What’s the First Issue to Tackle?
Is there a Last Will and Testament? A Trust? Or are there no estate planning documents at all? This question will help determine if the estate is testate or intestate.
- Testate simply means that there is an estate planning document, whether a Will or a Trust, and the decedent left instructions on who is to be in charge (the Executor or Personal Representative of the Estate/Successor Trustee of the Trust) and who is to receive items or percentages of the assets the decedent owned when they died (the beneficiaries).
- Intestate simply means that the decedent didn’t leave instructions and the rules set out by the State of Indiana will govern who is a beneficiary. Intestate administrations may have only one beneficiary or it may have fifteen beneficiaries. There are also rules on how to determine who will be in charge of the administration since the decedent didn’t leave legal written instructions on that matter. It is very important to have an attorney with experience in this area to help you navigate through this process.
The Second Issue to Tackle?
What are the assets of the Trust/Estate? The Personal Representative is tasked with determining which assets transfer to the Trust/Estate and which assets transfer outside of the Estate. This is determined by how the assets are titled or how ownership interests are held and determining beneficiary status of any assets. A few examples would include real estate, bank accounts, retirement accounts, life insurance proceeds, and stocks, bonds, or securities. This can be a daunting task. An experienced probate attorney can help guide you through the process and help with any pitfalls you may encounter on the way.
The Personal Representative should also determine if the decedent has any creditor issues or outstanding bills that the Estate or Trust will need to take care of? It is also important to determine if there are any outstanding mortgages on the real estate.
Once these general questions can be answered, this will determine if an Estate will need to be probated with the Court. There are also Notice to Beneficiaries, Notice to Creditors, and Personal Representative’s fiduciary duties to those parties that must occur.