Articles Posted in Estate Planning

Divorce is a complex and emotionally charged process, often involving the division of assets, debts, and decisions regarding children. However, life’s uncertainties can sometimes take a tragic turn, and what happens when one of the parties during a divorce passes away? This article aims to shed light on the legal implications of such a situation, covering aspects related to assets, debts, beneficiary accounts, and the welfare of minor children.

Assets and Debts:

The passing of one of the parties during divorce can significantly impact the division of assets and debts. Typically, divorce proceedings aim to distribute marital property equitably between the spouses. However, if one spouse passes away before the divorce is finalized, their assets may be subject to different rules depending on the jurisdiction.

Couple Preparing For TripPicture this: It’s your 10th wedding anniversary and your husband surprised you with the amazing Hawaii trip you couldn’t afford to take for your honeymoon at the time. Even better, he’s booked your parents to watch your pride and joy while you are in paradise. All you have to do is teach your parents how to use Skype buy a swimsuit (gulp).

What happens to the kids if, God forbid, something were to happen to you and Mr. Right on your trip? Come to think of it, have you been planning to put a will together for the kids for the past, um, well, since they were born?

Married parents of minor children share joint custody by operation of law. If one parent dies, the other parent becomes the child’s sole legal guardian. Generally, the mother has sole physical and legal custody of minor child born to unmarried parents. A father must establish paternity to have exercise legal rights with respect to that child. Following divorce, custody of minor children is specified by the Divorce Decree and Settlement Agreement signed by a Judge. If the custodial parent dies, the noncustodial parent becomes the minor child’s legal guardian under Indiana law, in most circumstances.

It might come as a surprise to non-Hoosiers that several parts of Indiana are popular locations for vacation cabins. The best known are probably Brown County and the area around the Indiana Dunes. Other locales include Lake Maxinkuckee, Lake Monroe, and Lake Patoka; the Amish country and the smaller lakes of northern Indiana; the wooded hills in other parts of southern Indiana; and the small towns on the northern bank of the Ohio River. Saving the Family Cottage: A Guide to Succession Planning for your Cottage, Cabin, or Vacation Home, by Stuart J. Hollander, David S. Fry, and Rose Hollander, 4th ed., 2013, is an excellent resource for owners of family vacation homes or other property to be preserved for shared use by future generations. However, the principles are not restricted to leisure property. For example, owners of family farms will also find useful advice for keeping the farm in the family for generation after generation.

One of the central concepts of Saving the Family Cottage is to avoid problems of real property owned jointly by several individuals — a situation that, of course, can arise when property is passed from one generation to the next. When property has multiple owners, disagreements between them can result in the property being partitioned. For some types of property, such as undeveloped land, the partitioning may mean that the property is divided into multiple parcels, like cutting a pie into pieces, with each owner receiving a piece of the whole. In other cases, such as a vacation cottage, a dispute may result in the property being sold and the proceeds divided among the owners.

The authors’ primary solution to that problem — one that we and many estate planning attorneys heartily endorse — is to create a limited liability company to be owned by the family members and to transfer ownership of the property to the LLC. One reason is that transferring ownership of LLC interest from one person to another, unlike transferring ownership of real property, is generally not a matter of public record. A more compelling reason is that the law provides very few rules to govern the relationship between multiple owners of real property (or most personal property, for that matter) and very few mechanisms for resolving disputes that do not result in the termination of the joint ownership. In contrast, the flexibility of LLCs (which we have touted in this blog multiple times) permits the owners to decide in advance who will make decisions concerning the property and how they will be made and how disputes among heirs will be resolved while keeping the property in the family.

Owners of Indiana LLCs (and their lawyers) can learn some lessons from a recent case involving an Alabama LLC. The case is L.B. Whitfield, III Family LLC v. Virginia Ann Whitfield, et al.

The Whitfield Case

L.B. Whitfield, III owned half of the voting stock in a business that had been in his family for generations. The other half had belonged to L.B.’s brother, who died and left the stock to a trust for the benefit of his son.

Earlier this year the Indiana General Assembly passed House Enrolled Act 1394, which takes effect today, July 1, and makes several amendments to the Indiana LLC statute, officially known as the Indiana Business Flexibility Act. This is the first of two articles discussing those changes. This first article addresses some amendments that should enhance the use of LLCs for estate planning purposes, and the second will discuss changes that expressly address the use of officers in the management of limited liability companies.

Permissible Purposes for LLCs

With the new amendments, Section 6 of the Indiana Business Flexibility Act now explicitly states that LLCs may be used not only for business purposes but also for personal and nonprofit purposes. For an example of a personal purpose, a married couple who own a vacation cabin and want it to remain in the family after they are gone might place the cabin in a limited liability company and then, by gift, by will, or by other means, transfer the ownership of the LLC to their children or grandchildren. Because the cabin is not used to generate income, the purpose of the LLC is personal, not business.

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