The Last Will and Testament, often just referred to as a Will for short, is usually the first document that comes to mind when the topic of estate planning arises. The Will’s most obvious function is to dictate to whom your assets will pass after your death, but the Will is not just a “one trick pony.” In this post, I’ll give some examples of other functions that a Will can perform in addition to just stating who gets your “stuff.”
Nominating your Executor
A Will allows you to nominate who you would like to serve as your Executor. Sometimes also referred to as a Personal Representative, the Executor’s job is to carry out the administration of your estate after your death. The Executor must identify and gather all of your assets, identify and notify any creditors that you may have had at the time of your passing, pay the administrative expenses and just debts of the estate, file the necessary tax returns, and ultimately distribute the remaining assets as directed by the terms of the Will. The role of Executor is a very important one, and thus, it’s equally important to give careful consideration to whom you will appoint to that position in your Will.
Nominating Guardians for Minor Children
If you have minor children, this may be the most important function of your Will. What could be more important than deciding who would be the primary custodian and caregiver for your children? If a tragedy strikes and both parents die or are unable to continue to care for their children, it becomes necessary for a Court to appoint a legal guardian for any minor children. Unless you have specifically nominated someone to fill that role in your Will, the Court will have no guidance as to whom to appoint to that position, and your surviving family members may be in disagreement as to whom should be guardian. Ideally, your Will would name one primary guardian, and at least one alternate to serve as guardian in the event that your primary nominee cannot serve for some reason.
Specific Administrative Instructions
Sometimes overlooked, but also important, are the administrative instructions that can be included in your Will. In Indiana, the default position is that an estate is to be administered under the supervision of the Court. That means that all of the estate’s transactions are subject to prior approval by the Court. However, in your Will, you may direct that the Personal Representative should be able to administer the estate without supervision of the Court. This “unsupervised administration,” if authorized, can save a great deal of time and money during the administration of the estate because each transaction will not require notice, a hearing, and court approval prior to acting. In situations where the relationships amongst the family members and beneficiaries are amicable, and the assets are relatively simple to administer, granting permission in your will for “unsupervised administration” can be a valuable and efficient election.
More Than Just “Who Gets your Stuff.”
Wills do much more than just direct the distribution of your assets. It’s important to discuss with an experienced attorney all of the things that a Will can do, and to make a valid Will so that not only your assets pass to whom you’d like them to, but also that your loved ones are cared for in the manner that you’d prefer, and that your estate can be administered in the most efficient way possible.