As hard as it is to talk about estate planning, it's crucial that you make arrangements. No matter how old you are, proper planning can help your loved ones avoid legal battles after your death. An estate plan can keep your business running smoothly, protecting both heirs and employees. Although estate laws are similar throughout the United States, Indiana differs in some details.
Writing A Will
A will outlines how you want assets divided and custody of any minor children. It names an executor who will be legally responsible for seeing that your wishes are followed and that your bills are paid. You can write your own will, but it's best to seek legal advice to make sure everything is phrased correctly. In Indiana, wills must be witnessed by two adults who aren't inheriting anything. Videotaped wills also are legal.
Your heirs likely will wind up in probate court to settle matters such as debts and taxes, even if you do have a will. A will can speed things up, though, as can other mechanisms such as trusts, joint ownership, or transferring property while you're alive. Indiana residents can file their wills with the circuit court if they like, but it's not required.
Power of Attorney
A power of attorney appoints someone to take care of your personal affairs should you become incapacitated. His powers can be as sweeping or as narrow as you like. You can give your agent the power to sign contracts or sell assets, or you can limit him to just paying your bills on your behalf.
Health Care Decisions
A medical power of attorney designates someone to make decisions regarding health care if you're unable to. "Living wills," or advance directives, make it clear how you want to be cared for in the event you're unable to explain to doctors yourself. Are you OK with life support? Do you want to be revived should your heart stop? What about other "heroic measures" such as feeding tubes? The Indiana Department of Health has a booklet outlining advance directive options in the state, and the Center for Hospice Care has blank forms for creating directives. Most must be witnessed.
Most people let loved ones know if they wish to be buried, cremated or donate their body for research. These plans, and others, can be spelled out in a will or in a letter of instruction. People who want to donate organs should register and make sure loved ones know that they've done so. Although prepaid funerals can be dicey and might not always cover costs after inflation, Indiana law allows for funeral trusts that will cover the costs of many arrangements. The money must be deposited with a financial institution.
Unless you have assets worth more than $5 million, structuring your estate to avoid taxes shouldn't be an issue. The 2013 fiscal cliff deal preserved the estate tax exemption of $5 million and that figure is now indexed for inflation so it will increase a little as years go by. Businesses – even small ones – need succession plans. Beloved pets or pet causes can be addressed in wills. Those whose death would financially hurt a surviving spouse or children should consider a life insurance policy to protect loved ones.
This article is intended only as a general look at estate planning issues you might face. Contact an Indiana estate planning attorney for advice on specific situations.