I have a will so I believe I’m all set up. Do I need anything else?

Contrary to what you’ve probably heard, a will may not be the best estate plan for you and your loved ones. Your will does not avoid probate when you die. It must be verified by the probate court before it can be enforced.

Fortunately, there is a simple, proven and common sense alternative to a will. A correctly funded revocable living trust lets you keep control of your assets while you are living and then sends assets to your beneficiaries privately after you die.

What is probate?

Probate is the legal paperwork process of clearing title to assets after you die. Generally a will only takes effect after death and probate court supervises the whole process. The court must approve executors, your creditors must be paid and the distribution of the will has to be open to contestability for all potential heirs, including stepchildren, etc.

Why is probate so bad?

Time and expense—the average time for an estate to be in probate ranges from six months to a year. If the will is contested, it can take much longer. Expenses associated with probate vary depending on size and complexity of the estate. Some costs include:

  • Attorney fees (can accumulate and be very expensive)
  • Executor fees
  • Filing fees

Assets are frozen until an inventory of possessions takes place and distribution of assets are frozen until the probate court releases them. Due to the fact that your estate is open to the general public during the probate process, there is a complete loss of privacy regarding your personal affairs.

Doesn’t joint tenancy avoid probate? What if I put my children’s/heirs’ names on the property or account?

Yes, by putting a joint owner with rights of survivorship, such as children, on the property, you will avoid probate by holding the legal title as joint tenancy. Upon your death, the survivor will become the sole owner of the asset/property. Beware, however, of some severe complications with this method.

If your children become involved in a divorce, lawsuit or have some lien levied on them by a creditor, you could lose some or all of the assets you hold jointly.

Joint tenancy may trigger gift tax, which can be higher than probate costs, depending on the appreciation of the assets.

What is a durable power of attorney and do I need one?

A durable power of attorney names an individual(s) ahead of time to handle your financial and health care/living will affairs in case of mental incapacitation. Everyone needs a power of attorney because we are all susceptible to strokes and accidents that would leave us dependent upon others for care.

What happens if I am declared mentally incapacitated and I don’t have a power of attorney in force?

Generally your spouse or loved one must hire an attorney and apply for guardianship through probate court. Getting the court order can take time and there are attorney fees, filing fees and other costs associated with attaining the power of attorney.

How does proper estate planning benefit me?

  • It reduces unnecessary taxes.
  • It avoids probate administration.
  • Your family receives quick distribution of trust assets upon your death.
  • Your estate is kept private and confidential.
  • The probate court has no control over your trust assets.
  • You avoid conservatorship or guardianship if you become incompetent.
  • It reduces emotional stress on your family during an already difficult time.
  • It can protect your assets from Medicaid seizure.

What is a living trust?

A living trust is an estate plan that is created to hold title in lieu of joint or individual ownership. The idea is to transfer or fund certain assets to the trust. Since the trust owns the assets, probate is avoided. It’s important to understand that even though you transferred the assets to your trust, you, as trustee, still maintain total control of your assets.

How can the RPA benefit me?

The Retirement Planning Association is dedicated to assisting members through education in estate and financial planning. We take the worry out of estate planning while providing you peace of mind.

How do I join the RPA?

Call us at 1-800-421-6228. A member services representative will schedule an appointment to explain the benefits of membership for you and your family.

If you believe you could improve your current estate situation by incorporating a revocable living trust, power of attorney, health care power of attorney or a living will, we can help! Once you’re a member, the RPA will assist you with all facets of your estate planning needs.

What can I expect as a member of the RPA?

Our member service representatives have years of experience guiding people through this very personal decision making process. Not only are they genuinely personable and caring, but they will provide answers to your questions in complete confidence as well as in a timely and efficient manner. You can rely on their complete professionalism and rest assured your wishes will be carried out as you desire.

Our state-of-the-art computer network and telecommunication system enable us to accommodate all inquiries. Members are welcome to call us about any matter pertaining to estate planning. We are committed to offering the best member services available at a reasonable price. We even provide ongoing support after your estate planning package is completed. In addition, the RPA keeps members informed of any state legislative changes that could affect your estate plan.

Once you’re a member, you may contact our member service helpline at 1-800-421-6228 for assistance with any matter pertaining to your estate planning package. Whether you have questions, want to initiate changes or need assistance with settlement issues, the RPA is prepared to help you.

Call our member service representatives at 1-800-421-6228, or email us at rpainc@michiana.org to get started.


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