Christine Bryant Times Correspondent
Writing a will can be an important but complicated process that many will face as they age.
Although no one likes to think about dying, experts say most people should make their wishes for their possessions and care clear.
However, according to the reference service for residences for the elderly Caring.com, only about 33% of Americans have an estate. In the event of disability or death, it is up to others to decide on the destination of their assets.
“Estate planning becomes important once you have assets, which you want to easily transfer when — not if — you die,” says Brian Less of the St. John law firm of Brian E. Less. “Obviously people don’t consider their own untimely demise, but that’s the wrong approach.”
Even if you’re one of the third to have a will, estate law experts say it’s important to make sure it’s up to date.
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Here are some common questions you might have about writing a will, answered by estate legal experts in Northwest Indiana.
“Estate planning can range from very simple to very complex,” Less said, noting that it’s not limited to a specific age or financial situation. “Unless you have no assets, you should always consider planning ahead with a will or trust.”
A will outlines your wishes regarding your estate after your death. There are different types of trusts that can come into effect immediately or after a person dies.
Gary Bonk, of the Gary P. Bonk law firm in Schererville, adds that anyone with minor children should have a will.
“It’s also the document where they can appoint people to raise their children in the event of an untimely death,” he said.
What should a will contain?
For most people, assets fall into three categories: real estate, personal effects, and cash and investments, Bonk says.
“The distribution of assets in each of these categories can be addressed specifically in a will,” he said.
Wills should also include a residuary clause, which deals with how all other assets will pass that aren’t subject to specific distribution provisions, Bonk said.
“A lot of times people think they can leave a separate note or put name tags on personal items for specific people,” he said. “While the use of a note or name tags can be tracked by family, they are not legally binding. If you really want a particular item to go to a particular person, it should be stated in the will.
What is not usually in a will?
Adam Mindel, of Mindel & Mindel in Hobart, says one of the most important things to consider when writing a will is what’s not included.
Assets such as individual retirement accounts, insurance policies, joint bank accounts, joint investment accounts, transfer on death (TOD) accounts, and jointly owned real estate can be transferred directly to a named beneficiary or a co-owner, he says.
“I always urge every customer to verify their beneficiaries on unqualified items,” he said.
However, Mindel says it’s important for people to think about how they want their assets distributed if a beneficiary dies before them.
“They should also consider how they would like property acquired after the execution of the will to be treated,” he said.
How specific should a will be?
It’s best to have clear instructions in a will, says Bonk.
“If you want a particular asset to go to a particular person, it should be clearly described in the will,” he said.
When specifying how the money will be used, be practical, he says.
“For example, if money is left in trust to be managed for a child who has a gambling problem, will the person serving as trustee be willing to take on this responsibility? Bonk said. “Will the arrangements you made in your will for the management of the funds create a rift in your family? Will the provisions be easily enforceable? »
These are issues to consider when drafting specific distributions, particularly when funds or other assets will need to be managed for someone over a period of time, he said.
“Of course, there are cases where money will need to be managed for a beneficiary over a period of time, particularly for minor children and for adults who are so disabled that they cannot manage their own funds,” said Good.
Do you need a lawyer to write a will?
For individuals to execute a will, they need to know their assets and the people they intend to name as beneficiaries, Bonk says.
They must also appoint a personal representative, called an executor, who is responsible for carrying out the terms of the will.
“A lawyer, given this information, can write a will that meets Indiana’s legal requirements,” Bonk said.
Working with an attorney can also help a person properly value all assets, Less says.
“A knowledgeable estate planning attorney will listen first and foremost to your background, descriptions of your assets, and your personal views and needs,” he said. “The lawyer will then assess your situation, determine your options and discuss those options with you and provide a recommendation.”
What is the process for writing a will?
To write a will in Indiana, a person must be of sound mind and at least 18 years old, unless they are in the US Armed Forces or Merchant Navy, Mindel says.
Once the will is in writing, it must be signed in front of two disinterested witnesses, those who do not benefit from the will, he said.
Once the will is properly signed and witnessed, it should be kept safe by the person who signed it, Bonk said.
“Generally, if the will was prepared by a lawyer, he or she will keep a copy of the will as well,” he said. “Generally, wills are not filed with the court until after death.”
Are there any other tips to help write a will?
While many people wonder which family members will receive their assets when they die, they don’t always consider charitable contributions or eventual distant beneficiaries, which is where your estate will go if everyone named in a will no longer live, says Less.
“In other words, where does he go if there is a common accident? he said. “Normally he goes to his extended family, but maybe your cousin isn’t so deserving.”
Good estate planning also involves having documents to deal with disability, says Bonk.
“If you are having a will created for you, you should also have powers of attorney for financial matters and health matters created at the same time,” he said. “Powers of Attorney provide the ability to appoint an agent to act on your behalf if you become disabled. Your agent would then be able to make medical decisions for you, as well as pay bills and manage your finances.