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Posted on in Estate Planning

Lombard estate planning lawyerThe reading of a deceased person’s will is often portrayed in movies and on television as a highly dramatic event. Usually, some conflict, plot point, or comic relief revolves around heirs being surprised about what they will be receiving as an inheritance. In some cases, the scene is meant to draw attention to someone being left out of the will. In real life, things are rarely so theatrical, though the feeling of being neglected or left out of a loved one’s will can be quite unpleasant and possibly offensive. Depending on the situation, such a person may wish to contest the will—especially if he or she believes that he or she was excluded by mistake or due to fraud of some kind.

Grounds of a Will Contest

If a loved one’s will left you with less of inheritance that you expected or none at all, contesting the will could be an option, but doing so is not likely to be easy. First, you must understand that a will contest must be based on legitimate grounds. A decision that you do not agree with is not enough. For a will contest to be successful, you will need to show that:

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Posted on in Estate Planning

DuPage County estate planning lawyerWhen someone asks you to be the executor of their last will and testament, you may feel both honored and also overwhelmed. What exactly does an executor do? Who can be an executor? Being an executor of someone’s will is a huge responsibility, but with some research and help, most are able to take on the challenge.

An Important Role

The overall job of an executor is to make sure a person's last wishes are granted with regards to the disposition of their property and possessions. He or she is responsible for paying the deceased's debts and creditors, and distributing any remaining money or property according to the deceased’s wishes. The law does not require an executor to be a lawyer or financial expert, however, it does require than an executor fulfill their duties with honesty and diligence. This responsibility is called "fiduciary duty," which means that the executor must act in good faith and in the best interests of the deceased person’s estate.

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Lombard estate planning attorneyOlder men and women are often among the most vulnerable members of our society. Children, of course, are also vulnerable, but as a whole, we have been historically more likely to aggressively protect children than adults and seniors. Unfortunately, this means that is relatively easy for elder men and women to be exploited—often by those who have been entrusted with guardianship or other responsibilities. With proper estate planning that includes contingency clauses and protections, it may be possible to reduce the likelihood of such abuse. A new federal law will also provide additional help in the battle against elder abuse and exploitation.

Bipartisan Efforts

The Elder Abuse Prevention and Protection Act was drafted by Representative Elizabeth Esty, a Democrat from Connecticut, and Representative Barbara Comstock, a Virginia Republican. The bipartisan measure passed the House and Senate and was signed into law by President Donald Trump earlier this month.

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Lombard estate planning lawyerWhen most people think about estate planning, they often focus the transfer of assets from one generation to the next. Wills and trusts—the most common vehicles for transferring such assets—represent a significant part of the estate planning process, but there are many other considerations that should be addressed. One of the most often overlooked aspects of estate planning is preparing yourself and your home to make life easier as you age, and doing so often takes time, money, and self-awareness regarding your current and possible limitations.

A Glaring Need

According to the Pew Research Center, an estimated 12 million Americans over the age of 65 live alone. A disproportionate 69 percent of that number—nearly 8.3 million—are women. While independence among senior citizens is often a desirable alternative to assisted living or nursing facilities, the reality is that a home that is suitable for a healthy, able-bodied adult may not be convenient or safe for an aging senior.

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Lombard estate planning attorneyMost people are familiar with the concept of different “stages of grief.” While you may not necessarily be able to list the five stages as they were introduced in 1969, you are most likely aware that grieving, for most people, is a process with fairly distinct elements. While there are other situations that could cause a person to go through the grieving process—such as a divorce or giving a child up for adoption—the most common is during the period following the death of a loved one. When you die, your children, grandchildren, and other family members will almost certainly experience a great deal of grief, which makes responsible estate planning all the more important.

What Are the Five Stages?

In 1969, a Swiss-American psychiatrist named Elisabeth Kubler-Ross published a book called "On Death and Dying" which introduced the stages of grief as she saw them. Based on her experience and study, she identified the five stages as Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. Despite being laid out as linear—suggesting that one stage leads into the next—the reality is much more complicated. A person who is largely in the Anger stage of grief is likely to experience moments or days of Denial and Depression. He or she may even skip a stage and effectively come back to it at a later point.

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Posted on in Estate Planning

Lombard estate planning lawyersThere are many things to consider when you are creating your Last Will and Testament. One you may have not considered is what will happen if your will is contested. A will contest is a lawsuit that an individual files in order to invalidate a deceased person’s will. Someone might file a will contest because they don’t believe a family member’s or friend’s will accurately reflects their true final wishes. Any intestate heir or beneficiary named in the person’s will can file a will contest.

In previous blog posts, we have talked about challenging the will of a recently-deceased loved one using a will contest. Today, however, we will look at how you can help prevent your will from being challenged. There are a few things that can be done to protect your will. One of these is a provision included in the will known as a “no-contest clause.”

What Is a No-Contest Clause?

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Lombard estate planning lawyerWhen most people are asked about the concept of estate planning, they immediately think about a will and how it can be used to determine what will happen to a person’s assets and property upon his or her death. A will is certainly one of the cornerstones of a comprehensive estate plan, but on its own, a will is not always enough. There are four major elements of estate planning, and an experienced attorney can help you address each one properly.

Protecting Your Property During Your Lifetime

While estate planning is largely focused on what will happen after you die, the process also includes ensuring you have enough financial security to live out the rest of your life as you see fit. Investment strategies and savings, of course, are important, but you may also want to take steps toward protecting your family business or income-generating real estate holdings. You should also consider assigning power of attorney for property to a trusted person who can make decisions regarding your affairs in the event that become incapacitated and unable to make such choices for yourself.

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Lombard estate planning lawyerWhen you get divorced, virtually your entire life is affected. Your relationship with your children changes, your living arrangements are different, and even your outlook on the future is likely to evolve. A divorce can also have a dramatic impact on the viability and the appropriateness of your existing estate plan. If you have recently gone through a divorce, it is a good idea to sit down with your lawyer and go over the details of your will, trusts, and any other estate planning tools you have in place.

Changes in What You Own

One of the most important reasons to update your estate plan after a divorce is the potential change to the property that comprises your estate. According to Illinois law, marital property must be divided equitably between divorcing spouses, which means that you probably own less now that you did when you were married. If your estate plan only makes general references to the property in your estate, the existing terms may be sufficient. Many estate plans, however, contain provisions for specific items or assets such as a particular vehicle or the family home. In the wake of your divorce, you may no longer own these assets, thus making an update necessary.

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DuPage County estate planning attorneysIn many ways, estate planning is similar to dieting and healthy living. We all know that we should eat better, exercise more, and spend fewer hours in front of computer and televisions screens. Compared to the total population, only a portion actually make a sustained, consistent effort at improving their lives. The same is largely true for estate planning. Most of us understand that it is important to have a formal plan in place for when we die. We know that it will be better for our families, and it could even benefit us during our lifetime. Yet, for some reason—or many reasons—more than half of American adults do not have a will or any other type of estate plan in place.

The similarities between estate planning and healthier living do not stop there. Have you ever been at the gym when someone pointed out that you were doing a particular exercise wrong? It can be frustrating, since doing something—even if your technique is not perfect—is better than doing nothing. Estate planning is no different in that regard, but there are several common mistakes that many people make as they go through the process, including:

  • Thinking an estate is too simple or small to need a plan. Are you over the age of 18? Do you have a car and a checking account? All adults should have an estate plan in place, even if the plan is very basic. Sure, you do not need a complex plan loaded with contingencies and endowments, but you should know what will happen to your assets upon your death. If you have children, planning for their future can also be part of your estate planning process;
  • Trusting that things will work themselves out. Life is full of surprises, both good and bad. Marriages, divorce, births, deaths, illnesses, addictions, new jobs, and financial windfalls can all create uncertain circumstances that should be accounted for in your estate plan. A well-developed estate plan can be created to include possible “what-if” scenarios, ensuring that your assets can be fully protected both now and in the future;
  • Choosing the wrong people to manage your estate. Your estate plan affords you the ability to choose an executor, as well as trustees or Powers of Attorney depending on your needs. Too often, people name someone just to get it done, with little thought given to the actual responsibilities in question. The results of doing so can be devastating not only to your estate but to your family’s stability as well; and
  • Forgetting the pets. You would not create an estate plan that failed to account for your young children, but many plans do not address family pets. Instruments such as pet trusts are available and relatively easy to set up so that your furry friends can be well provided for in the years following your death.

Contact a Skilled Lawyer

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Lombard estate planning attorneyThe ASPCA estimates that about 78 million dogs and 85.8 million cats are owned in the United States. For many people, their pet is a valued member of the family. They think of their pet not as a piece of property, but as a beloved companion. If you are one of these people, it is important to consider what will happen to your cherished pet when you are not around to care for it. A pet trust is an estate planning tool which can give you piece of mind that your pet will be looked after even if you cannot be the one to do so.

What Is a Pet Trust?

A trust is an arrangement that holds property or money for a beneficiary, often for when the creator of the trust passes away. Since a person cannot leave money or property directly to an animal, a pet trust legally enforceable arrangement regarding how your pet will be cared for in the event that you cannot care for it.

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Lombard estate planning attorneyWhen it comes to making decisions regarding the end of your life, there are many factors to consider. No matter how difficult it may be for you to think about, leaving such decisions to your loved ones to make can leave lasting feelings of guilt, regret, and wondering if they made the right choice. Fortunately, there are several ways you can prepare in advance regarding your desired end-of-life care. They represent an important but often overlooked element of the estate planning process.

Advance Medical Directives

There are two common ways in which you can make your end-of-life care decisions ahead of time, and both are considered types of advance medical directive. An advance medical directive, put simply, is contingency plan that specifies your wishes to be carried out if you are no longer able to make such decisions for yourself. Living wills and do-not-resuscitate (DNR) orders allow you to maintain control of your own life to the very end.

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Posted on in Estate Planning

Lombard estate planning lawyerDo you have a plan in place for what will happen to your body when you die? While this is not the most exciting topic to think about, it is an important consideration for you and your loved ones to make well in advance of the need. An overwhelming majority of Americans choose from one of two options: burial or cremation. Some families need the comfort that comes with being able to visit a grave or the closure of spreading a loved one’s ashes in a favorite place. There is a third option, however. You could choose to donate your body to science and provide ambitious medical students with their first patients.

Organ Donors vs. Whole Body Donors

In today’s society, there seems to be a stigma attached to the idea of donating one’s body to science or medical research, perhaps because it is simply seen as non-traditional. Burial rites play an important role in many religions, but orthodox adherence to religious customs has been on the decline for a number of years. Additionally, more than half of American adults—over 130 million people—are registered as organ donors. This means that while many individuals are willing to have their organs put to use in possibly saving another person’s life, they are significantly less willing to donate their entire bodies. Research suggests that there are fewer than 20,000 whole body donations annually in the United States.

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Lombard estate planning attorneyDeep down, most of us understand why having an estate plan in place would be a good thing. We know that we want our property and assets to be distributed among our family member or chosen charitable organizations. Put another way, we realize we “can’t take it with us” when we die. Despite these realities, more than half of American adults have not taken the time to draft a will, let alone develop a comprehensive estate plan. There are many possible motives why this may be true, but most tend to procrastinate on estate planning for largely the same reasons, including:

Death Is Scary

In a society that places such a high value on longevity and advances in health care, it should hardly be a surprise that people are hesitant to confront the idea that they will die at some point. That said, death will, one day, be a reality for everyone, and no matter what your beliefs may be regarding religion or the afterlife, your family members and your assets will be left behind. While our own mortality may be difficult, it is worth being uncomfortable for a little while to ensure your loved ones are provided for in your estate plan.

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Lombard estate planning lawyerWhile you may not know the specific requirements that make one valid in the eyes of the law, you are probably familiar the concept of a will. You most likely realize that most people use a will to specify how their assets will be handled after their death. Many individuals also utilize trusts in the process of estate planning. But, what exactly is a trust and how can they help with your estate planning needs?

What Is a Trust?

A trust, at its most basic, is a fiduciary relationship that allows a person—a trustor—to give the right to hold property or assets to another person—a trustee—for the benefit of a third party or parties. There are several types of trusts that are commonly used in estate planning, but each of them has a similar structure. Assets and property are typically placed in a trust to be distributed at a later date—or over time—to the trustor’s named beneficiaries.

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Lombard estate planning lawyersFor the more vulnerable members of society, especially the disabled and the elderly, life can become a complex dance of government forms and applications. Social Security (SSI/SSDI) is a prime example of this, with lengthy proofs required as to why disability is necessary and how to show you are not ‘gaming the system.’ However, the strictures of being on disability mean that a person is not entitled to possess assets above a certain amount, which can be prohibitive. Special or supplemental needs trusts (SNTs) have been used for years to help address this disparity.

What Is the Purpose of an SNT?

The primary purpose of an SNT is to help a disabled or elderly person afford better care than that to which they would otherwise be entitled. While Social Security disability (SSDI) has no asset limit, many people do not qualify for it, and instead apply to receive SSI (the program for low-income workers). However, when one is ruled eligible to receive SSI, one is entitled to retain only a certain amount of assets - for most people, no more than $2,000 in value. This is tenable for some, but for many others it amounts to enforced poverty. For those who are physically disabled, having such minimal assets and no ability to work (because a bank account and a paycheck are resources) can result in privation.

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Lombard estate planning lawyerFor many people, the first time they hear the word “trust” in relationship to financial matters is when it is used—often disparagingly—to describe a child of extremely wealthy parents. In the eyes of some working-class people, these “trust-fund kids” have things pretty easy, which may, in turn, lead to a negative connotation for the idea of a trust. Trusts, however, are extremely valuable tools with a wide variety of economic applications. When a trust, like a revocable living trust, is used in estate planning, it can dramatically ease the process of distributing the decedent’s property to his or her chosen beneficiaries.

What is a Trust?

A trust, put simply, as an arrangement that places assets and property under the care of a particular person, entity, or other third-party to be distributed to beneficiaries at some point in the future. The party responsible for managing the trust is known as the trustee and should be chosen with great care. There are many potential advantages to using a trust in place of or in addition to a traditional last will and testament.

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DuPage County estate planning lawyerThe likelihood of serious health issues increases dramatically as we age. To offer a quantitative example, Medicare reports that 30 percent of its expenditures each year are used on the 5 percent of its beneficiaries that die in that same year, with nearly a third of the costs accumulating during the beneficiaries’ last month of life. There are, of course, many considerations that are much more important than money, but the reality is that the best health care in the world does not allow us to live forever. This makes end-of-life planning decisions all the more important, especially as they pertain to your living will and death-delaying procedures.

What Is a Living Will?

A living will is a legal document that contains your wishes regarding the application and implementation of medical procedures that will delay your death but not necessarily heal you. Your living will is also known as an advance medical directive and is only intended to be used if or when you have been diagnosed with a terminal illness or injury. A terminal illness or injury is one that will cause death regardless of the medical care provided.

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DuPage County estate planning attorneyWhen most people think about estate planning, their minds immediately turn toward dividing the tangible assets of a recently deceased person among his family members and loved ones. Such a concept is not inaccurate, but it does not really tell the whole story. Traditional assets like homes, cars, cash savings, and furniture, of course, must be accounted for in your estate plan, but what about considerations made possible by modern technology like digital downloads and your Facebook account? An experienced estate planning lawyer can help you address such concerns so that your privacy is fully protected along the way.

Digital Assets

If you use your computer, tablet, or mobile phone with any regularity, chances are good that you have at least digital assets. These may include songs and movies downloaded through iTunes, funds left in a PayPal account, or scanned financial documents electronically stored on your computer. With internet security becoming such a hot-button issue, it can be difficult for a family member—presuming that he or she knows about the asset in the first place—to log in, make changes, or delete the account.

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Lombard estate planning lawyerWhen it comes to estate planning and documenting your wishes regarding your health care, it is important to know which options you have and to understand your rights before you put anything in writing. After all, this is your chance to speak your mind concerning what you do and do not want in the event you are incapacitated and unable to make decisions about your own health.

Acquainting yourself with the full scope of the options available to you can help you select the advance directives that best suit your needs and desires. Having these plans in place not only offers the advantage of bringing you peace of mind, but it can also benefit your loved ones as well by providing them with the comfort knowing you are prepared for the unexpected.

The Four Main Advance Directive Options in Illinois

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Lombard estate planning attorneyMaking any kind of estate plan is an emotional task, especially when the arrangements you are creating impact the ones you love most. Estate planning can be particularly challenging when you have to consider a loved one with special needs, as the circumstances surrounding their health and finances may mean more time and attention spent on details on your part to ensure they are properly cared for.

If your loved one’s capacity for self-care is limited due to a mental or physical disability, you thankfully have resources and options available to you. Illinois law allows you to offer assistance to your disabled loved one and protect their best interests, beginning with two special estate planning tools: a guardianship and a special needs trust.

Obtaining Guardianship

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