help. 

What are some other resources about scams and fraud?


Scams & Fraud PDF

Consumer Protection

What is consumer protection?

Consumers of all ages are vulnerable to the hard sell of professional salespeople. It can be difficult to make smart buying and lending decisions. Consumer protection is the protection of your rights as a consumer by being a well-informed and careful buyer. Some state and federal laws provide protection from unfair and deceptive practices by businesses and salespeople, but you must also be diligent in protecting yourself.

The fact sheets in this section will give you tips and information for protecting yourself in consumer transactions.

Consumer Protection PDF

When You Need A Lawyer

When should I consult with a lawyer?

Meeting with an attorney first can prevent legal problems later on. Consider talking to a lawyer for the following situations:

  • Before signing a contract to buy or sell a home
  • Making a will
  • Before signing contracts involving large amounts of money
  • When planning your estate
  • When planning for a major life change, like a marriage or managing a serious or chronic medical condition
  • When you have a serious dispute
  • When you are sued or want to sue someone
  • When accidents happen in which you are injured or your stuff is damaged
  • When you have problems getting government benefits

Be aware that some legal claims have deadlines (a statute of limitations requires that a lawsuit be filed within a certain amount of time or the claim no longer exists). If you think you need legal help, do not delay.

How do I find a lawyer?

If you do not have a family lawyer, ask your family or friends for recommendations. You can also ask your local Area on Aging office, the Tennessee Bar Association, or the AARP. If you cannot afford an attorney, call your local Legal Aid to ask for free legal help. West Tennessee Legal Services serves Madison, Crockett, Gibson, Carroll, Henry, Benton, Decatur, Weakley, Obion, Lake, Dyer, Hardin, Hardeman, Haywood, McNairy, Chester, and Henderson Counties, and can be reached at (800) 372-8346.

How do I pick a lawyer?

Picking the “right” lawyer, or one who has experience with the issue you have, is most important. Lawyers usually have different focuses. For example, some lawyers only handle contracts, wills, and estates. Other lawyers may only handle criminal issues. Once you pick your lawyer, call and ask for an initial consultation and find out if the lawyer charges a fee for this first meeting. Some lawyers offer a free initial consultation, and others do not.

How do I prepare for the initial consultation with the lawyer?

  • If the lawyer asks to see the papers involved with your case before meeting with you, fax or e-mail the papers to the lawyer as soon as possible so the lawyer has time to review them before your meeting.
  • Write a short summary of your case, including facts and important dates, and a list of questions you want answered.

What questions should I ask during the initial consultation with the lawyer?

During the consultation, ask the lawyer:

  • If he or she has handled cases similar to yours
  • What services the lawyer will provide and the cost of other services
  • If the lawyer will personally handle your case or will other lawyers in the firm handle it
  • To explain the legal concerns with your case, if you even have a case, and the strengths and weaknesses of your case
  • To explain anything you do not understand
  • How much time the lawyer expects your case to last

How do lawyers decide how much to charge for services?

Lawyers consider several factors when setting fees. A more experienced lawyer may charge a higher fee. Lawyers may also charge a higher fee for a complex case that will take more time.

What kind of fee arrangements do lawyers use?

The following are the different types of fee arrangements:

  • Hourly fees – the lawyer charges a dollar amount for each hour worked. Hourly fees may vary from lawyer to lawyer. A more experienced lawyer may charge a higher hourly fee, but would likely take less time to resolve your case because of his or her experience.
  • Fixed or flat fees – the lawyer charges a single fee for the service.  This is usually used for routine legal issues, like real estate closings or wills.  Always ask if there are extra charges for other services, like clerical work or typing.
  • Contingency fees – the lawyer will take a percentage of the money you receive if you win your case or settle out of court.  This is usually used for personal injury, worker’s compensation, medical malpractice, and other cases involving lawsuits for money damages. If you lose, the lawyer does not get a fee. However, usually you must pay the costs of preparing and trying your case. You should make sure your agreement is in writing.

Should I get the fee arrangement in writing?

Yes. Usually, the lawyer will give you a written “engagement letter” or “retainer agreement” outlining the fees to be charged and services to be provided by the lawyer.The engagement letter or retainer agreement is an employment agreement between you and the lawyer. The letter may also tell you your duties as a client. For example, you may be required to be truthful and pay your bills on time. The agreement should also tell you how the fees to the lawyer will be paid. Most clients chose to be billed monthly.

Your lawyer may ask you to pay some money up front to begin working your case.This is called a “retainer.” The lawyer will hold your money in his or her trust account. This money is your money until the lawyer works on your case. The lawyer should send you monthly bills showing the time spent on your case and the money taken from the retainer for the bill.

When You Need A Lawyer PDF

Funeral Services

Are there any laws regarding funeral homes?

Yes, the federal and state governments have rules that funeral homes must follow. The funeral home cannot make you buy goods and services that you do not want.

Is the funeral home required to give me detailed pricing?

Yes, the funeral home must give you the information you need to make decisions. You have the right to ask about the cost of individual items and services. If you ask the funeral home in person, the funeral home must give you a written price list of goods and services.

Should I pre-pay for my funeral?

Planning ahead is a good idea. Your wishes for your funeral can be specified, and you can pay for the cost of the funeral before your death to ease the financial burden on your family. Many funeral homes will agree to furnish goods and services for a set price, regardless of when you die. If you pre-pay for your funeral and burial, get your plan in writing and give a copy to your family.

What information will the funeral home need when my loved one passes?

The funeral home will likely need the following information about your deceased relative:

  • Full name, date of birth, place of birth
  • Social Security number
  • Occupation
  • Father’s name
  • Mother maiden name
  • Marital status
  • Education level
  • Attending physician
  • Newspaper for obituary
  • The place where the service will be held
  • The name of the minister who will be officiating the service
  • Church affiliation
  • Cemetery plot information
  • Military discharge information
  • Names of pallbearers
  • Services and goods to be provided by the funeral home

Are there any special funeral benefits for Veterans?

Anyone who was a member of the military at their death or honorably discharged before death is eligible for special benefits. You should ask about the following:

  • Burial in a National Cemetery
  • Burial flag to drape the casket
  • Grave marker to mark the grave (Veteran must have served at least 24 months of active service or be a Persian Gulf War Veteran).

What if Social Security still sends my loved one’s benefits after his or her death?

Social Security benefits end at death. If you get Social Security benefits belonging to the deceased after his or her death, you need to return the check or money to your nearest Social Security office.

Funeral Services PDF

Conservatorship and Guardianship

What is a conservatorship?

A conservatorship is when the court takes away the ability of a disabled person to make decisions for him/herself and puts a conservator in place to make some or all of those decisions. The person asking for a conservatorship is the “petitioner” and the disabled person to be under a conservatorship is the “respondent” or “ward.” While the petitioner can be the conservator, they do not have to be. The court will appoint whoever will be the best possible conservator for the ward. 

Who needs a conservatorship?

An older adult may need a conservatorship if they are a “person with a disability.” An adult with a disability is any person 18 or older that the court decides he/she needs some or full supervision, protection, and help because of mental illness, physical illness or injury, developmental disability, or other mental or physical incapacity.

What rights does a conservatorship take away?

Courts must take away as few of a person’s rights as possible. Conservatorships are limited to whatever does enough to protect the ward. To decide which rights to take away, the court considers two types of capacity:

  • Decision-Making - The ability to make and communicate decisions to care for yourself and your property
  • Functional - The ability to handle basic daily activities

What is the difference between conservatorship and guardianship?

In Tennessee, conservatorships are for adults (18 or older). Guardianships are for children (17 and younger). 

Who can ask for a conservatorship?

Any person who knows the situation can ask the court to appoint a conservator.

What is the conservatorship process?

The process starts when the petitioner files a petition in the county where the ward lives. The petition must have a report by a doctor, psychologist, or senior psychological examiner. The court will appoint a neutral “Guardian ad Litem”—usually a local attorney—who investigates and recommends whether a conservatorship is needed. The court may also appoint an “Attorney ad Litem” to represent the ward if the court decides this is needed to protect the ward’s rights, the ward asks for one, the ward disagrees with the request for conservatorship, or the Guardian ad Litem suggests it.

What is an emergency conservatorship?

A court can grant an immediate conservatorship if it finds there is a chance of harm to the health, safety, or welfare of the ward. A hearing must occur within 5 days on whether to continue the emergency conservatorship. After this, the conservatorship continues like a normal one, except that there is a conservatorship in place until the court makes a final decision. 

Who can be the conservator?

Courts may appoint anyone to be conservator, but the court considers in this order:

  • A person who the ward chose in writing to be conservator, usually in a Power of Attorney, but not always,
  • The spouse of the ward,
  • Any child of the ward,
  • Closest relative of the ward,
  • A district public guardian, which is a state-run program whose employees can serve as agents or as conservator, or
  • Any other person.

The court may appoint more than one person to serve as conservator, such as the ward’s child and the child’s spouse.  Because the conservator has powerful decision-making authority, it may be best to have a single conservator to avoid disagreements.

What are a conservator’s duties to the ward and to the court?

Conservators must act in the best interests of the ward, file a property management plan and give an inventory and accounting of how any money or property is used, act in the way the ward would act if they could act for themselves, and follow the court’s orders. Courts will remove a conservator for abuse, mismanagement, neglect, or failure to act. 

Can the ward or anyone else end or change a conservatorship?

A ward can appeal the court’s decision to grant a conservatorship, ask that the conservatorship end, or ask for a hearing on whether they are disabled.  The Guardian ad Litem may also do this. The conservatorship may be challenged if the ward is no longer disabled, if it is in the ward’s best interest, or if the conservator has violated their duties. Any person can challenge the conservatorship by filing an objection with the court, but if the ward is challenging the conservatorship, the challenge can be made orally in the court room or through an informal letter to the court.

What if I am the conservator and I no longer want to be the conservator?

A conservator may ask the court in writing to give up being the conservator.  The court may approve this request but is not required to do so.  The conservator must also give the court a final accounting of the ward’s money and property that the court must approve. 

How can I move a conservatorship between counties in Tennessee?

The transfer must be granted by a court in the original county and a court in the new county.  The original court must find that the conservator and ward are both moving to the new county, or the ward is moving to a new county and a new conservator has been appointed in that county. The new county’s court must get a request to move from the conservator with the reasons for moving, an accounting, and in some cases, a request to move property.

How can I move a conservatorship from another state to Tennessee or vice versa?

To transfer the conservatorship to another state, the conservator must ask the original court to move the conservatorship to another state. The court will allow the transfer once the other state’s court agrees it is a good idea. To transfer an out-of-state conservatorship to Tennessee, the Tennessee court must get an order allowing transfer from the other state. 


Conservatorship and Guardianship PDF

TN Healthcare Decisions Act

What is the Tennessee Health Care Decisions Act?

The Health Care Decisions Act was enacted in 2004. The Act gives options and guidance for medical treatment for patients and healthcare professionals. The Act was created to make healthcare decision forms readily available and easy to execute.

What are some of the forms created by the Act?

Some of the forms created by the Act include the Advance Care Plan, Appointment of Health Care Agent, Appointment of Surrogate, and Physician Orders for Scope of Treatment (POST).

What is an Advance Care Plan?

The most common form used is the Advance Care Plan. An Advance Care Plan is like a detailed Living Will that can also include the appointment of an agent to make your healthcare decisions. The Advance Care Plan allows you specify whether you want CPR, life support, gastric tube feedings/IV fluids, and treatment of new conditions if you are permanently unconscious, suffering from an end-stage illness, in a state of permanent confusion, or dependent in all activities of your daily life. The Advance Care Plan also allows you to specify organ and tissue donation.  If you want an Advance Care Plan, you can use our Advance Care Plan form.

What is the Appointment of a Health Care Agent form?

The Appointment of Health Care Agent is a document that is similar to a power of attorney for healthcare. It lets you name someone to make healthcare decisions for you if you are not able. Our Advance Care Plan form includes the appointment of a healthcare agent.

What is the Appointment of Surrogate form?

The appointment of a surrogate is the appointment of some other person (other than your agent or guardian) who is authorized to make healthcare decisions for you. The surrogate can make decisions only when you are incompetent and not able to make decisions for yourself. If you cannot make decisions for yourself, do not have an agent, and do not have a surrogate, your doctor can appoint a surrogate for you. The law gives the doctor a preference order in choosing the surrogate, which starts with your spouse, and then to your adult child, parent, adult sibling, or other adult relative.

What is a POST form?

A Physician Orders for Scope of Treatment, or POST form, is a form that your doctor completes after meeting with you. The form includes instructions for resuscitation, artificially administered nutrition, and medical interventions.

TN Health Care Decisions Act PDF

Living Wills

What is a living will?

A living will is a document that lets you express your choices to accept or refuse medical care, especially palliative care (medical care focused on relieving suffering and improving quality of life) and the use of extraordinary procedures and treatment. For example, you can state whether you want IV fluids or life support. You can also express your organ donation preferences.

Who can prepare a living will?

Anyone who is competent can prepare a living will. A competent person is one who understands and appreciates the natures and consequences of a decision to accept or refuse treatment.

What is required to make a living will?

The living will must be on a form with certain language that is required by the State. It must be signed in front of a notary or 2 witnesses.

What if I want to be cremated?

It is a good idea to include cremation wishes in a living will rather than other documents since a living will is more easily accessible and usually becomes part of a patient’s medical file.

What do I do with my living will after it is prepared?

You should deliver a copy of your living will to your medical providers. You should also be prepared to give a copy to the hospital any time you are admitted for care.

What if I change my mind?

You can revoke your living will in writing or by telling your attending physician.

Living Wills PDF

Durable Power of Attorney

What is a power of attorney?

A power of attorney is a document that authorizes someone to make decisions for you with regard to finances, property, and other similar matters.  The person giving the power of attorney is called the “principal.”  The person named in the power of attorney to make decisions is the “attorney-in-fact.”

Why is it important to have a power of attorney?

A power of attorney is an important document for everyone to have. If you do not have a power of attorney and become unable to make decisions for yourself (for example, due to your health), no one will be able to handle your business for you, like paying your bills. Your family or friends would have to file a conservatorship to have someone named as your decision-maker.  A conservatorship is a formal proceeding in a court, usually requires an attorney, and is usually very expensive.

What does the “durable” mean in the title?

A power of attorney should have language making it “durable,” meaning that it will continue to be in effect even if you become incapacitated, or unable to make decisions for yourself.  If a power of attorney is not durable, it will not be effective after you become incapacitated.

When does a power of attorney go into effect?

Most people have their power of attorney go into effect immediately, meaning that once you sign it, your agent can use it to make decisions for you. A power of attorney can also be “springing,” meaning it goes into effect if you deemed incompetent by your doctor.  With current health privacy laws, it can be difficult to get the necessary proof of incompetency for a springing power of attorney to go into effect.

What can my agent do on my behalf under a power of attorney?

A power of attorney is usually very broad. Some of the usual acts an agent can do include, but are not limited to: dealing with tax authorities, buying and canceling insurance, dealing with banks, taking out loans, buying and selling property, and hiring professionals (like doctors, nurses, attorneys, and accountants) to help you.  A power of attorney can also be limited.  For example, you might sign a power of attorney for a one-time transaction like a car or home purchase.

Who should I choose as my agent?

You should choose a trusted family member or friend as your agent.  It is best to choose someone who lives local since some decision-making and transactions may require in-person contact.  If you need an agent but have no trusted family or friends to act as your agent, the Public Guardianship Program could be an option.  You must be over the age of 60 to qualify.  For more information about the Public Guardianship Program, visit https://www.tn.gov/aging/topic/public-guardianship

What do I do with my power of attorney once I sign it?

You should give copies to your bank, insurance company, and any other companies with which you regularly do business.  If you own real estate, you should record a copy with the Register of Deeds in your county.

What if I change my mind?

You can revoke you durable power of attorney at any time by signing a statement that you no longer want the durable power of attorney in place.  You should give copies of your revocation to any companies or people to which you gave copies of your power of attorney.  If you registered your power of attorney with the Register of Deeds, you should also register your revocation.

Durable Powers of Attorney PDF

Probate & Estate Administration

What is probate?

Probate is the process where a deceased person’s (the decedent) assets are collected; the debts, taxes, and costs of the estate are paid; and any balance is given to the beneficiaries (people named in the will) or intestate heirs (people determined by the law because there was no will). Probate is usually a formal process in court.

Is there more than one type of probate?

There are different types of probate proceedings. Common form probate is the most common and is usually what people think of when they think of the probate process. There are shorter probate proceedings when the decedent has few assets.

Is probate always required?

When all of a person’s assets pass outside of probate, probate is not necessary. For example, life insurance proceeds pass to the beneficiary named in the policy. A home or car can be jointly owned with a right of survivorship, so that it passes to the other owner upon death.

What happens during the probate process?

First, the court must determine if the decedent had a will or other document. If there is no will, the person has died “intestate,” and Tennessee law decides who takes the assets. If the person had a will, then the person died “testate,” and the will decides who takes the assets.

Then, the personal representative is selected. The personal representative is the person responsible for handling the estate. Where a will names a personal representative, that person is called the “executor.” Where the will does not name a personal representative, that person is called an “administrator.” The personal representative has a fiduciary duty to the beneficiaries and heirs of the estate and must act impartially and in good faith.

The personal representative then must locate and bring all of the decedent’s assets under the control of the estate and gather information about debts and obligations owed. The personal representative is also responsible for notifying creditors of the estate and getting a TennCare release if the decedent was over the age of 55. The personal representative must make an inventory of the decedent’s assets and provide an accounting, or a history of the finances of the estate. After all taxes, debts, and costs of the estate have been paid, the remaining estate assets can be distributed as indicated by the will or by Tennessee law (if there was no will).

Does a surviving spouse have any special rights in the probate process?

A surviving spouse has the option to take an “elective share” instead of the amount given to the spouse in the will or the amount determined by Tennessee law if there was no will. The amount of the elective share is determined by how long the couple was married.



Less than 3 years

10% of net estate

3 years but less than 6 years

20% of net estate

6 years but less than 9 years

30% of net estate

9 years or more

40% of net estate

The net estate is all of the decedent’s real and personal property after funeral and administrative expenses, secured debts, homestead, year’s support, and exempt property are paid. A Petition for Elective Share must be filed in probate court within 9 months of the decedent’s death.

The surviving spouse can also choose for rights to exempt property, homestead, and a year’s support instead of the amount given to the spouse under the will. Exempt property includes up to a fair market value of $50,000 in personal items located in the decedent’s home and cars. The homestead is the decedent’s home. A year’s support is a reasonable allowance of money from the decedent’s estate for 1 year after the death in accordance with the previous standard of living. The surviving spouse’s claims for exempt property, homestead, and a year’s support must be made with the probate court within 9 months of the decedent’s death.

Probate & Estate Administration PDF

Retirement Communities

What is a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC)?

A CCRC offer seniors the ability to age in place without ever having to move for health reasons. CCRCs provide a continuum of care that includes everything from independent and assisted living to memory care and skilled nursing. Continuing care offers the convenience of having healthcare and support services in one location where seniors can easily transition from one residential care setting to another.

How do I pay for a CCRC?

CCRCs charge two fees – a onetime entry fee and a monthly maintenance fee.  The entry fee and monthly maintenance fee depend on the type of services and amenities offered by the CCRC. Residents meet the monthly fee with Social Security and pension income, while the funds for the entry fee are often obtained from the sale of the senior’s home.

What if I am interested in a CCRC?

If you are interested in a CCRC, you should seek the advice of an attorney to help you understand the contract before you sign. You should also scrutinize several annual reports and balance sheets of the CCRC and ask if an actuarial study has been performed. The actuarial study will reveal whether the CCRC will be able to meet its obligations several years down the road.

Retirement Communities PDF

Home Care

What is home care?

Home care refers to services performed at a person’s home by an outside agency. Home care enables seniors requiring part-time medical or personal care to remain in their homes.

What type of home care services are available?

Services fall into two categories: 1) skilled services and 2) home support services.

  • Skilled services include part-time nursing care, physical therapy, speech therapy, and occupational therapy. For example, a nurse may come to the home periodically to give an injection, or a physical therapist may come to review exercises with a patient recovering from a hip fracture.  
  • Home support services include homemaker services and home chore services.  These programs offer help with activities of daily living. For example, an aide may help the patient with bathing, grooming, and dressing, or with meal preparation and light cleaning.

How do I arrange for home care?

Home care is available through hospitals, public health departments, Area Agencies on Aging, and private agencies. If the home care follows a hospitalization, usually the hospital will help you coordinate the services you need. Your family doctor may be able to help develop a plan for home health care and recommend agencies to contact.  If you anticipate reimbursement from Medicare, Medicaid, or insurance, a doctor’s certification that home care is necessary will be required.

How do I choose a home care provider?

The National Association for Home Care suggests asking the following questions when choosing a home care provider:

  • How long has the provider been serving the community?
  • Does the provider supply literature explaining its services, eligibility requirements, fees, and funding sources?
  • How does the provider select and train its employees? Does it protect its workers with written personnel policies, benefits packages, and malpractice insurance?
  • Are nurses or therapists required to evaluate the patient’s home care needs? If so, what does this entail? Do they consult the patient’s physicians and family members?
  • Does the provider include the patient and family members in developing the plan of care?
  • Is the patient’s course of treatment documented, detailing the specific tasks to be carried out by each professional caregiver? Does the patient and family receive a copy of this plan, and do the caregivers update it as changes occur? Does the provider take time to educate family members on the care being administered to the patient?
  • Does the provider assign supervisors to oversee the quality of care patients are receiving in their homes? If so, how often do these supervisors make visits? How can the patient and his or her family members call with questions or complaints? How does the agency resolve problems?
  • What are the financial procedures of the provider? Does the provider furnish written statements explaining all of the costs and payment plan options associated with home care?
  • What procedures does the provider have in place to handle emergencies? Are its caregivers available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week? How does the provider ensure patient confidentiality?

How do I pay for home care?

Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance may help pay for skilled home care if certain conditions are met. Medicare and Medicaid does not usually pay for home support services.  Religious or civic organizations may offer limited services free of charge or for reduced fees.  The Commission on Aging and Disability offers a limited range of home services through its OPTIONS for Community Living program, www.tn.gov/aging/topic/options-for-community-living.

Home Care PDF

Adult Day Care

What is adult day care?

Adult day care programs offer daytime services for impaired older adults. Most centers are open 8 to 10 hours per day on weekdays. Most centers help the senior remain living in the community at the highest level of independence possible. Participants can delay or avoid use of more costly in-home and nursing home care by using adult day care.

What services are provided by adult day care programs?

Usually, they provide health maintenance services, therapeutic activities, personal care, and emotional support. Seniors may benefit from this care if they are physically impaired, socially isolated, mentally confused, need personal care help, have limited ability to function independently in the community, or generally need supervision.

How do I pay for adult day care?

Participants usually pay with their own money, but some centers use sliding fee scales or offer scholarships for those who need financial assistance. Most long-term care insurance policies cover adult day care. Medicare and Medicaid do not pay for adult day care.

Adult Day Care PDF

Assisted Living Facilities

What is an assisted living facility?

An assisted living facility is any group residential program that is not licensed as a nursing home and that provides personal care and support services to people who need help with daily living activities. Assisted living facilities usually combine housing, personal services, and light medical care. They support those who are too frail to live alone but too healthy to go to a nursing home.

Are assisted living facilities licensed?

Assisted living facilities are licensed by the Tennessee Department of Health, but they are not regulated by the federal government.

How do I pay for assisted living?

Usually you pay for assisted living with your own money. Medicare and Medicaid do not pay for assisted living. Veteran Affairs may pay for some assisted living services. For more information, contact your local VA office. Long-term care insurance policies may cover assisted living as an alternative care benefit. If you have long-term care insurance, talk to your insurance company about your coverage.

How do I choose an assisted living facility?

You should visit several communities and talk with residents and staff. You should carefully compare fees and services offered by different facilities. Some questions to consider include:

  • Is the facility clean?
  • Are the rooms comfortable?
  • Are the meals appetizing?
  • Is there a stimulating activities program?
  • Are the buildings and grounds well-maintained?

Who do I call if I have concerns about assisted living?

The Tennessee Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program provides help to elderly residents in nursing homes, homes for the aged, assisted care living facilities, and adult care homes. The Ombudsman can help you or your family resolve concerns about quality of care, financial information, resident rights, admissions, transfer, and discharge. For more information, go to www.tn.gov/aging/topic/long-term-care-ombudsman.

Assisted Living Facilities PDF

Nursing Homes

What is a nursing home?

A nursing home is a facility for people who do not need hospital care but do need continuous nursing services on an in-patient basis. Nursing homes provide care on a 24-hour basis, 365 days per year. Services in nursing homes include nursing care, custodial and rehabilitative care (like physical, occupational, and speech therapy), and specialized care (like care for people suffering from dementia). Nursing homes also provide social, recreational, and spiritual activities for residents.

Are nursing homes licensed?

All nursing facilities in Tennessee must be licensed under state law and inspected regularly. The inspections are called “surveys” and are done by the Department of Health. The surveys must be available at the nursing home for residents and potential residents to examine. Nursing homes that participate in Medicare and Medicaid must also meet federal certification standards on quality of care, quality of life, and residents’ rights.

How do I choose a nursing home?

Some questions to consider include:

  • Can the facility meet my medical needs?
  • Does the facility accept Medicare and Medicaid?
  • Are other residents well cared for?
  • Is the facility clean?
  • Are the rooms comfortable?
  • Are the meals appetizing?
  • Is there a stimulating activities program?
  • Are the buildings and grounds well-maintained?

Medicare uses a Five-Star Quality Rating System, which ranks Medicare-participating nursing homes on a scale of one to five stars.  Medicare suggests you use the Five-Star Quality Rating System with other information like talking to your doctor, visiting the nursing home and talking to its staff, and contacting the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman or State Survey Agency. A good resource for choosing a nursing home is the Medicare Guide to Choosing a Nursing Home at www.Medicare.gov/pubs/pdf/02174.pdf

How do I pay for the nursing home?

Medicare, Medicaid, long-term care insurance, and your own money can pay for nursing home care.

  • Medicare - Medicare is a federal insurance program that provides medical insurance and skilled medical care for people 65 years old and older, some disabled persons, and persons with end-stage renal disease. Medicare benefits for nursing home care are provided under Part A and are very limited.  Medicare will only pay for a certain number of days of care in a skilled nursing facility per period of illness. You must pay deductibles and coinsurance, and there may be conditions for qualification.
  • Medicaid/TennCare - Medicaid is a program jointly administered by the federal government and the state that pays for certain health services and nursing home care for people who meet the financial criteria. Eligibility for Medicaid is usually based on a person’s income and assets.
  • Veteran Benefits - The Veterans Administration may provide help for nursing home expenses for some Veterans. To receive these benefits, you must choose a nursing home that is under contract with the Veterans Administration. For more information, contact your local VA office.
  • Private health and long-term care insurance - Some private health plans provide limited nursing home coverage. If you have private health insurance, talk to your insurance company about your coverage. Long-term care insurance policies can help pay for many types of long-term care, including nursing home care.  The coverage and cost vary widely across policies. If you have long-term care insurance, talk to your insurance company about your coverage.
  • Personal resources - Your own money and assets can pay for nursing home care. 

Will my family be responsible for my nursing home bill?

Your family will not be responsible for your nursing home bill unless they sign a contract agreeing to be held responsible. Sometimes the nursing home will require a cosigner, responsible party, or guarantor to sign the contract. The cosigner, responsible party, or guarantor agrees to pay if you are not able to pay. Any person considering becoming a cosigner, responsible party, or guarantor should take special care to understand the obligations he or she may have to assume.

Do I still have rights if I go to a nursing home?

You do not give up your basic rights if you go to a nursing home, but you must comply with the reasonable rules of the nursing home and respect the rights of staff and other nursing home residents. Nursing home residents have the right to:

  • A safe and clean living environment,
  • Privacy,
  • Information,
  • Exercise their civil rights,
  • Participate in or refuse treatment,
  • Voice grievances without retaliation,
  • Manage personal finances,
  • Adequate and appropriate medical and nursing care,
  • Be free from physical and chemical restraints,
  • Take part in community activities,
  • Be treated with courtesy and respect,
  • Private visits and unrestricted communications,
  • Not to be transferred or discharged from the home, and
  • Be free from physical, verbal, mental, and emotional abuse.

Who do I call if I have concerns about my nursing home care or if I have questions about the nursing home?

The Tennessee Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program provides help to elderly residents in nursing homes, homes for the aged, assisted care living facilities, and adult care homes. The Ombudsman can help you or your family resolve concerns about quality of care, financial information, resident rights, admissions, transfer, and discharge. For more information, go to www.tn.gov/aging/topic/long-term-care-ombudsman.

Nursing Homes PDF

Considerations for Seniors with Dementia

What is dementia?

Dementia is a decline in mental functions, like memory, decision-making, thinking, and behavior. It is common to experience these declines as a part of aging, but the decline is faster and more significant with dementia. Dementia can result from Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, head trauma, some medications, and many different illnesses. It is irreversible but can be slowed with medication and therapy. Alzheimer’s alone is currently the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. 

Why does dementia matter legally?

The onset of dementia presents two major legal problems: 

  • The first is “diminished capacity.” The worse the dementia is, the less capacity a person has to do things, like sign legal documents, hire an attorney, appoint financial or medical agents, or plan for the future. Capacity may diminish so much that a person can no longer legally make decisions. A judge, doctor, or nurse practitioner can declare someone to be “incapacitated,” and a lawyer can decline representation if they feel that capacity is too diminished. 
  • The second is that dementia can cause major changes in judgment and personality. People can take advantage of this poor judgment, and personality changes can lead to legal or family problems.

What are my legal considerations if I am diagnosed with dementia?

Because dementia is likely to lead to diminished capacity, you should try to handle any legal, medical, or financial affairs before you lose capacity. You should consider the high medical and financial costs of the diagnosis, and ask your doctor how severe the diagnosis is and how it will progress. You should meet with an estate planning attorney to discuss your options, or talk to a legal aid attorney.

What is supported decision-making?

Supported decision-making is a movement in disability and elder law to help people under a mental or physical disability remain as independent as possible. This could mean making important decisions ahead of time or helping a person with diminished capacity in making decisions, keeping in mind what they would personally want.

What are some actions I can take to protect myself after a dementia diagnosis?

Consider the following options after a dementia diagnosis:

  • Power of Attorney - You can appoint one or more people to help you with financial or medical decisions. It can go into effect immediately or only upon your incapacity. You can assign only certain responsibilities and leave the rest up to you. A power of attorney can be easily exploited, so be extremely careful in who you appoint.
  • Advance Directive - You can make end-of-life decisions, like whether you want life support or a feeding tube. You can also choose to donate organs in this document. You can appoint a person to carry out your healthcare decisions if you are not able.
  • Declaration for Mental Health Treatment - This document allows a person who knows they may have a mental health crisis to list their wishes if this happens. You may list probable symptoms of your mental health crisis, preferred medications, treatment sites, types of treatment, and other preferences. These wishes must be followed to the greatest extent possible if you become unable to make your own decisions. The form can be found at: http://www.tennessee.gov/assets/entities/behavioral-health/attachments/Declaration_for_Mental_Health_Treatment-Form.pdf
  • Special Needs Trusts – This can provide supplemental funds to someone receiving public benefits, like Medicaid. Normally, receiving extra money could disqualify a person with low income and assets from receiving public benefits. Instead of leaving money in a will or giving it as a gift, a special needs trust can provide additional help while still allowing the disabled person to qualify for benefits.
  • Appoint other agents to help with your benefits - Social Security and the Veterans Administration have their own processes for appointing agents.
  • Conservatorship - A conservatorship can be used to protect you from yourself.  For example, if you cannot control your spending, you may want a conservator to remove your ability to spend money. This is done through a court process and usually requires an attorney, which can be expensive.

Can the Public Guardianship Program help if I am diagnosed with dementia?

The Public Guardianship Program is a state-funded program that can serve as an agent under a Power of Attorney or Healthcare Appointment or as conservator. If you need an agent but have no trusted family or friends to act as your agent, the Public Guardianship Program could be an option.  You must be over the age of 60 to qualify.  For more information about the Public Guardianship Program, visit https://www.tn.gov/aging/topic/public-guardianship

Dementia Care PDF


What is Medicaid?

Medicaid is a health care program for poor people, children, the elderly, and disabled people. It is paid for by the federal and state government, but it is mostly run by the state. Since each state has its own Medicaid program, no two Medicaid programs are the same. Tennessee’s Medicaid program is called TennCare.

What is the difference between Medicare and Medicaid?

Medicare is a federal medical benefits program paid for by the Social Security system.  Medicare is primarily for the elderly but covers some disabled people. Medicare is not means-tested (meaning there are no income and asset requirements to qualify) and is available for all seniors, regardless of their income or assets. People on Medicare usually pay premiums and copays just like people on private insurance.

Medicaid is a public assistance program for poor adults and children. Medicaid is a means-tested program, meaning you must have low income and few assets to qualify.

Who is eligible for TennCare?

Anyone who qualifies for Supplemental Social Security Income (SSI) is automatically qualified for TennCare/Medicaid. People who are blind, disabled or 65 or older may qualify based on their disability, assets, and income.

What assets are counted for TennCare?

Assets, called resources, are either countable or non-countable. Countable assets are used to determined eligibility for TennCare and include assets that could be sold or converted to cash. Countable assets include bank accounts, stocks, Individual Retirement Accounts, deeds of trust, or real estate other than your home where you live. Non-countable assets are not counted when determining TennCare eligibility and include the home where you live, personal stuff (clothing, jewelry, and photographs), household furnishings, one car, some life insurance policies, some burial funds and cemetery plots, and some irrevocable trusts and purchases.

What does TennCare cover?

If you qualify, TennCare usually covers:

  • Medicare Part B premiums, deductibles, and coinsurance;
  • Inpatient hospital services with limitations and deductibles;
  • Outpatient hospital and rural health clinic services;
  • Nursing home care;
  • Physician services;
  • Transportation;
  • Long-term care alternatives, such as personal care services;
  • X-ray and lab services;
  • Home health care services;
  • Clinic services;
  • Prescription drugs;
  • Medical supplies and equipment in limited situations;
  • Physical therapy; and
  • Emergency hospital services.

What are Medicare Savings Programs?

Medicaid sometimes helps pay for Medicare premiums, deductibles, and copays. These programs are called Medicare Savings Programs (MSPs). These programs are open to older adults and people with disabilities who have very low incomes.  These programs include:

  • Qualified Medicare Beneficiaries (QMBs) – TennCare pays Medicare Part A deductibles and coinsurance and Part B premiums, deductibles, and coinsurance.  Elderly and disabled people who qualify for Medicare Part A and whose income is below the national poverty level and have very few assets are qualified.
  • Specified Low-Income Medicare Beneficiaries (SLMBs) – Tenncare pays Medicare Part B premiums. Elderly and disabled people who qualify for Medicare Part A and whose income is less than 120% of the national poverty level and have very few assets are qualified.
  • Qualifying Individuals (QIs) – TennCare pays Medicare Part B premium. Elderly and disabled people who qualify for Medicare Part A and whose income is between 120% and 135% of the national poverty level and have very few assets are qualified.

How do I apply for TennCare?

You can apply at www.healthcare.gov or by calling (800) 318-2596. If you need help, you can visit a local Department of Human Services office, or call the Tennessee Justice Center at (615) 255-0331.

Medicaid/Tenncare PDF


What is Medicare?

Medicare is a federal medical benefits program that is financed through the Social Security system. It is primarily for those aged 65 and older but also covers persons with certain disabilities under the age of 65 and those with end-stage renal disease.

What is Original Medicare?

Original Medicare includes Part A, Part B, and Part D. Alternatively, you can choose Part C, or a Medicare Advantage Plans. These are managed care plans provided by a private company that contracts with Medicare to provide your Part A, Part B, and other benefits. Many of these plans also cover Part D coverage.

What is Part A?

Part A covers inpatient care in hospitals, skilled care for up to 100 days in a rehabilitation facility, some home health, and hospice. You usually do not pay a premium for Part A coverage if you or your spouse paid Medicare taxes while working.

What is Part B?

Part B covers medical equipment, doctor’s visits, home health care, and preventative services. If you elect to have Part B, you pay a premium each month. Most people pay a standard premium amount, but if your income is higher, you may pay more.

What is Part C?

Part C includes all Medicare Advantage Plans, Medicare Savings Accounts, and other Medicare health plans. They are run by private companies that are approved by Medicare and can include Part A, Part B, and some prescription drug coverage. The cost of Part C coverage depends on several factors, including whether the plan charges a monthly premium, whether the plan pays any of your monthly Medicare Part B premium, whether the plan has a yearly deductible, how much you pay for co-pays, and the type of health care services that you need.

What is Part D?

Part D covers prescription drugs. Most charge a monthly premium that varies from plan to plan. They may help lower your drug costs and protect against higher costs in the future.

What are my Medicare coverage choices?

You can choose how to get your health and prescription drug coverage. Your coverage choices are usually:

  • Original Medicare – This will provide your Part A and Part B coverage. You can join a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan to add drug coverage, and you can buy a Medigap policy, which is sold by private insurance companies, to fill the gaps in Part A and Part B coverage.
  • Medicare Advantage Plans – These plans are provided through private companies approved by Medicare. They will provide Part A and Part B coverage but can charge different amounts for certain services. They may offer extra coverage and prescription drug coverage for an additional cost. Costs and services vary by plan. If you want drug coverage, you must get it through your plan, and you usually do not need a Medigap policy.

Where can I learn more about Medicare?

You can review your Medicare and You booklet that is mailed annually to Medicare beneficiaries, or view it online at www.Medicare.gov/medicare-and-you/medicare-and-you.html.

The Tennessee State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) is a statewide program that provides free and objective counseling and assistance to anyone with questions or problems with Medicare or other related health insurance. You can call SHIP at (877) 801-0044.

Medicare PDF

SNAP (Food Stamp Program)

What is SNAP?

Millions of older Americans on fixed incomes have difficulty getting food basics necessary for a proper diet. If you meet the income guidelines, the SNAP program (also known as food stamps) may help you stretch your food budget. SNAP is a federal program, run by state or local agencies, that provides funding for food and plants and seeds to grow food. SNAP benefits can be used like cash to buy eligible food items from authorized retailers. The program excludes nonfood items like alcoholic beverages, pet food, vitamins, medicines, tobacco, and cigarettes.

Who is eligible for SNAP?

Many think that the program is only designed to help the poor, but this is not true.  Anyone, regardless of age, can apply for SNAP (not all may be eligible). You and the other people in your household must meet certain conditions, including the following: 

  • Everyone who is applying in your household must have a Social Security Number and be either a U.S. citizen, U.S. national, or have status as a qualified alien. 
  • You must be living in the State of Tennessee to get SNAP from Tennessee.

To see if you are eligible, use the USDA prescreening tool at https://www.snap-step1.usda.gov/fns. If you live in the WTLS service area, call (731) 423-0616 or (800) 372-8346, and one our intake paralegals can provide a SNAP screening.

What income is counted when I apply for SNAP benefits?

SNAP counts wages, self-employment, public assistance benefits, unemployment benefits, worker’s compensation, child support, pensions, Social Security, and SSI. Excess medical expenses not covered by insurance can make an otherwise ineligible household eligible. 

What are the asset requirements to get SNAP benefits?

Your household can have up to $2,000 in liquid assets, like cash, savings, and CDs. If your house has at least one person who is 60 or older or is disabled, you can have liquid assets up to $3,250. SNAP does not count your car, your home, personal belongings, household goods, furniture, clothing, life insurance, and burial sites.

How do I apply for SNAP benefits?

There are many ways to apply for SNAP benefits.  Visit your local Tennessee Department of Human Services (DHS), request an application by phone by calling (866) 311-4287, or ask someone to get an application for you.  You can also apply online at   https://faonlineapp.dhs.tn.gov/.

If your household has little or no money and needs help right away, let the DHS know.  You may be eligible under the “expedited service” rules to receive SNAP benefits within 7 days of the application date if you are classified as homeless or are a member of a low-income family.

What happens after I complete an application?

After you have turned in your application, a worker will hold a confidential interview with you or another member of your household. If you are asked to come to the DHS office, a friend or relative may go for you. If you are 65 or older, disabled, or suffer other hardships and cannot go to the office, let DHS know. A worker may arrange to interview you at home or by telephone. If the worker refuses to interview you at home or by telephone, contact your local legal aid office for help. 

What do I bring to the interview?

You should bring proof of the following to your interview:

  • Social Security Number;
  • Identification;
  • Income, both earned and unearned;
  • Where you live;
  • Shelter expenses, like rent or mortgage, taxes, and utility bills;
  • Medical expenses for any elderly or disabled persons in your household;
  • Daycare expenses; and
  • Court-ordered child support.

What happens if I am awarded SNAP benefits?

A SNAP account is set up, and automatic deposits are made into the account each month. You will be issued an EBT card. Each time you use the EBT card, the amount of the purchase will be deducted from your SNAP account.

What if I am denied SNAP benefits?

If you think that your application has been wrongly denied or that you are not getting the right amount of SNAP benefits, you should tell DHS right away. You have the right to ask for a review by a hearing officer, but you must do so within 90 days from the date you get the notice about your SNAP benefits. You may have a friend or relative attend the hearing with you, or you may want the help of legal aid or a private attorney. In some cases, you can still get your regular SNAP benefits while you wait for the hearing officer’s decision. If the hearing officer agrees with you, you will get the correct amount of food stamps. If the hearing officer agrees with DHS, you will have to repay the value of any benefits you should not have received.


Railroad Retirement Act Benefits

What are railroad retirement benefits?

The Federal Railroad Retirement Act offers retirement and disability benefits for qualified railroad employees, spouses, and survivor benefits for family members. The United States Railroad Retirement Board handles these benefits. They are similar to Social Security benefits.

Can I get railroad retirement benefits and Social Security benefits?

You can get both railroad and Social Security benefits.  If you get both railroad and Social Security benefits, the railroad benefits are usually reduced.

How do get more information about Railroad Retirement benefits?

  • U.S. Railroad Retirement Board, Railroad Retirement Helpline – (800) 808-0772 or https://secure.rrb.gov/
  • Tennessee Railroad Retirement Board Helpline – (877) 772-5772

Railroad Retirement Act Benefits

Veterans Benefits

What are Aid & Attendance benefits?

Aid and Attendance benefits are an enhanced or special monthly pension benefit paid in addition to a basic pension.

Who can receive Aid & Attendance benefits?

Eligible war-time Veterans and/or the spouse of a deceased eligible war-time Veteran can receive Aid & Attendance benefits. Qualifying Veterans may also receive benefits to help care for a sick spouse. There are income and asset eligibility limits.  The Veteran must first establish eligibility for the basic VA pension, but Aid & Attendance has a higher income limit. The Veteran must also:

  • Require the aid of another person in order to perform at least 2 activities of daily living (i.e. bathing, feeding, and dressing), or
  • Is bedridden, and his or her disability requires remaining in bed, or
  • Be a patient in a nursing home due to mental or physical incapacity, or
  • Has corrected visual acuity of 5/200 or less in both eyes or concentric contraction of the visual field to 5 degrees or less.

What are service-connected compensation benefits?

Service-connected compensation benefits are monthly benefits for Veterans who have been disabled by an injury or disease that was incurred or aggravated by active service while in the line of duty. Benefits are based on the severity of the disability and could range between 10% and 100%. 

Who is eligible for service-connected compensation benefits?

A Veteran may be eligible if he or she:

  • Is permanently and totally disabled so that gainful employment is not possible, and
  • Has served 90 continuous days or more on active duty and served at least 1 of those days during a period of war, and
  • Meets the income and asset eligibility requirements.

Can I receive Social Security and Veteran benefits?

Your Social Security disability or retirement benefits will not be reduced if you also receive service-connected compensation benefits from the VA. However, if you receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI), your VA benefits are considered income, which may make you ineligible for SSI benefits.

If you are receiving non-service connected disability pension benefits from the VA, you must report all family income, changes in family income, and changes in household size to the VA. These benefits are reduced dollar for dollar for family income, including Social Security disability and retirement benefits.

How do I apply for Veteran benefits?

Contact your VA Regional Office at (800) 827-1000, or apply online at www.va.gov

What if I am denied Veteran benefits?

If you disagree with a determination made on your claim, you can appeal the decision to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. To appeal, you must file a timely notice of disagreement with the Veteran Affairs Regional Office. The Regional Office will issue a statement of the case, then you must file a timely appeal to the Board of Veterans Appeals. You may want an attorney to represent you.

Where can I get more information about Veteran Benefits?

You can call the Tennessee Veterans Affairs Regional Office at (800) 827-1000 or go to www.benefits.va.gov/nashville. You can also visit field offices in Jackson, located at 225 Dr. Martin Luther King Dr., Room 110, (731) 423-5614, or in Dyersburg, located at 439 W. McGaughey St., (731) 286-8344.

Veterans Benefits PDF

Pensions & Retirement

Am I eligible to participate in a pension or retirement plan?

Usually, you can participate in your employer’s pension or retirement plan if you are 21 or older, and you have worked for the employer for a year or more.

Do I get to keep my pension or retirement plan benefits when I retire?

Usually, you must work 5 to 7 years before your pension or retirement plan benefits are fully vested, but this depends on your plan. “Vested” means that you have a legal right to collect the pension or retirement plan benefits when you retire. Some plans have “graded vesting,” which means you might get a portion of your pension if you leave your job before you are fully vested. Once your benefits are vested, you do not lose the right to get your benefits if you switch jobs, are fired, or retire.

What are the types of pension plans?

There are two types of pension plans: 1) defined benefit plans and 2) defined contribution plans.

  • Defined benefit plans specify how much in benefits the plan will pay out to a retiree.  These are common for larger employers and give the retiree a fixed monthly amount as described in the plan.
  • Defined contribution plans specify how much money the employer, employee, or both will pay in to the plan each year for the employee.  Your contributions are fixed each year, but your benefits might vary according to your past contributions and what those contributions have earned over the years.  There are several types of defined contribution plans, including profit sharing plans (an employer contributes an amount up to 25% of the employee’s compensation), employee stock ownership plans (the employer’s contribution is made in the form of company stock), and 401(k) plans.

What are my legal rights to my pension and retirement plan?

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) is the federal law that protects pension and retirement plans. ERISA sets standards for the plans and makes sure that your rights to your benefits cannot be unfairly denied or taken from you. ERISA gives you the following rights: 

  • To get your plan’s rules in writing in the Summary Plan Description. The summary must state who is eligible to participate in the plan, how benefits are determined, the age when you can start receiving benefits, who administers the plan, and benefits claim procedures.
  • To get the information in your summary within 30 days if you ask for it.
  • To your “personal benefit account,” which tells you how many benefits you have and what benefits you have vested.

Can my spouse get my benefits after I die?

Most plans provides for a “joint and survivor annuity.” This means the employee can choose to have: 1) higher benefits that stop when he/she dies, or 2) smaller benefits that continue so long as the employee or his/her spouse is alive.

Are my pension and retirement plan benefits protected if my employer goes out of business?

Under ERISA, an employee’s benefits are protected if an employer goes out of business, is purchased by another company, or tries to change or end the pension or retirement plan.

What if I am denied my benefits?

You have the right to be told in writing why you are being denied.  You also have the right for the denial to be reviewed.  If you feel like you have been wrongfully denied your benefits, talk to a lawyer right away about appealing the decision.

Pensions & Retirement PDF

Supplemental Security Income

What is SSI?

SSI stands for Supplemental Security Income. The Social Security Administration pays monthly benefits to adults who have very little income and don’t own a lot of property and who are disabled, blind, or age 65 or older. Blind or disabled children may also get SSI. SSI differs from Social Security retirement or disability benefits because you can get SSI even if you never paid into the Social Security system. While SSI is administered by the Social Security Administration, it is funded by general treasury funds and not by taxes paid into Social Security by wage earners.

Who is eligible for SSI?

You may qualify for SSI because of age (65 or older) or physical or mental impairment (blindness or disability). “Blindness” means that your vision is 20/200 or less in your better eye with the use of corrective lens, or that your visual field restriction is twenty degrees or less. “Disabled” is defined as inability to engage in any substantial gainful employment due to physical or mental impairment that has lasted or is expected to last at least 12 months or result in death. Your monthly earned income will affect the determination of whether you are able to engage in substantial gainful activity. In some cases, a blind applicant who can work may still qualify for benefits. You must be a U.S. citizen or national or one of certain categories of aliens.

What are the asset limits for SSI?

Your “countable” assets must not total more than $2,000 for an individual or $3,000 for a couple. The following assets are NOT counted for SSI eligibility:

  • Your home and the land it is on,
  • Household goods and personal effects,
  • Personal property up to $2,000 in value ($3,000 for a couple),
  • The full value of one vehicle if needed for transportation,
  • Life insurance with a face value of $1,500 or less,
  • Money set aside for burial expenses up to $1,500 ($3,000 for a couple), and
  • Burial space for you and your immediate family; and
  • Property that can’t be sold.

If your assets, also called resources, are over the limit, you may spend them down to the eligible level. To prove you no longer own the resources, keep receipts and other records showing how you spent down your resources. See https://www.ssa.gov/ssi/text-resources-ussi.htm.

What is the income limit for SSI?

To qualify for SSI, your income must be below a certain level, which varies by state.  Income not only includes earned income (wages) but also other types of income you might not normally think of as income. There are a number of types of income that do not count for SSI. You can find a definition of what is considered income and a list of the types of income that don’t count for SSI at https://www.ssa.gov/ssi/text-income-ussi.htm. The income that doesn’t count is subtracted from your gross income, and the remaining amount is your “countable income.” The more income you have, the less your SSI benefit will be. If your countable income is over the allowable limit, you cannot get SSI. Your countable income is subtracted from your maximum SSI benefit rate.  The SSI benefit rate generally changes yearly. As of January 1, 2017, the federal SSI maximum monthly benefit is $735 for an individual and $1,103 for a couple. Some states supplement the federal benefit rate to make the total rate a little higher.

How do I apply for SSI?

Do not delay. SSI may only be paid from the date you apply. If you are over 65, you can apply over the phone by calling the Social Security Administration’s toll-free number, (800) 772-1213. If you are deaf or hard of hearing, you can call TTY (800) 325-0778.  You can also go to your local Social Security office (call first to make an appointment) where a Social Security representative will help you complete your application. You can find your local Social Security Office by using the online Social Security Office locator:  https://secure.ssa.gov/ICON/main.jsp#officeResults. If you need help finding your local Social Security office, call your local legal aid office or Area Agency on Aging for help. Disabled or blind adults under age 65 can also apply online if they meet certain requirements. See https://www.ssa.gov/disabilityssi/ssi.html.

What do I need to do when I am awarded SSI?  

You need to make sure that you follow the rules and report any changes in income or your living situation. If you fail to report changes on time, then you could be charged a penalty that will be deducted from future SSI payments.  See What You Need to Know When You Get Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Publication Number SSA 05-11011, https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-11011.pdf

What if I disagree with the Social Security Administration?

You have the right to appeal decisions. You have the right to be represented on appeal.  Be aware that there are time limits. If you don’t file an appeal timely, you will lose your right to appeal unless you can show good cause for the delay. Your local legal aid office may be able to provide you with free legal help. For more information about appeals, check out Your Right to Question a Decision Made on Your Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Claim, Publication Number SSA 05-11008, https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-11008.pdf.

Can I receive both Social Security benefits and SSI?

Even though Social Security and SSI are different programs, you may receive both so long as the total amount of your benefits is less than the maximum SSI benefit plus $20.  Your SSI check will be reduced by the amount you receive in Social Security. If your Social Security benefit equals or is more than the maximum SSI benefit plus $20 you will not receive SSI. You may also qualify for SSI during the time you are waiting for your Social Security benefits to start.  

What other benefits do you receive if you qualify for SSI?

SSI recipients in Tennessee are also automatically eligible for health benefits under the TennCare/Medicaid program.  


Social Security

What is Social Security?

Social Security is an insurance program that is financed largely by taxes paid by employers and employees. These taxes show up on employee’s paystubs as FICA deductions. FICA stands for “Federal Insurance Contributions Act,” which is the official name of the federal laws that established Social Security in 1935.

What type of benefits are provided by Social Security?

Different types of benefits are payable under the Social Security Act. When people talk about “Social Security Benefits,” they usually mean the “Retirement, Survivors, Disability and Health Insurance Program” (RSDHI), which are monthly cash benefits paid to retired or disabled workers, qualified spouses, children, and parents of retired or disabled workers, and to qualified widows, widowers, and divorced spouses of workers.

Who is eligible for Social Security Disability?

To qualify for Social Security Disability, you must have worked in a job where FICA taxes were paid to Social Security. In some situations, family members may also qualify for Social Security Disability based upon a worker’s employment record. Then, you must have a medical condition that meets the Social Security’s definition of disability. In general, Social Security pays monthly cash benefits to people who are unable to work for a year or more because of a disability. If you are receiving Social Security Disability when you reach full retirement age, your disability benefits will automatically change to retirement benefits, but the amount remains the same. See Social Security Publication No. 05-10029 (January 2017), Disability Benefits, https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10029.pdf for more information. 

Who is eligible for Social Security Retirement?

People who work and pay Social Security taxes earn “credits” toward Social Security benefits. If you were born after 1929, you need 40 credits (equal to 10 years of work) to qualify for retirement benefits. If you stop working before you have enough credits to qualify, the credits remain on your record, and you can earn more credits if you go back to work later on. No retirement benefits will be paid until the required number of credits have been earned. In some circumstances, spouses and children may also get benefits.

You must also meet the age requirements. The earliest possible age to retire is age 62. If you retire at age 62, your benefits will be lower than if you retire later. See Social Security Publication No. 05-10035 (January 2017), Retirement Benefits, https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10035.pdf, for more information.

Social Security PDF

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