A Last Will and Testament is a document that essentially accomplishes two goals. First, it gives directions for the distribution of your assets after your death. Your directions could be as simple as giving your assets to children equally, or they could list certain items to be given to certain people.
Second, it appoints someone to act as your "Personal Representative" (sometimes referred to as an executor). Choosing a personal representative is an important decision. An example of a good choice for a Personal Representative is someone you trust to follow your final wishes; has strong character; is familiar with handling financial matters; and is a resident of Indiana. The duties of a Personal Representative are numerous and include (but are not limited to):
Making an inventory of all estate assets;
Determining whether a Probate Estate is required;
Arranging for legal counsel to assist with the administration of the Estate;
Accounting for cash in the bank, sale of property, sale or transfers of investments, etc.
Settling any creditor claims in the Estate;
Distributing Estate assets to those listed in the Will; and
In the event of minor children, making sure the children are placed with a guardian.
A Guardian for my young children. For individuals with young children, a Will can serve an additional and very important purpose. Minor children require a guardian in the event their parents are deceased. Parents are able to appoint a guardian for their minor children within their Will.
What happens if I die without a Will? Indiana law determines who receives your assets, who is appointed as Personal Representative, and who will be the guardian for your minor children. Although the law is written to be a reasonable and fair default plan, it could lead to unintended results. For individuals who prefer to plan their final wishes, creating a Will is a wise decision.
Some terms you should know:
Devise or Bequeath: To give or leave assets to someone in a Will.
Beneficiary, Legatee, or Heir: A person who receives some benefit as a result of a Will, Trust, payable on death account, etc.
Testator or Testatrix: This is the male/female who created the Will.
Per Stirpes or Per Capita: Legal terms which determine how your assets will be distributed through your Will if an heir/beneficiary dies before you. Per stirpes (or "by the roots") refers to a beneficiary's share that passes to their lineal descendants. On the contrary, per capita (or "by each head") refers to a beneficiary's share that is divided evenly amongst any surviving beneficiaries.