• Doing nothing. Without estate planning, the state Legislature has spelled out intestate succession rules. If a person has a spouse and at least one child at the time of death, the spouse receives half of the estate while the kid(s) get the other half. “This is very surprising to a lot of people.” If the children are minors, “the spouse may need those funds, but can’t get to them.” If a person who died doesn’t have children, but does have surviving parents, they get one-fourth of the assets. Only if there are no living children or parents does the entire estate go to the surviving spouse. Without a will, “if you don’t have any (survivors), the state of Indiana takes it.”
• Holding assets in joint tenancy, “one of the most common estate plans .... When you hold an asset (with another person), when one of the owners dies, it automatically is owned by the other owner.” He pointed out that could be problematic. If a young husband dies, a wife remarries, purchases a home together with a second husband, then she dies, “what you’ve done is accidentally disinherited your children.” Another pitfall: “If your co-owner becomes incapacitated and has a guardian appointed by the court, now you have a new co-owner” and may disagree about how to handle the asset, such as a piece of real estate.
• Making gifts. According to the attorney, “Parents often make gifts of assets to their children, thinking it may make it easier upon their death.” Federal rules say in any given year, a person can give an asset worth up to $14,000 to someone and not pay any tax and a spouse can also give another maximum $14,000. Wilson asked, “What happens if you need that asset later?” He advised, “Never give away an asset you may need in the future.” He noted if the gift’s recipient gets divorced or sued, a judge could split the asset and give half to the other party. He pointed out, “Every case is different. You need to talk about that with a competent estate planning attorney.”