From planning to administration: For attorneys, families, death is not the end of the estate planning process

  • Print
Listen to this story

Subscriber Benefit

As a subscriber you can listen to articles at work, in the car, or while you work out. Subscribe Now
This audio file is brought to you by
Loading audio file, please wait.
  • 0.25
  • 0.50
  • 0.75
  • 1.00
  • 1.25
  • 1.50
  • 1.75
  • 2.00
(IL illustration/Adobe Stock)

Estate planning can mean many things.

But one aspect not spoken about quite as much as planning is what happens when a loved one dies and their will actually goes into effect.

Attorney Jon Haggerty with Haggerty Haggerty and Maschmeyer in Indianapolis writes a lot of wills. In his practice, he said, it’s not uncommon for his services to extend to the family of his client once the client has died and the family needs to know whether a probate estate needs to be opened. The family knows how to call him because his contact information is listed on the will.

One unique case Haggerty dealt with involved a man who died and didn’t have any siblings, a spouse or parents. That meant hiring an heir search professional — who found 57 cousins.

Under Indiana’s intestate succession statute, those 57 cousins became unexpected heirs.

In that case, Haggerty said, his client had a close friend whom he probably wanted to leave his estate to, but he didn’t have a will.

In situations like that, Haggerty said, estate planning and estate administration go hand-in-hand.

“I think it makes you a better estate planner, as you see potential problems,” he said. “So I encourage the people that are writing wills with me to kind of let go and say, ‘Let’s just let them have it outright.’”

Lessons from Shakespeare

“Sometimes,” Haggerty said, “people want to draft complex trust provisions and leave another family member in charge of money that someone else is inheriting.”

But that can cause issues, he said, because many times, the person in charge of the money is going to be getting a lot of calls from people saying they need more money. Also, he said, it’s just a bad position to put a family member in.

On the other side of the coin, if the heirs are minors, it can be a good idea to set up a trust and put a family member in charge of the money, including paying for health, education and welfare, Haggerty said.

He gave the example of William Shakespeare’s “King Lear.”

In the tragedy, King Lear tests his three daughters to see whom he can trust with his kingdom. He ends up leaving it to two of his daughters, but he soon realizes he has no control over the kingdom anymore.

“That’s the kind of lesson that I use in my estate planning, that you have got to decide,” Haggerty said. “And after you’re dead, the reality is you won’t have any control over that money.”

More than money

Bob York

Attorney Bob York with Robert W. York & Associates in Indianapolis said he has seen many unique cases, including one involving a naturalized Mexican immigrant who died with a large estate and five children. The man owned a drywall business, a restaurant and more than 100 vehicles, plus property in the United States and Mexico.

York collected about 30 of the vehicles, which are all for sale. Four parcels of real estate in Indianapolis were sold.

The court allowed York to renounce the state’s interest in the real estate in Mexico because its ownership is contested. There is also separate litigation involving the estate due to stolen money and a $4 million ranch.

“It is a very unique case, and I have a number of those,” York said. “I’ve been frequently appointed by the court when there had been really contested disputes and (I) try to resolve everything as best as possible by agreement with everyone. And if that doesn’t happen, then I have to get authority from the court as to how to proceed.”

Jennifer Aldridge

Attorney Jennifer Aldridge of Mann Law P.C. in Indianapolis also noted that estates involve more than just money. Often, she said, there are creditors and real estate to handle, as well.

For example, when a house is transferred by will to an heir and the net value is less than $50,000, or the house itself isn’t worth that much, an attorney will spread the will of record.

When someone then goes to record the updated deed for that piece of real estate, they can rely on the certified court record and ensure they’re passing good title.

Cost consideration

As far as the cost of probating a will is concerned, it depends on the firm.

Aldridge said some firms will take a percentage of the total value of the estate as their fee, but at her firm, clients are billed hourly. That process can cost a couple thousand dollars.

“Obviously, some (cases) we’ve had where there’s lots of arguing or a will contest or just beneficiaries who aren’t getting along and causing a lot of headaches for the personal representative, those can cost quite a bit more,” she said — sometimes as much as $15,000 more, especially when a case goes up to the Court of Appeals of Indiana.

Aldridge added that the quickest a case can be probated is in about four months while the longest is one year.

The length can depend on when a person dies, she said. If someone dies early in the year before filing their tax returns, that can affect how quickly the case is settled.

“We’d hire a CPA to make sure that all that’s paid so that there isn’t a possibility where it would come back in and have to take money back from beneficiaries or something like that,” Aldridge explained.

She added that estate planning is a strange part of law that comes down to the people attorneys are dealing with and the size of the estate.

“It’s not something that people ever want to think about until they have to,” Aldridge said. “And then it’s the weird timelines and the way probate works. It’s just not always necessarily at the top of mind for anyone or anything that anyone’s super familiar with.”•

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

{{ articles_remaining }}
Free {{ article_text }} Remaining
{{ articles_remaining }}
Free {{ article_text }} Remaining Article limit resets on
{{ count_down }}