Q: Can a married couple have one will or should they both have their own?  

A: Yes, a married couple can have one will. It's known as a joint will and Indiana recognizes them as a sort of binding contract between the parties. The problem you may encounter is finding an attorney who will draft one.

Whenever someone asks me about joint wills, my eyes kind of glaze over and I am immediately taken back law school. It was in my advanced estate planning class where my professor opened his lecture with "the only reason to draft a joint will is because you want to get sued." I've always remembered  that lecture and ever since then, I've looked upon joint wills as malpractice traps.  

Now you may find someone to complete a joint will for you. I recently had lunch with a colleague who told me they are working on their first joint will. After my initial shock I gave them the usual malpractice warning. They seemed okay with it so I'll defer to my learned counsel.

Personally I think everyone should have their own wills. So the simple answer is yes, a married couple can have a joint will. Whether they should have one however, is not that simple.

Q: What happens if you don't name a beneficiary on life insurance? Does it just pay to the estate?

A: Yes, if you fail to name a beneficiary on a life insurance policy, chances are pretty good that the proceeds will be paid to the estate.  

In the time before the Indiana Inheritance Tax went away, attorneys would strongly recommend naming a beneficiary because life insurance proceeds payable to an individual beneficiary weren't subject to inheritance tax while proceeds payable to the estate were. From a simple financial standpoint it made sense to name beneficiaries.

Although the inheritance tax is gone, I still recommend naming a beneficiary. Remember that life insurance proceeds are generally exempt from recovery by creditors. If the proceeds are payable to the estate, the proceeds are open to potential creditors.  

There may be reasons to allow life insurance proceeds to be payable to the estate. However, if the only reason is because you haven't called the insurance company to obtain the form, I strongly suggest you make the call.

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Christopher W. Yugo is an attorney in Crown Point. Chris’ Estate Planning Article appears online every Sunday at www.nwi.com. Address questions to Chris in care of The Times, 601 W. 45th Ave., Munster, IN 46321 or to Chrisyugolaw@gmail.com. Chris’ information is meant to be general in nature. Specific legal, tax, or insurance questions should be referred to your attorney, accountant, or estate-planning specialist.

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