Category: Firm News

JO Knows Probate

Probate is the process by which a court oversees the lawful transfer of title to property under a will. It must take place in the state and county where the decedent resided when they died. Probate does not involve non-probate assets, such as life-insurance or retirement-account proceeds passing to designated beneficiaries; property owned by trusts on the date of death; or jointly owned property when the first joint owner dies. So married couples that have joint title to most of their property rarely need probate after the first spouse dies.

The word “probate” often engenders fear. But probate is not a scary process. The court is there to oversee the job your personal representative does and to make sure the instructions in your will are followed. Your lawful debts will (and must) be paid. Your heirs take comfort in knowing that the court will hear them if they have questions or objections. Probate is not unduly lengthy; usually six months or so is enough to wrap things up. And it is not a great expense. In fact, many people will spend more money trying to “avoid probate” than probate costs.

While placing an asset (like an investment account or a vacation home) in a trust will avoid probating that asset, it is almost impossible—and probably foolish—to try to make everything you own a non-probate asset. Under Indiana law this is unnecessary, because no probate estate need be opened if the value of the probate assets is less than $50,000. So you don’t need to put your refrigerator, lawn mower, golf clubs, or clothing into a trust.

Rather than probate avoidance, a better goal is probate management. Monitor the way your assets are owned. Create joint ownerships, designate beneficiaries, and use a trust in sensible ways. But don’t go overboard. For example, while making cash gifts to children and grandchildren can have many benefits, be sure that you keep enough resources available to provide for your own care and comfort.


Happy Boss’s Day!

Boss’s Day is celebrated on October 16th in the United States, Canada, and Lithuania. It has traditionally been a day for employees to thank their bosses for being kind and fair throughout the year. The day was created to strengthen the bond between employer and employee. It has become increasingly popular since its creation.

JO Knows Mediation & Arbitration

People generally avoid litigation. It’s expensive, time consuming, emotionally draining, and unpredictable. Because litigation is so inefficient, people have been seeking alternative ways to resolve disputes for almost as long as they have been litigating them. Arbitration and mediation are two forms of alternative-dispute resolution that have become increasingly popular.

Arbitration and mediation are similar, but there are important differences. Arbitration is generally conducted with a panel of arbitrators who are much like judges. The parties may call witnesses and introduce evidence. The arbitrators hear the evidence, weigh arguments, and issue decisions. Those decisions can be binding or non-binding. Most people don’t realize that popular television shows like Judge Judy and The People’s Court are actually binding arbitration proceedings, not judicial proceedings.

Although arbitration is sometimes conducted with a single arbitrator, the most common procedure is for each side to select an arbitrator. Then, those two arbitrators select a third arbitrator, at which point the dispute is presented to the panel. Decisions are made by majority vote.

Mediation, on the other hand, is a process in which a neutral third party, called a media­tor, tries to help the parties resolve their dispute. Mediation is an informal and non-adversarial process. The objective is to help the disputing parties reach a mutually acceptable agreement between themselves on all or any part of the issues in dispute. Deci­sion-making authority rests with the parties, not the mediator. The mediator assists the parties in identifying the issues, fostering joint problem solving, exploring settlement alternatives, and assists in other ways con­sistent with these activities.

Celebrate Columbus Day

Celebrated on the second Monday in October, Columbus Day marks the day in 1492 when Christopher Columbus set foot in the New World. Today, parades and parties in many cities and towns commemorate the holiday across the United States as well as Latin America and Europe.

Meet Our JO Team

Mark Phillipoff graduated from the University of Notre Dame and Indiana University School of Law. He was a deputy prosecuting attorney and an associate at a southern Indiana law firm before returning to his hometown, South Bend, and joining Jones Obenchain in 1983. Mark’s practice includes mediation, general trial work, family law, estate planning, probate, and real-estate law. In 2007, Mark trained to become a collaborative family-law lawyer and joined the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals. Get to know Mark and the ways he can serve you, your family, or your business by visiting

JO Knows Commercial Transactions

Buying or selling undeveloped land or an existing building, office complex, or shopping center?

Negotiating a business lease?

Forming or joining a real-estate partnership?

Planning to develop a subdivision or condominium?

We’ve helped clients do it all. We can help you, too.

Do You Know Your Taxpayer Bill of Rights?

Not many people know that all taxpayers have a set of fundamental rights and that the IRS has an obligation to protect them. These rights are contained in the tax code under ten different categories. If you have business with the IRS, it is in your best interest to know, or at least be aware of, these rights. To read an overview of all the rights visit:

JO in Action: John Ford serving on the Board of the Michiana Estate Planning Council

John B. Ford, partner at Jones Obenchain, LLP, is on the Board of Directors of the Michiana Estate Planning Council, Inc. The Michiana Estate Planning Council is an interdisciplinary organization for professionals involved in the estate-planning process. Professional members include attorneys, CPAs, bank trust officers, insurance agents, and investment advisors. The Board provides educational and networking opportunities to members.

Need Copies of your Tax Returns?

It is a good practice to keep copies of your tax returns for at least three years. If you need a copy and don’t have one or can’t find it, you can check with your software provider or tax preparer. You can also request copies of prior years’ returns from the IRS (for a fee). Tax Transcripts are also available from the IRS and they are free. For information about how to obtain copies of your tax returns and tax transcripts please visit: