Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Estate Planning for Those with, Well...Not--So-Big Estates

“While you may think that estate planning only applies to wealthy individuals with millions in assets who live on, well, estates…think again,” is the advice from LearnVest appearing in Forbes a few years back

Even though estate planning relates to incapacitation or death, it doesn’t need to be morbid, the authors continue. “In fact, it can actually be life-affirming, because the process will allow you to take a closer look at the people you most care about in life.”

“But how does my having an estate plan help 'those people' if I have no significant assets to leave them?” many wonder. Well, in two ways, actually: For those you leave behind, estate planning  helps make the administration of your estate after death as simple and as inexpensive as possible for your heirs.

At Geyer Law, we explain (often to parents who want to be sure their children are putting proper documents in place for their own young families) that a “small estate” under Indiana law is one with assets under $50,000. Estate administration for those estates can be administered without probate proceedings; instead a small estate affidavit may be used to collect assets.  “Instead of having a court hearing in front of a judge, you may need only to file a simple form or two and wait for a certain amount of time before distributing the assets,” legalconsumer.com explains.

Not all assets in an estate are counted when determining whether it is “small”.  Retirement plans,life insurance policies and annuities payable to beneficiaries other than the estate are not probate assets and do not count towards the $50,000 figure. Our Indiana estate planning attorneys must remind readers and clients that, even for those with very few assets, the goal is not only cost-cutting, but hassle-cutting; proving the estate qualifies as “small” involves legalities that can be avoided with proper, before-the-event planning.
For estates both large and small, the most important reason to do estate planning is to avoid unwanted results. In Indiana, if you die “intestate” (without a will), the laws of intestate succession will determine how your property is distributed. Here’s just one example of many:

         If a married person with children dies without a will, under Indiana’s intestate statute the  
       surviving spouse only receives half the property, and the decedent’s children receive the other
       half.  This is a different result than what is often intended or wanted.

At our law firm, we see that life’s journey is fraught with change – marriage, children, a new business, retirement, incapacity, death.  We explain that these changes require “careful planning to protect the people most important to you and the assets you’ve worked a lifetime to achieve.”

Estate planning is important in protecting assets, and small estate owners may not have many of those.  Still, there are always the people. They might be the reason estate planning for those with, well….not-so-big estates can be every bit as important.


- by Rebecca W. Geyer

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