Friday, September 11, 2015

We would like to welcome Ruth Brooks, JD to The Ratliff Law Firm Team

Ruth Brooks graduated cum laude from Illinois College with a Bachelors of Arts Degree in Political Science and English Literature. After obtaining her bachelor’s degree, Ruth spent one year working for AmeriCorps, where she focused on promoting education for low-income/high-risk youth in her community. Ruth went on to attend Southern Illinois University School of Law, graduating with a specialization in Business and Transactional Law. While attending law school, Ruth served as the Managing Editor for the Southern Illinois University Law Journal. Additionally Ruth served as a judicial law clerk for the Jackson County Circuit Court of Illinois. Ruth recently moved to Tennessee, and now resides in Johnson City. Email Ruth at:

Friday, July 24, 2015

Tennessee Estate Tax

Tennessee is a great state to live in for multiple reasons, one of which is a favorable estate tax.  In 2015, estates below five-million dollars will not be subject to a state-level estate tax. Without a change in legislation, Tennessee will not have an estate tax beginning in 2016.  If you moved to Tennessee and have a will or trust created in another state now is the time to have your documents reviewed by a licensed Tennessee attorney.  Many times it is logical to have your documents reflect your new domicile because it is where you live and it is likely that most, if not all, of your assets are now in Tennessee.  Moreover, if you have accounts located outside of Tennessee sometimes it is best to relocate your accounts to Tennessee to take full advantage of our tax laws.  Taking care of this process now is usually much cheaper than doing so after the fact.  In some circumstances, Tennessee statute allows for a trust modification even after the trust settlor dies.  In general, this requires drafting a petition to modify the trust, providing notice the beneficiaries, and a hearing in front of a judge.  If your current estate documents are older than five years, contact our office to ensure your desires are still accomplished in an efficient manner. 

This is not intended to be legal advice and does not form an attorney-client relationship with any reader.

Friday, July 10, 2015

PPACA gets its second major victory in court

On June 25, the Supreme Court gave PPACA its second major victory in court, ruling in a 6-3 decision that Federal Exchanges could issue subsidies to qualifying individuals.  (See our old King v. Burwell post for more info on the facts of the case.) While this case is an immediate victory for PPACA with a colossal impact on the health care industry, it does set a legal precedent that chips away at the power of the presidency.  

Essentially, this case confirms that PPACA is likely here to stay. All states can rest assured that their exchange may continue issuing subsidies that help certain participants pay their premiums—regardless of whether that exchange is federally-facilitated or state-run. Employers need to focus on compliance efforts and preparing to file information reporting to the IRS in early 2016. Employers must determine if they are an applicable large employer, which employees are full-time according to the regulations, whether they are offering proper coverage under PPACA, and whether they are operating at full compliance with document and record-keeping requirements. Specifically, Applicable Large Employers must submit an IRS Form 1094-C and IRS Form 1095-C to the IRS as well as provide the same notice to full time employees by early 2016, all concerning their 2015 plan year. Keep in mind that if you are an applicable large employer, whether you are assessed a penalty next year depends on your benefits strategy starting January of 2015. Employers who may have been delaying compliance, waiting to see if the law would be repealed, cannot afford to delay compliance any longer. Ratliff Law Firm stands ready to assist businesses with questions about this law.

Looking to the future and the long term legal implications of this ruling, one can observe a further step away from courts giving deference to agencies. Ultimately at issue was an IRS rule which stated “Exchange means … whether the Exchange is established and operated by a State (including a regional Exchange or subsidiary Exchange) or by HHS,” (45 CFR §155.20; see also 77 Fed. Reg. 30378 (2012)) in light of the statute, IRS §36B(b), which ties premium amounts to premiums “which were enrolled in through an Exchange established by the State.” [emphasis added]. 

So the question goes, can non-state-established exchanges grant subsidies? (yes)

When the court judges whether agency regulations are valid interpretations of the law, they traditionally give deference to the agency under the Chevron doctrine. Indeed, the lower courts in this case affirmed the IRS rule under the Chevron deference precedent. What is important here and interesting about this case is that the Court explicitly stated that it would not give any deference to the IRS regulation, deciding for itself whether the regulation was a valid interpretation under statute:

“When analyzing an agency’s interpretation of a statute, we often apply the two-step framework announced in Chevron, 467 U. S. 837. Under that framework, we ask whether the statute is ambiguous and, if so, whether the agency’s interpretation is reasonable. Id., at 842–843. This approach ‘is premised on the theory that a statute’s ambiguity constitutes an implicit delegation from Congress to the agency to fill in the statutory gaps.’ FDA v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., 529 U. S. 120, 159 (2000). ‘In extraordinary cases, however, there may be reason to hesitate before concluding that Congress has intended such an implicit delegation.’ Ibid….
This is one of those cases….
It is instead our task to determine the correct reading of Section 36B.” [emphasis added]
Legally, this is a significant limit on how much deference courts will give agencies in interpreting statutes, potentially slowing the reach of administrative agencies in the future. For more information on this observation, see A Catch in PPACA’s Court Ruling by Cass R. Sunstein.

This is not intended to be legal advice and does not form an attorney-client relationship with any reader.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Get Your House in Order

As we near the halfway point in the year, it is important to remember that the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) is in full effect. Some companies are “banking” on the Supreme Court’s decision in King v. Burwell to severely limit the employer mandate, but what if they don’t? If anything is true it is that awaiting the government to do anything (besides tax and spend) is a bad idea. This is not a situation where you should adopt a wait and see approach. Without even considering the ACA penalties, let’s look at another type of severe penalty. By not having proper documentation when the IRS or the Department of Labor come knocking on your door with an audit you are setting yourself up for massive fines. Some Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”) penalties are $110 dollars per day….per incident….per employee. For example, you have 100 employees and you were not compliant for just a single day. The noncompliance effects all employees and you receive a letter that you are being audited. $110 penalty multiplied by 100 employees and just for the single (1) day is $11,000 in penalties for single day. Unless your business wants to send Uncle Sam a check for $77,000 per week for every week of the year (if noncompliant for a year), I recommend getting your house in order before the next year. Ratliff Law Firm can help you become compliant in the event of an audit and can also help you comply efficiently with the ACA. 

This is not intended to be legal advice and does not form an attorney-client relationship with any reader.

Friday, May 22, 2015


Ratliff Law Firm had the pleasure of sponsoring our local T-ball team, The Highlanders. This determined group of 11 first-time ballplayers went UNDEFEATED in their 10 game season! Congrats, team!!

Friday, May 1, 2015

Where is your will?

Clients often ask where they should keep their planning documents. While there is no one answer to this question, common places include a safety deposit box at a bank, a safe, or even a filing cabinet where other important documents are kept. The most important fact is that your loved ones need to be able to locate your will after you have passed away.

When you probate a will, your loved ones need to find the original, signed document. As explained briefly below, probating copies of a will (when the original is lost) is a tedious, expensive and often unsuccessful process. This is because Tennessee law presumes that a lost will has been revoked by you, absent evidence to the contrary. Since you are no longer around to explain what happened, the law presumes that the reason your loved ones cannot find your will is because you didn't want them to. It is not enough for your loved ones simply to offer a copy to probate, they must offer evidence sufficient to overcome the presumption that you revoked your will, often demonstrated by details such as by showing that you did not have the custody and control of the instrument after its execution; that you had lost your testamentary capacity for a period before your death; that the will was in existence at the time the mental alienation occurred (see In re Estate of Leath, 294 S.W.3d 571, 575 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2008)).

Imagine the frustration your loved ones will feel when they know you signed a will—they may even have a copy of it! But because the original cannot be found, your estate will pass by intestacy or by your previous will. It is possible that simply because the will is lost, different individuals will receive parts of the estate.

So if you want to avoid the costly process of proving a copy of a will, ensure that your loved ones can find it after you pass away. This can be accomplished by simply letting your executor, attorney, or any other trusted friend know where you keep your documents. Additionally, if you keep your documents in a safe, make sure your loved ones know how to access the safe. Similarly, granting access to bank safety deposit boxes can prevent the hassle of your loved ones having to go before a judge to get a court order to drill a safety deposit box after you have passed away. 

Planning ahead with simple steps such as these will help your loved ones avoid major headaches after you have a passed away. 

This is not intended to be legal advice and does not form an attorney-client relationship with any reader.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Legendary Coach Dean Smith: Being Generous Doesn’t Mean A Large Amount

March Madness is a glorious time of year for most American’s. We all, albeit unsuccessfully, fill out our brackets with the hopes of winning our office pools, sometimes cheer on the underdogs even though it would be a bracket buster just because they deserve to win, and we enjoy the quality company of our family and friends, which is most important. A story emerged a few days ago that legendary coach, Dean Smith, left each of his varsity letter players $200 for “dinner out”. What a nice jester. An important lesson can be learned from this nice gift. It does not take a large sum of money to make large number of people smile. $36,000 worth of checks were sent to the 180 varsity letter players during his over three decade career at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

While $36,000 is a large amount to handout, the joy of spreading that to 180 past varsity players is the crux of this story. Estate planning is a great opportunity to make people smile. The amount does not need to be large, but the thought is what counts. Coach Dean Smith could have easily forgotten about the players he coached but, because of the bequest, great memories are revived for the 180 varsity players. Basic estate planning is a great opportunity to direct how items from your estate will be directed once you pass. This is not limited to money, but also personal belonging such as photos, family heirlooms, jewelry, etc. To take care of your basic or complex estate planning needs, contact Adam Bullock with Ratliff Law Firm today at (865) 932-3441 ext. 706.

This is not intended to be legal advice and does not form an attorney-client relationship with any reader.