At one time or another virtually everyone has a need to address a matter involving a will or an estate. Whether it is for themselves, business succession planning, or assisting with the affairs of a loved one, it is important to have an accurate assessment of the picture and a good game plan, with the capability of following through.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Do I need a will?
Generally it is advisable to have a will. If you do not have a will, Indiana Law states who will get your property after you die. While it may well serve some people’s needs, it’s always advisable to discuss your situation in detail and determine what is best for you.
What is Power of Attorney and why do I need it?
A power of attorney is a legal document that allows you to designate who would help you manage your financial, personal and health care affairs while you are still alive and can’t do it yourself. Thus, before a will becomes effective, you may have needs and you want the right person handling those. The power of attorney lets you designate that person, as well as identify what things that person can do for you.
What is a living will?
A living will can be confusing and is not the same as a regular will. A living will addresses health care decisions if you reach a point of an end of life illness or condition that makes you dependent upon life support and/or where death will follow soon. This is a very personal decision and one that must be reviewed carefully to determine your wishes. This may require the involvement of your family as well.
When I sign my will, what should I do with it?
The will should always be kept in a secure and safe place, but also a place where it can be found. Many times you will leave the original with the attorney who helped you draft it. Most attorneys have a fireproof safe or other secure location to keep the wills. There is the added benefit that even if your attorney retires or is no longer practicing, the firm will still be available and safeguard the wills. As an alternative, you might have your own home fireproof safe or lockbox, and that is a good place to put it as well. If you want a copy that is more readily available for review, you can always make an extra copy.
How do I make arrangements for my funeral?
Indiana has a specific statute that allows you to execute a funeral declaration, which spells out how things are to be handled. Many times, this is an important document and beneficial to have. If the remaining family knows what you wanted, and arrangements have been made, it will take an immense amount of pressure off of them at a time when they are grieving your loss. You can choose to set out your funeral home preferences, cemetery preferences, disposition of remains, nominate who is in charge of those things, and even plan your funeral. Closely related to this is meeting with a funeral home to “pre-select” these services. Most funeral homes will sit down with you and pre-plan these things, create an account for you and retain the information to have available when the time comes. This is often a good planning strategy and usually comes with no cost or expense to you.
What is probate and why do people say it should be avoided?
There is a common belief that everybody should “avoid probate.” Probate is really the act of filing your will with the legal system. Opening an estate to administer assets is something that is normally done, but not in every situation. If your estate is sufficiently large, there may well be a need to open an estate. In that case, of course, there are expenses, but there is a misconception that these expenses are way out of line and unnecessary. We have found, to the contrary, that the cost of probate is not much different than other forms of estate planning and making arrangements for the disposition of wealth after you pass. A thorough discussion with the attorney about what works best is always appropriate.
What do I do about my pets or special items like a family watch or ring?
There are several things that can be done with these types of things. First, it is recommended that you complete a Personal Record Book. It will allow the personal representative to know where to go and locate assets, as well as some of your preferences or desires with respect to those types of things. If you have made arrangements for a family member or friend to take a pet, then that is a good place to write that down.
What is an executor or personal representative?
These terms are synonymous under current law. The executor, which is now normally referred to as a personal representative, is the person you designate to handle all of your affairs after you pass away. Often times it is a surviving spouse, an adult child or other family member. However, it could be a long term friend, professional or anyone else whom you feel is up to the task. That person is often compensated for those services, and you can either provide for that in the will, itself or it will be handled by law as well.
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