If possible, estate planning in Indiana should not be left until the last minute. You don’t want to rush through important decisions about who should serve as your healthcare power of attorney or how to distribute your assets. When you give yourself plenty of time to ponder your legacy, you can achieve precise control of your final wishes and limit the chance of disputes over your property and assets. During a meeting with an estate planning lawyer, you’ll learn how to protect your assets, plan for your heirs’ future needs, and avoid burdening your family with unexpected court fees and other legal hassles. To design your estate plan, you will move through these steps to select the estate strategies that are best suited to your purposes.
1. Take Inventory of Your Possessions and Assets
Before making any decisions, you need to know exactly what comprises your estate. To accomplish this, you would compile a master list of your financial accounts, real estate, other assets, and debts. Include identifying information for each account and asset on the list. You should also itemize personal property that you want to pass on to your heirs.
This inventory of your estate will form the backbone of your plan. Eventually, you will decide which assets need to be included in a will or placed in a trust. Account beneficiary designations and property deed assignments sometimes suffice to transfer assets to other people. You may need to discuss multiple issues with an estate lawyer as you decide which methods are appropriate for distributing your assets.
Your debts will require your attention as well. The value within your estate will have to settle debts before the remainder goes to heirs. You might attend to this by buying a life insurance policy to pay off liabilities for your estate or setting aside money specifically for that purpose.
2. Choose Your Beneficiaries
The primary purpose of estate planning in Indiana is to empower people to spell out exactly who should receive their assets. You have the right to choose who gets how much. If you do not document this wish, your assets will be distributed according to state law, and those rules may or may not align with what you have wanted.
Now that you’ve identified your assets, you can make another list of who you would like to receive an inheritance. These people are your beneficiaries. The process of choosing beneficiaries can range from easy to agonizing. People sometimes struggle with decisions because they may want to make unequal divisions between heirs or leave someone out entirely. The possibility exists that any decision that you make could upset someone even if you feel that you are being fair.
As you decide who will be your heirs, you need to name contingent beneficiaries. Although everyone needs backup beneficiaries if something terrible happens to a primary beneficiary, naming contingents is especially important with elderly estate planning. The heirs of the elderly are often other older people, and as a result, older beneficiaries have a heightened chance of predeceasing you.
If you anticipate sensitivity about your beneficiary choices, you could seek advice from an estate planning lawyer. At Webster & Garino, LLC, we have advised many people over the years as they navigated decisions about their estates.
3. Consider Your Beneficiaries’ Circumstances
As you name your beneficiaries, you should evaluate their circumstances. For children and young adults, you might want to seriously consider using a trust to manage their inheritance. People often want to prevent young heirs from receiving everything without any strings attached when they are only 18.
Age is not the only consideration. An heir could be heavily in debt, and creditors are likely to come after a debtor’s inheritance unless you take steps to shield the assets from outside claims. An estate lawyer can help you understand your options for protecting assets from an heir’s external problems.
4. Learn About Wills and Trusts
Writing a last will and testament is a standard way to officially document who is to receive your possessions, real estate, assets, and other financial gifts. For parents of minor children, you would also use your will to state your choice of guardian should both parents die.
At a minimum, anyone with possessions needs a will, but people may also choose to create one or more trusts. Trusts serve as an alternative legal vehicle for controlling the transfer of assets. Not everyone necessarily needs to create a trust. They involve administrative costs but offer substantial flexibility and privacy for meeting a number of estate planning goals. Trusts are often employed to protect assets and avoid the delays associated with probating a will.
Once you decide how to use a will or a will and a trust to structure your estate plan, then you insert your beneficiary choices. In your will, you name exactly who receives which items. With a trust, you must name one or more beneficiaries. Keep in mind, you do not have to use either legal tool for all transfers. A named beneficiary on a bank account, brokerage account, retirement account, or life insurance policy will automatically receive the account’s value upon your passing. Not even a will can supersede the beneficiaries listed on your accounts. For this reason, you should review your beneficiaries carefully to make sure no aspect of your estate plan is in conflict with your wishes.
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5. Plan for Healthcare Decisions
Anyone could end up incapacitated and unable to communicate wishes regarding medical treatment. To plan for this unhappy situation, you make an advanced directive by completing a healthcare power of attorney and living will. The agent or attorney-in-fact named in your power of attorney will have the legal right to make healthcare decisions for you immediately. In conjunction with this document, you provide your wishes regarding life-saving care and medical life support in your living will.
Even people with few assets should consider completing the healthcare portion of an estate plan. Should something terrible happen, the advanced directive reduces stress on your loved ones and gives them a clear understanding of your personal medical choices under dire conditions.
6. Decide Who Will Act As Your Agents
*Some of the most complex decisions with estate planning in Indiana come down to choosing the people who will administer your estate plan. You will need to designate one or more of the following:
- Executor of the will
- Agent or attorney-in-fact
The person or people you choose need to be willing to take on the role. Your agent should have the time and aptitude to manage the necessary tasks. An executor of a will needs to interact with the probate court, and a trustee will usually be responsible for completing annual accounting reports and asset management.
7. Schedule a Free Consultation With an Estate Lawyer
Webster & Garino LLC is your source for confidential support when creating an estate plan in Westfield, IN. Our research and insights will empower you to distribute your estate according to your wishes. We offer a complimentary first consultation to get you started. Call 317-565-1818 or email us to make an appointment.