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Estate Planning Lawyer Assisting Loved Ones Throughout Chicagoland

Estate planning may not be an issue that is at the forefront of everyday conversation, but when the time comes, you must have all the facts you need to make a measured, informed decision. Estate planning involves far more than simply writing up a will; there are tax considerations, legal implications and a host of extra details, which can be tricky to get your head around. Working with a qualified professional is essential in helping to make the process smooth, simple and comprehensive.

What Is Estate Planning?

As the name suggests, estate planning involves putting steps in place to plan and prepare for the end of life. This can include catering for the possibility of future incapacity, to cover long-term care bills, and deciding what will happen to your assets and estate after your death. Ensuring that your loved ones can benefit from your legacy in the way you desire is essential. So it is essential to understand the basics of probate laws in Indiana.

What Do I Need To Consider?

Managing your estate requires ticking off plenty of boxes, but there are a few main areas that you will need to consider. These include:

  • Probate: Probate is a court-supervised process designed to help prevent any type of fraud and ensure that the proceeds of the estate go to the intended beneficiary. This often results in assets being frozen while the court checks the validity of the will and acknowledges the recognized executor of the estate. Only once this process has been completed can the rest of the affairs be settled. During probate, assets will be catalogued, appraised and used to settle any outstanding debts, including taxes. The court will then authorize the distribution of the assets according to the directives left in the will. A final accounting must be provided to the court before the estate is deemed closed.

To avoid the headache of probate, you will need to ensure that your assets have a way of being automatically transferred to the intended new owner upon your death.

  • Creditor rights: Any creditor rights will come before the rights of beneficiaries to your will ensuring that all debts are paid prior to distribution of the assets. There are three tasks that must be performed by executors, in a very specific order:
    • Take stock of assets and their worth
    • Ensure estate debts are paid
    • Provide for the orderly distribution of assets to beneficiaries

Executors must also make every reasonable attempt to notify any creditors, allowing them to pursue a legitimate claim. Indiana does not have estate or inheritance tax, so this is a weight off the mind of the executor. They may, however, need to file several tax returns, including a state income tax return and one of three federal returns, as well as investigating the possibility of exposure to federal tax liability and a capital gains tax.

Who Can Inherit What?

Inheritance laws can be tricky, but the basic concepts include children, property and tenancies:

  • Children: Indiana law does not allow minors to inherit any property directly; if you wish to leave property to minor children, it must be managed by an adult until the child turns 18. A trust is one of the most popular methods for achieving this, as it allows the appointment of a trustee to manage the inheritance of the child. In the event that you die without a will, the division of your assets via intestate succession laws will depend on your relationship to the child in question.
  • Joint tenancy property: Indiana recognizes the validity of any property held in “joint tenancy.” This means that the property will automatically go to the surviving tenant upon your death, under the rules of survivorship. This step helps to avoid the risk of your will going to probate and is popular with married couples, parents and children, or even siblings.
  • Life insurance: Life insurance policies operate in a slightly different way to wills, but still need to be a regular part of planning your estate. In Indiana, the life insurance payout will go to any named beneficiaries on the policy.

What Happens If I Die Without A Will?

If you die without having a will in place, assets will automatically be divided to your closest relatives under the Indiana “intestate succession” laws. As a rule, your spouse will get the first pick, but the exact proportions can change depending on your personal circumstances:

Children but no spouse – Children will inherit everything

Spouse, but no parents or descendants – Spouse inherits everything

Spouse, plus descendants from you and that spouse – Spouse inherits ½ of intestate property, descendants inherit ½ of intestate property

Spouse, plus at least one descendant from a previous spouse – Spouse inherits ½ of your intestate personal property, and ¼ of the fair market value

Spouse plus parents – Spouse inherits 3/4 of your intestate property and parents inherit 1/4 of your intestate property

Parents but no spouse or descendants – Parents inherit everything

Siblings but no spouse, descendants, or parents – Siblings inherit everything

Siblings and parents and no spouse or descendants – Siblings and parents share equally, but a parent’s share must be at least ¼ of the intestate property

How Do I Make A Will?

Finalizing a will in the state of Indiana is a fairly detailed process, but it is best to contact an attorney to make sure that you haven’t missed any essential assets of your estate.

To finalize your will, you must:

  • Sign the will in front of two witnesses
  • Tell the witnesses it is your will
  • Your witnesses must sign the will in front of you and in front of each other

Indiana does not require wills to be notarized, but they should be self-proving; in essence, you and the witness must sign a document confirming that you meet the requirements to finalize the will, that you are all signing voluntarily while of sound mind, and that you are at least 18 years old, or a member of the armed forces.

Getting everything in order for your estate is complex, and it is best to leave it in the hands of the professionals. At Hilbrich Law Firm, we have worked with many clients across Highland at every stage of planning their estates. Get in touch with us today at 219-444-4330 for a consultation, and we will help put your mind at ease.