Estate planning is not often on the top of the average person’s to-do list, but it’s something important that should be done to help both you and your spouse and other loved ones. A wills lawyer can help you draft legal documents that can put into action your plans to make a difference in the lives of people and organizations you care about.
The first document you’ll want to create is a will. A will is the centerpiece of an estate plan, which can also include trusts, powers of attorney, a guardianship letter, a medical directive, and other documents. A will ensures that your assets are passed to heirs in a manner consistent with your wishes. A person who dies without a will is said to die “intestate,” which means your assets will be divided up by a probate court judge based on Indiana succession laws. These laws may or may not be consistent with how you wanted your assets to be inherited. That’s why creating a will is so important.
Some of the advantages of creating a will are:
- Your loved ones will avoid a protracted, messy and expensive probate process. Probate will go more smoothly.
- You will reduce the likelihood of misunderstandings and arguments among surviving family members about who receives which assets. This makes estate litigation less likely.
- You will have time to talk to and prepare your heirs, explain why you’re dividing assets as you are, and answer their questions.
- You will have time to consider tax implications and inheritance laws, so you can create an estate strategy that minimizes your tax liability.
Estate planning can allow you to exercise some control over your assets after you pass away. Through wills and trusts, your assets can be used to serve the needs of others.
What Is a Will?
A will spells out your wishes about how your assets should be treated after your death. IN Code 29-1-6-1 discusses construction of wills, renunciation of interests, and determination of heirship. Under Indiana law:
- The person making a will (the testator) must be mentally competent and at least 18 years old. The person can be younger if they are a member of the U.S. armed forces.
- The document must be in writing, and the testator must sign it.
- The signing of the will must occur in the presence of two witnesses, who also must sign the will.
- To avoid potential legal complications, the people witnessing the testator’s signature should not be beneficiaries (someone listed in the will receiving assets from the estate).
Under IC 29-1-5-3.2, a videotape may be admissible in court as evidence of the following:
(1) The proper execution of a will
(2) The intentions of a testator
(3) The mental state or capacity of a testator
(4) The authenticity of a will
(5) Matters that are determined by a court to be relevant to the probate of a will.
What Is a Trust?
A trust is a legally recognized arrangement where property is transferred to someone who holds and manages it for the benefit of a third party or parties. It’s a way to provide financial assistance or pay for some kind of help to a person or multiple people. A charitable organization can also be the beneficiary of a trust.
A trust can be “revocable” or “irrevocable.” A trust is irrevocable if the trustor gives up the power to end or change the trust. A revocable trust means the trustor can make changes to the trust throughout his or her lifetime. There are advantages and disadvantages to each kind of trust. Which one is best for you depends on why you want to create the trust and who the beneficiaries are. There are many kinds of trusts, for a variety of purposes.
A New Albany wills attorney explains the probate process
Through the probate process, which is overseen by a probate court, the executor of the will (the person you name in the will to be responsible for handling your estate) determines whatever taxes, debts, and financial liabilities your estate has, pays them, then distributes your assets per your instructions. Though technically there’s a relatively low bar for validity of a will under state law, the less formal it is, the more likely someone may challenge its validity and tie up the probate process in court. These kinds of legal challenges can be drawn out and expensive (with the costs of a legal defense coming out of the estate), so having a will done formally by a New Albany wills attorney can be a sound investment to try to prevent these kinds of expenses.
You may think that only rich people need wills, but that’s not true. Creating a will is an orderly, planned, proactive way of deciding how your assets will be distributed after you pass away. Sometimes when a person fails to create a will or estate plan and things go through probate, there can be disagreements and hurt feelings among surviving family members. One of the greatest gifts you can give loved ones is a will that alleviates these worries.
Hiring a wills lawyer to draft a will also saves money in the long run. Some hidden costs of probate for someone who dies intestate can include hiring an estate auction company to sell household goods and assets in the absence of a will. This takes time and costs money, leaving fewer assets available to heirs. Also, disputes over a vague or nonexistent will can result in litigation, which costs money due to legal and court fees. Creating a will can often be the most cost-effective way to handle these matters.
What type of lawyer helps with wills?
A skilled and experienced New Albany wills lawyer is your best choice when selecting an attorney to help with your estate planning process. Wills and estates are a highly specialized area of the law, so you don’t want a general practitioner as an attorney for these purposes. You want someone highly skilled in the technical details of Indiana estate law so you can maximize every advantage for inheritances and taxes. The wills lawyers at Church Langdon Lopp Banet Law Firm are some of the best in the business. They would be glad to answer your questions and explain the options and benefits of an estate plan. While it’s possible to write your own will, having an experienced attorney draft a will for you reduces the likelihood that you will would be challenged in court as invalid.
In addition to a will and a trust, other documents you might consider including in your estate plan are:
Financial Power of Attorney (POA)
This grants someone the legal authority to act on another person’s behalf in the event he or she becomes incapacitated and unable to make financial decisions. The person who draws up the POA and for whom it is made is known as the principal, while the person who is selected is called the attorney-in-fact or the agent.
Health Care/Medical Power of Attorney (POA)
This grants someone the legal authority to act on another person’s behalf in the event he or she becomes unable to make healthcare decisions. This document goes further than a living will and may be used in conjunction with one. Also called a Healthcare Proxy.
This is for couples who have minor children and want to name individuals to serve as guardians should the parents die unexpectedly. By putting this in a document, it allows a couple to discuss their decision with the guardians they have chosen and even the children, when appropriate.
Advance Medical Directive
This document sets out your medical wishes should you undergo anesthesia, enter a coma, or otherwise become incapacitated and unable to make medical decisions. This is where you articulate the extent to which you wish to be resuscitated or whether you want a DNR (do not resuscitate).
This document lists the beneficiaries of bank and brokerage accounts, life insurance policies, pensions, and other investments. While beneficiaries are typically identified when an account is opened, it’s wise to have a single document in your estate plan that lists all beneficiaries for every account. This allows you to collect all the information in one place.
Letter of Intent
While not a legally binding document, a letter of intent is a place where a person can add additional instructions to heirs about the preferred use or dispensation of assets. It’s also a place where you can give specific instructions for your funeral and burial wishes.
List of Important Documents
This document lists all of your important documents and where they’re located, whether that be in a safety deposit box, a desk drawer, or a post office box. These important documents could include:
- Life insurance policies
- Pension documents
- Marriage certificate
- Birth certificate
- Divorce records
- Stocks, bonds, and mutual funds
- Bank account numbers
- Vehicle titles and registrations
- Real estate deeds.
Contact a wills lawyer in New Albany
Our experienced estate planning attorneys in Louisville can draft a customized will designed specifically for your individual needs. At Church, Langdon, Lopp, Banet Law, we understand the legal and personal issues that can go into creating a will and can guide you through the process. We will work closely with you and assist you in making the best decisions possible for your unique situation. We have worked with many families, and we look forward to working with yours. For skilled and knowledgeable representation, contact us by calling 812-725-8224 or filling out our online form. Based in New Albany, Indiana, we proudly serve our community.
Attorney Gary Banet
Gary is licensed to practice law in both Indiana and Kentucky. He concentrates his practice in estate planning, estate and trust administration, estate and trust litigation, guardianships, elder law and special-needs planning. Gary earned his J.D. from the University of Louisville, Louis D. Brandeis School of Law, and formerly practiced law at Bingham Greenebaum Doll and Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs. [ Attorney Bio ]