July 22, 2014
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Point of Sale

Retail in Evansville
Photo provided by Eastland Mall.

Retail, simply put, is the sale of goods and services to the end user. It can be as large as a chain department store that sells a wide variety of items, or as small as a one-person operation with a limited set of products.

While most economic development news is centered on commercial and industrial development, retail plays a vital role in the Tri-State’s economy. In Vanderburgh County alone, 12,301 people are employed in retail (according to statsamerica.org) – making the sector the second largest employer in the county. (Health care leads Vanderburgh County, with manufacturing third, after retail.) In Indiana, there are 312,508 people working in retail.

Beyond those numbers, retail is a vital part of a community. Without it, areas of a city can suffer, which is why Evansville is working hard to bring more retail to Downtown. In this feature story, we take a look at the current state of retail in Evansville, profile some of those who have made it a career, and look at what the future might hold.

Location, Location, Location

Evansville’s retail assets evolve  By Nathan Blackford

Until the Baby Boom era, Evansville’s main retail district was Downtown. Stores like Schear’s, Salms, Sears, and the Economy Store drew in shoppers from across the city. But starting in the early 1960s with the opening of Washington Square Mall, retail stores began to migrate outward from the city core.

While retail in areas like Green River Road to the east and Pearl Drive on the city’s West Side has boomed, Downtown retail has diminished. Now, officials are hoping to bring more retail back to the area. Christy Gillenwater, president and CEO of the Southwest Indiana Chamber of Commerce, says retail business plays a key role in quality of life for Tri-State residents.

Evansville officials have put a great deal of effort into reviving the city’s Downtown, with the Ford Center and planned construction of a new convention hotel and Indiana University Medical School Evansville. But Gillenwater says the area won’t ever be vibrant without new retail locations. She’d especially like to see local, unique shops.

“We have seen a great deal of retail expansion on the East Side, and I think we’re beginning to see expansion on the North Side,” says Gillenwater. “I think we’ll have opportunities in the five cultural districts, like Franklin Street and Downtown. We have great assets Downtown, but let’s keep building and see Downtown as an opportunity for retail.”

Sean Ferguson, Eastland Mall’s marketing manager, agrees. He says a vibrant town will draw more people to Evansville, thereby helping all retailers.
“We feel strongly that Downtown needs to be more vibrant and more successful,” says Ferguson. “Everybody will benefit from that eventually. The core needs to be strengthened for the East Side to be stronger, for the West Side to be stronger. We feel really confident that the medical school location (Downtown) was the best place for the city. The effect on retail will be huge.”

While local officials continue to push for the revival of retail Downtown, developers are simultaneously planning for growth elsewhere. Areas like University Parkway to the west and the planned Promenade development to the east could be the next big retail areas for the Evansville area.

“Location is a big issue for retailers,” says Gillenwater. “They have to think about what the anchor retailer or anchor asset in the area will be. Or are they looking to be an anchor? And what is the market for that kind of business.”

Retail has boomed on the West Side in places like the Creekside Stores and Pearl Drive. Similarly, it has expanded to the east around the Evansville Pavilion, Lakeside Commons to the north, and has popped up in strip malls along Burkhardt Road and recent developments have brought more stores to N. Green River Road, all the way to Lynch Road.

To the west, the University Parkway corridor has attracted attention but no development so far, while to the east the Promenade will get its first retail store later this year.

The Promenade is a project of Hirsch-Martin Development, LLC. Managing member Steve Martin, also the CEO of the Martin Group of Companies, says it has taken years to get the Promenade ready for tenants.

Martin points out that the nearby Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club stores are among the top selling stores in the country. That, he says, means development to the north is inevitable.

“We had a market study done, and it told us that this is the spot,” says Martin. “It is a natural evolution. The reason that it’s evolving is Interstate 164. It is easy access. Retailers are always interested in being in the right spot. And there is no doubt in our minds that this is the right spot.”

A new Academy Sports and Outdoor store is currently under construction at the Promenade’s southwest corner. A second retail site, just to the north, could start construction later this year.

“We are in the planning stages right now for an 80,000- to 100,000-square-foot shopping center north of Academy,” says Martin. “And then we’ll start later this summer on The Havens (apartments).”

The Promenade is designed to be unlike other retail locations in the Tri-State. Martin says it will also include housing, offices, and an entertainment district centered around a man-made lake. It is designed to be easy to walk through and will have stops for public transportation.

“We think it will be very, very successful,” says Martin. “There is no place like this in Evansville. It is just the idea of being able to walk down the street and window shop a little bit. And there are a lot of things that can be done around that lakefront.”

As the push to the east and west continues, Martin acknowledges that some of the Promenade’s tenants could simply be businesses that abandon other locations in Evansville to move someplace new.

“We’d like a good mix of national brands and local shops that want to be a part of it,” says Martin. “Every retailer has things they are looking for. What we’ve identified is a lot of brands that are not here. We are trying to bring in new things to Evansville. But there will be some moving around. There always is. Retailers go through cycles.”

Ferguson agrees, noting that stores move in and out of Eastland Mall all the time. Ferguson says it’s hard to know which businesses will be successful in the Evansville market. Eastland Mall, therefore, works not only to keep a wide variety of stores as well as bring in retailers that have never had a store in the Tri-State in the past.

Eastland Mall, which opened in 1981, annually brings in 10 million visitors. The mall regularly brings in customers from 25 counties. That, says Ferguson, helps other retailers all over Evansville.

While most economic development groups focus on industrial and commercial businesses, local officials acknowledge that retail plays a major role in the local economy.

Ferguson says the Evansville retail market tends to be fairly middle-of the-road, without a lot of spikes or drops that other cities see. He says Eastland Mall weathered the recent recession fairly well.

“We did not have near the number of issues that others did,” he says. “We have the typical: stores leaving, stores coming in. You’ll see spaces open up, but that’s an opportunity to get new tenants in. And we’re always 95 to 100 percent full.”

Eastland Mall officials have, in recent months, been very visible in their support of community projects like the medical school, new baseball/softball complex, and more. The Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure returns to Eastland Mall in September, as well.

“Everybody benefits from stuff like that,” says Ferguson. “We’d be silly not to be supportive of key economic development things like that. We feel like we’ll benefit from that over time.”

Gillenwater says retailers have different needs, depending on the size of the store, items offered, whether they are part of national chains, and more. The chamber more often deals with local owners.

“National brands have a lot of marketing dollars lined out,” says Gillenwater. “Whereas with local independents, they rely on the community to get the word out. That can be marketing and advertising, or partnership opportunities. We have national brands who are members (of the chamber), but our penetration is higher with the independents.”

The future of retail, both in Evansville and nationally, isn’t completely clear. But Martin points out it will almost certainly have an increased online presence.

“Retail is changing. The brick and mortar retailer has to change,” says Martin. “The Internet now makes up about 10 percent of retail activity. Technology is changing fast. So who knows where retail will be five years from now.”

For more information about Southwest Indiana Chamber of Commerce of, visit swinchamber.com. For more information about Eastland Mall, visit shopeastlandmall.com.


Goodbye, Farewell and Amen

(with apologies to M*A*S*H)

Don’t get too excited by the title of this column. I know some of you were probably ready to help me pack, load up, and ready to chip in for gas for the U-Haul. Unfortunately for you, I am only retiring from coaching youth sports. For me, frankly, this is a really big deal — a huge part of my life, and a big part of who I am.

I first started coaching coach-pitch in Newburgh, Indiana, for my brother (miss you buddy) Brandon’s team in 1982. That season was remarkable, primarily because there was a pint-sized kid running all over the field grabbing every ball and making good accurate throws to first base (where no one could catch it). When I would pitch underhand, while others struggled mightily, this kid was hitting rockets all over the diamond. That youngster was Jamey Carroll, who played 12 seasons in the major league (he was released from the Washington Nationals earlier this year). I doubt if he is giving me any of the credit. His older brother Jason and father Larry taught him well. Brother Wes said it was the constant playing in the neighborhood and practicing with his older brothers’ team for two years. As coach of the University of Evansville baseball team, I will take his word for it, when he calls it “learning awareness.”

Another fun coaching stretch was returning to Newburgh Elementary School (Go Wildcats!) and helping as an assistant basketball coach for then fourth graders. The coach was a sixth grade teacher and was just getting his feet wet officiating CBA Basketball across the country. Watching him progress in his career was fun and in 1988, Ted Bernhardt began a nearly 20-year NBA officiating career. Many will associate him with the infamous Dennis Rodman head-butting incident. While fun to remember these two, the best memories will be the hundreds of kids who I have had the opportunity to meet along the way.

Coaching kids is the perfect opportunity to teach children life lessons through sports and even remind yourself of a few things along the way. I have seen kids, parents, officials, and myself at their best and worst of times, and met outstanding young men of great character.

With my youngest son turning 13 this summer, it is now time. My oldest son, Max, is spending his summer helping to manage the baseball grounds and concessions. In my opinion, there just isn’t any better family atmosphere than a Little League park or grade school gym. I am more than ready for the view from the bleachers with a bag of popcorn and still silently saying “get back on defense” or “watch the ball all the way in.” I honestly don’t know that I will ever be able to do anything as impactful as hanging out with a bunch of good kids and I know I will miss saying “c’mon boneheads, let’s get some runs.” But … it is now time.

As always, I look forward to hearing from you.

Todd A. Tucker


Full Speed Ahead

Nix Welding Service adds new assets

When we last visited with Nix Welding Service in the December/January 2013 issue of Evansville Business, the Poseyville, Indiana, company was busy with all kinds of projects, and was preparing to start up its own painting and powder coating operation.

A year and a half later, the system is up and running, giving the 112-year-old family business control of the entire fabricating process. Matthew Nix, the fifth-generation president, says things are going well.

“It has been a great asset to the rest of our business offerings,” says Nix. “We are doing liquid painting and refurbishing, which services our agriculture and construction customers. We also do the powder coating to a lot of the parts we fabricate. We’ll also powder coat for other customers as well.”

Nix Welding Service offers a variety of welding and machine repairs. The business started mostly with farm equipment, but has grown to include everything from portable mine buildings to yachts.

In the past, the fabricated machine pieces had to be sent out to be painted or powder coated, creating a delay. Since almost anything created out of metal requires some sort of coating, it made sense to do the process in-house.

“We are able to control the quality and turnaround time ourselves,” says Nix. “We can be accountable for that, and if there are any issues, we can address those and take care of it.”

Nix Welding has grown its space in the past six years, increasing from 4,800 total square feet to more than 24,000 at its Poseyville location. It is involved with constructing custom aluminum workboats — for a company in the environmental cleanup industry — which range in length from 26 to 34 feet.

Nix also has made a different kind of addition this year — a son. Two-month-old Charlie already has his own Nix Welding uniform and, perhaps, could someday become the sixth generation of the Nix clan to join the family business.

For more information about Nix Welding Service, visit nixwelding.com.


Cookies for Canines

A healthy alternative for your four-legged friends
Chris Thomas kneels with his Great Pyrenees, Bear, while selling dog treats at his Bears Bone Bakery tent at the farmers market

Very few dogs can resist the allure of peanut butter. As soon as I begin to open the jar, my pup magically appears at my feet with an unbreakable trance, staring me down. In 2009, local entrepreneur Chris Thomas discovered a way to share his peanut butter with his Great Pyrenees, Bear, by whipping up healthy (and safe) cookies in his own kitchen.

When the Thomases adopted Bear from an Owensboro, Kentucky, sheep farmer in 2007, they were eager to begin raising their 10-week old puppy. After a trip to the pet store, they began feeding Bear kibble, only to find out he had never seen dog food before in his life.

“The sheep farmers fed him exactly what they ate at the dinner table: mashed potatoes, chicken, vegetables,” says Thomas. “Bear didn’t know what the dog food was when we put it in front of him because it didn’t look like the food he had eaten.”

Bear didn’t eat Milk-Bone® biscuits either. Or most of the other types of dog treats. One thing he did like were peanut butter cookies made by Chris’ wife, Jennifer. Packed with 100 calories apiece, the husband and wife team thought if they extracted the fat and sugar, the cookies would be healthier and a suitable treat for Bear. After confirming the idea with their veterinarian, who collaborated on the recipes, the Thomases began baking homemade peanut butter cookies that were a safe alternative to regular dog biscuits. The duo calls their kitchen Bears Bone Bakery.

“Our cookies are made with no preservatives or artificial coloring. We import the Tahitian vanilla bean and the Saigon cinnamon and they are all USDA grade, low-fat and low-sugar versions of the made-for-human cookies,” says Thomas. “About 80 percent of the fat and sugar has been removed. They still have the cookie flavor, which makes them delicious for people to eat, too.”

If you were around the corner of Vogel Road and Green River Road during the winter months, you’ve probably seen Thomas and Bear selling treats out of a red wagon in the Harp’s Exotic Fish & Pets parking lot on N. Green River Road. The duo also attends most area farmers markets.

“Bear does the selling. People love the treats, but most will come up to pet and play with Bear,” says Thomas. “We have to put him to work, too; after all, this is a family business.”

When the peanut butter cookie became such a hit, the Thomases incorporated other flavors in the treats: cranberry oatmeal, bacon, cheddar, and a new cookie coming soon — pumpkin ginger snap.

Bears Bone Bakery treats are sold at Tri-State Vet and Pet Supply, Twilight Bistro, Harp’s Exotic Fish & Pets, Pets 1st, Give A Dog A Bone, Vanderburgh County Humane Society, Epperson’s Veterinary Clinic, and Gabby’s Boutique in Henderson, Kentucky.

For more information about Bears Bone Bakery, visit bearsbonebakery.com.


Invasive Species

Emerald Ash Borer moves closer to Evansville

Sometime in early 2002, a shipment was made into Michigan from Asia. The crate contained ash wood to help stabilize it. And unbeknownst to anyone at the time, the ash wood was carrying some very troublesome insects.

The Emerald Ash Borer has now invaded 22 states and Canada. It has already destroyed around 200 million ash trees, and many more are expected to be damaged and killed. The insects have invaded almost all of Indiana, though they have yet to be detected in Evansville.

But that, says TruGreen commercial manager Anthony Moffat of Evansville, is just a matter of time. And once the insect arrives, it will spread quickly.

“They found it last year in Perry County, and there is a quarantine in Dubois County,” says Moffat. “It looks like, for Vanderburgh and Warrick counties, it will be in the next 18 months. But the way this insect moves, they can’t say for sure. It could be next week, it could be next year.”

Places like Indianapolis, which already has seen the Emerald Ash Borer invasion, have lost thousands of trees. Ash trees account for about seven percent of the trees in Evansville.

“We’ve already taken some ash trees out Downtown in preparation for the pest,” says Evansville city arborist Shawn Dickerson. “We do plan to apply insecticides to some trees that are historically significant or ones that we want to try to save. But we’re waiting for it to get a little bit closer before we start doing that.”

The insects themselves are relatively small, at about a third of an inch long. Adults are a dark, metallic green color and feed on the ash canopy. The larval stage of the insect is what does the most damage, boring into the tree trunk and preventing the tree from absorbing nutrients.

“The pest will kill ash trees very similar to the way that the chestnut blight killed trees long ago,” says Dickerson. “Once the Emerald Ash Borers get into an area, they will kill every single ash tree in that area, except for the individual trees that are treated.”

While the Emerald Ash Borer adults can fly up to a half-mile on their own, they also are commonly transported by humans moving firewood or nursery stock. Dickerson says so far, there is no sign the insects have entered Evansville.

Trees can be treated to protect them from the insect. The life cycle of the insects is 10 to 12 years, meaning ash trees will need multiple treatments.

Dickerson says home and business owners with ash trees will have to consider the cost of treating the trees versus the cost of removing them. Dickerson and Purdue Extension Horticultural Educator Larry Caplan both offer free tree inspections.

For more information, visit extension.entm.purdue.edu/EAB/.


Back to the Basics

Steckler Grassfed raises foods in harmony with nature
Jerry Steckler stands in front of his family’s Dutch Belted dairy herd on their farm in Dale, Indiana.

The familiar saying of “you are what you eat” has become a lifestyle for Jerry and Marsha Steckler, who are the founders of Steckler Grassfed, a family-owned, pasture-based, certified organic farm in Southern Indiana.

Twenty-nine years ago, the Stecklers worked as conventional dairy farmers and kept their cattle in confinement. But in 1994, Steckler Grassfed made a commitment to a more natural way of farming that combines organic production practices with intensive rotational grazing on the 200-acre farm in Dale, Indiana.

“When our customers eat our cheese, it is like their whole body jumps and wakes up,” says Jerry. “Our body knows good food when we get ahold of it. It happens so often with people, and it all comes back to raising food in harmony with nature.”

The Stecklers have been inspired by the book “Nutrition and Physical Degeneration.” Weston A. Price, DDS. Price and his wife traveled the world searching for the secret to health. He observed perfect dental arches, minimal tooth decay, immunity to diseases, and overall excellent health in some of the most remote areas. He later reported that when those populations were introduced to modern commercial foods, signs of degeneration quickly became evident.

“We feel like this is our mission and that we have been led by God to produce food the way He intended,” says Jerry.

Steckler Grassfed offers aged, raw-milk cheddar, Colby, Monterey Jack, and pepper jack from its own Dutch Belted dairy herd, pastured poultry and eggs, and 100 percent grass-fed beef and lamb. Because their cows and lambs eat a fresh salad bar everyday, the pasture raised environment results in tender, lean, and delicious beef and lamb. Removing the grain-fed alternatives, fats and calories in the meats are altered and also raised without the use of antibiotics or added hormones.

Producing around 70 pounds of cheese a day, Steckler Grassfed cheese is packed with nutrition and includes a balanced blend of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats, as well as digestible vitamins and minerals with a full slate of enzymes and conjugated linoleic acids.

Their broiler chickens are raised in floorless pens, which move every day for fresh air, exercise, pasture, and bugs. The farm fresh eggs are laid by hens, which are free-range. Steckler also raises Thanksgiving turkeys that the company will butcher to order every fall.

All of Steckler’s products are offered at its on-farm store, which is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays, noon to 6 p.m. Fridays, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays, or by appointment. Its cheese is also available across the Tri-State area in many retailers and winery locations.

“Because our cows are rotational grazers, the cheese we produce is literally a taste of Southern Indiana,” says Jerry.

For more information and a complete list on where to find Steckler Grassfed products, call 812-683-3098 or visit stecklergrassfed.com.


Glass Act

Google’s new gadget offers hands-free technology

The slim, stylish appearance of Google’s newest product, Google Glass, aims to bring sci-fi technology into the everyday world. Since May 2012, the company famous for its white background search engine and Doodles has tested eyeglasses with smartphone capabilities in an invitation-only Explorer program.

“It can do anything my phone can do but it’s hands-free,” says Andrew Heil, an Evansville resident who participated in Explorer and has owned a pair since summer 2013. “I don’t have to be down here on my phone.”

When the wearer initially puts on the glasses, a sensor pad located on the side of the lightweight frame activates a small screen in front of the right eye. From there, the user can connect to Wi-Fi using a phone as a hot spot or as a data source and use the glasses just like a smartphone. Apps are available through MyGlass using Google Glassware programs, and all media taken with the Glass is automatically backed up to the user’s Google+ account, which offers different privacy settings.

Heil uses Google Hangouts at his job in IT at the Ariens Company in Evansville for interoffice chat, with messages going straight to the device’s screen. Work email and social media sites are also easily accessible with the device. Voice commands such as “OK Glass” and “Take a Picture” are currently how the technology works and the sensor pad allows the wearer to swipe and click to different screens or apps.

The device is now available for general purchase on the Google Glass website for $1,500. The frames, lenses, and accessories are all customizable.

“Is it worth it? That’s yet to be determined,” says Heil. “Everyone didn’t jump on the iPhone when it came out but it has the potential to pay off.”

The eyewear device is compatible with iPhone- and Android-based phones. The device comes with 12 gigabytes of usable memory.

For more information on Google Glass, visit google.com/glass/start.


Building a Bridge

Mayor advocates for interstate link across the Ohio River
Henderson County Chamber of Commerce president Brad Schneider speaks during an event to announce the formation of Bridge Link.

When Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke was appointed to Indiana Governor Mike Pence’s Blue Ribbon Transportation Panel last year, he already knew which project he’d need to promote: a new Interstate 69 bridge over the Ohio River.

“I think there is a notion in Indianapolis that Interstate 69 is done once it gets to Indianapolis,” says Winnecke. “That’s not the end of the road. It has to be connected to the south.”

The panel, which presented its findings to Pence in early June, consisted of community leaders from across the state, and produced recommendations for long-range transportation plans. The plan deals with everything from water, air, road, and rail, setting priorities for nearly 40 projects across Indiana.

The I-69 bridge was one of the Tier 1 — or top priority — projects on the list. However, the project’s cost will be an obstacle. Funding will have to come from state and federal sources.

“I think people understand and appreciate the concept, it’s just a matter of finding the funding,” says Winnecke.

Winnecke and Evansville Regional Airport Executive Director Doug Joest represented Evansville on the panel. Joest agreed the most important panel topic for Evansville was the Interstate 69 bridge.

Winnecke and Joest say they wanted to make sure Evansville’s transportation needs are understood by others, while also understanding the needs of other communities.

“(The Panel) also gave a combined voice for each of the modes of transportation,” says Joest. “For example there were two other members of the panel that represented Indiana airports. So when aviation policies were discussed, we could collectively present it as an aviation challenge, not an Evansville, Indianapolis, or South Bend challenge.”

Winnecke points out that the state of Kentucky is spending millions of dollars upgrading its parkway system to interstate standards. There is no point in doing that, he says, unless the Ohio River Bridge is constructed.

“I am very optimistic the bridge will move forward,” says Winnecke. “There is a little-known group called BridgeLink, and it is a group of interested parties in Evansville and Henderson. It is a bi-state advocacy group, and its only work is to advocate for and educate people about the importance of that bridge.”

For more on BridgeLink, visit its Facebook page. For more on Interstate 69 construction, visit buildi69.com.


Making Its Mark

Extend Group showcases its own brand in the office
Shawn Collins founded Extend Group in the fall of 2007. His wife Melissa joined the company as director of operations in 2013.

The innovative marketing staff at Extend Group listens to organizations, hears their challenges, and implements solutions to change the way they are perceived. The job the company does for its clients, it also has to do for itself — starting at home in the office.

Extend Group, which was founded in the fall of 2007, designs websites, mobile apps, and social media sites for its clients, as well as many other technological innovations. The company services multiple clients, such as redesigning the Vanderburgh County Sherriff’s Office website or completely rebranding the Evansville Voice Project, and maintains clients in various industries such as the automotive aftermarket, nonprofits, economic development groups, municipalities, and more.

“We are making the statement that they are dealing with a professional creative organization within seconds of walking through the door,” says Shawn Collins, founder and CEO of Extend Group. “It is what we preach to our clients, so we have to do the same.”

While Extend Group educates clients about branding, Collins says company leaders took careful considerations of their own branding message when designing their office space a year and a half ago on the second floor of the Walker Building, site of the former Welborn Baptist Hospital.

Walking through the door to Extend Group, clients enter an open space facing a white wall and to their left is a yellow wall behind their chairs as they wait for assistance in the reception area. The curved desk area remains vacant, because Collins says they haven’t found much need for a front-door receptionist.

“We didn’t want it to be overly white,” says Collins, who also works with his wife Melissa. She joined Extend Group as director of operations in 2013. “We put the color of our brand in it. We wanted our brand colors to be presented so that the work and the people in it could shine as well.”

The yellow wall also runs through the hallway by the open workspace desks, employee’s offices, and lastly Collins’ office. Above the open desks is a quote written on the wall by Albert Einstein that says, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

The office has the ability to quickly transform from one with six employees to one with more than 40 people when hosting Extend Group’s Inspired by Innovation film series. The reception table transitions to a buffet table and the two glass conference rooms, which allow for natural sunlight, can serve as film rooms with Apple TVs mounted on the walls. Colorful artwork by Sharon Spillar, a St. Louis artist, also decorates the walls.

“We want it to be a collaborative space, have energy, and it be inspiring enough to create creative work,” says Collins.

For more information about Extend Group, call 812-205-2106 or visit theextendgroup.com.


Wills vs. Trusts

Do you really need either with today’s tax code?

Conventional wisdom says that all adults should have a will in place, and many need to protect their assets with a trust. Evansville attorney Bill Bussing says it might be time to think differently — and save money. Bussing estimates he has written more than 2,500 wills and 500 trusts since he hung out his shingle 25 years ago on Washington Avenue. Now he’s writing fewer of both, in part because all but the very wealthy are exempt from estate taxes.

“Until last year, most Indiana residents faced inheritance tax and many people faced substantial federal estate tax,” according to Bussing. “Then last year, Indiana did away with its inheritance tax, and the new federal estate tax law allows couples to protect over $10 million. Let’s say a couple has less than $10 million, and three grown kids. They have bank and brokerage accounts, retirement accounts, IRAs, annuities, real estate, life insurance, and a couple of certificates of deposit.

“They simply want everything to pass to the surviving spouse at the first death, and to the children at the second death. I can accomplish that through beneficiary designations. They no longer need a trust to minimize taxes. And the will, if it’s helpful at all, is only there as a safeguard in case they failed to designate beneficiaries. You can put beneficiary designations on just about everything you own today.”

Bussing points out that power of attorney and health care directives are important for most families. Wills remain paramount for parents of young children as a way to designate guardians and direct finances in case of the parents’ deaths. Trusts are still valuable in structuring gifts to charities, making gifts to children at specific ages, or protecting a child through a special needs trust. In the past, trusts were often used to avoid probate. By skipping probate, families pay less in lawyers’ fees and court costs, and retain privacy. Today, simply listing beneficiaries for each asset can accomplish the same task, and you haven’t been forced to pay an attorney to create a trust.

“The estate plan I would recommend today for many people doesn’t even look close to the estate plan I recommended 25 years ago,” says Bussing. “They’ll come in and think they need a trust or a will. We’ll go down the list, they realize they don’t really need it, and they’re happy
to find that out.”