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DuPage County estate planning attorneyIf you have already developed an estate plan, congratulations! You are already a step ahead of more than half of American adults. However, it is also important to understand that estate planning is not a “set it and forget it” undertaking—to borrow a phrase from a well-known infomercial. You need to review your plan on regular basis to make sure that it is still ready to meet your evolving needs. In addition, there are certain situations or life changes that may require you to update or make changes to your estate plan.

Getting Married or Divorced

When you get married, your new spouse does not automatically become a beneficiary in your existing estate plan. He or she will only inherit a portion of your estate if you update your plan. On the other hand, a divorce will nullify any provisions in your will that pertain to your ex-spouse, but only once the divorce is finalized. You will need to choose a new beneficiary to receive the portion of the estate once meant for your spouse.

Keep in mind that you will need to update your named beneficiaries on retirement accounts and other investments. A divorce will not automatically revoke your ex’s status as beneficiary for those type of assets.

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Lombard divorce lawyersEveryone knows that when you get divorced, your ex-spouse gets half of everything—unless you have a prenuptial agreement. That is just the way it works, right? Well, not exactly. Not in Illinois anyway, along with about 40 other states. The idea of an equal 50-50 split applies only to the nine states that maintain a standard known as community property in divorce. The remaining states, including Illinois, use what is called an equitable distribution standard, which may vary slightly from state to state, but generally requires a more in-depth consideration of a divorcing couple’s property and circumstances.

Determining and Valuing the Marital Estate

The equitable distribution guidelines in Illinois are contained in the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act. The process begins with establishing which assets belong to the couple and which belong to each individual spouse. Those that belong to the couple include all property acquired by either spouse during the marriage with limited exceptions for gifts, inheritances, and judgments. Assets owned by either spouse prior to the marriage, along with the exceptions to marital property, are non-marital property and not subject to division. The value of the marital estate must also be determined, which may require the assistance of various experts, including real estate appraisers, financial advisors, and other professionals.

Considerations for Equitable Distribution

Once the marital estate has been established and valuated, the court must make a determination regarding the portion of the estate to be allocated to each party. In doing so, the court is required by law to take into account:

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Lombard estate planning attorneysYour family should not need to worry about your finances and assets after you die. That is why it is so important for you to create an estate plan. Even people of modest means have an estate and multiple options to choose from to ensure that their affairs are in order when the time comes. Two popular options are wills and living trusts. Understanding the difference between the two can help you decide which one is your best option.

A Last Will and Testament

A will is a legally binding written document that dictates how your property and assets will be distributed when you die. You can modify your will at any point during your lifetime, which means that the terms are not set in stone at the time of writing them. You can use a will to name a guardian of minor children in the event of your death, decide how debts and taxes will be paid, and name an executor of your estate.

Living Trusts

A living trust is a legal entity that is created to hold and own property. A trust is managed by a trustee, which is usually the owner, at least during his or her lifetime. The owner is also usually the beneficiary while they are alive. A trust usually names a successor trustee who will take over the management of the trust when the owner dies. Your assets can be dispersed to named beneficiaries when you die, and you will be able to maintain privacy regarding how these affairs are handled.

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DuPage County family law lawyersFinancial and property considerations can be a very complicated part of the divorce process. It is often difficult to determine who should get what and how much is fair based on the specific circumstances of the case. For many couples, the concepts of dividing marital assets and spousal maintenance might seem like two, very separate ideas. In reality, they are often very closely related, and in many cases, decisions regarding one directly affects the other.

Spousal Maintenance

Spousal maintenance, or alimony as it is sometimes called, is intended to help a financially-disadvantaged spouse ease some of the economic impact of a divorce and a post-divorce life. To determine if maintenance is needed, in the absence of an agreement between the spouses, the court must take into account a number of factors regarding the marriage and divorce. These include each spouse’s income and needs, as well as their contributions to the marriage and toward the earning capacity of the other. The court will also consider the length of the marriage and the standard of living that was established.

Property Division

Similarly, when the division of marital property is left to the court, the circumstances of the marriage and divorce must also be weighed carefully. The court must take into account—again—the income and needs of each spouse, as well as any claims of dissipation, which spouse wishes to remain in the marital home, and any provisions regarding the couple’s children.

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Lombard estate planning attorneyWhen married people create an estate plan, both parties are generally involved. What can you do, though, if you want to get serious about planning your estate and your spouse is still reluctant to get on board? Nagging certainly will not do the trick, nor will threatening or begging. Still, there are some ways that you may be able to ensure your heirs do not get shortchanged. It may be helpful to learn a few strategies for dealing with a spouse who seems hesitant to get on board.

Do What You Can On Your Own

While it is best to have your spouse on your side before you create an estate plan, you may not ever be able to persuade them. This does not mean you cannot create an estate plan. In fact, there are strategies that you can use on your own to ensure your assets go to the right people and charities. Assets that are yours—solely yours—can be drafted into an estate plan, regardless of whether or not your spouse participates. Further, you can ensure you have named your power or attorney for health or financial decisions just in case you ever become incapacitated.

You should also ensure you have a complete log of any joint accounts, should you outlive your spouse and end up becoming the executor of their estate. This can help you avoid any last-minute confusion and may even expedite certain issues, even if they failed to create their own estate plan. Further, if you and your spouse should pass away together, your other heirs will still have the information they need to manage your joint assets.

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Lombard divorce lawyersOnce you have reached the decision to end your marriage, the real work must begin. You and your spouse will need to decide how to divide your property, how to make arrangements for your children, and how to adjust to your new post-divorce lives. Before you can get there, however, one of you will need to start the legal process of divorce by filing a petition for the dissolution of marriage at the county courthouse. Many clients approach us with questions about this, often wondering how important it is to be the one who file for divorce and whether it makes any difference at all.

Knowing the Law

The divorce process in Illinois is governed by the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (IMDMA), which is a comprehensive collection of statutes that address matters from choosing a venue to how parenting time matters will be decided by the court. A divorce, as a matter of law, is essentially a legal action used to dissolve a marital contract between two parties, and, as such, in every divorce, there is technically a plaintiff and a defendant. These terms, however, are far less important in a divorce than in other areas of the law, such as personal injury or criminal law, and, in fact, the IMDMA refers to the parties in a divorce as a plaintiff or defendant in just one paragraph.

The IMDMA does, however, make more references to a petitioner and a respondent. The petitioner is the spouse who initiates the proceedings by filing the divorce petition, making him or her formally the plaintiff. The non-filing spouse is the respondent and is given the opportunity to file an answer to the petition including motions of his or her own. For the remainder of the proceedings, each party maintains equal status as a party to the case, with the ability to file motions, request considerations, and present evidence. From a legal standpoint, therefore, there is little official advantage to filing for divorce before your spouse does.

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Lombard estate planning attorneysDuring probate, the formal vetting process all wills must go through, heirs who believe a will is invalid can challenge that will in court. For example, if a relative worries that his elderly grandmother was coerced into agreeing to her will, he can contest that will. The court will examine the evidence and make a decision to either enforce the will or start from scratch and distribute the deceased person’s property according to state law. Wills can also be contested for dishonest reasons. For example, an heir who is unsatisfied with his or her inheritance may contest the will simply in an attempt to receive a greater inheritance. If you wish to make your will much less susceptible to being contested in court, a no-contest clause may be right for you.  

What Exactly is a No-Contest Clause?

A no-contest clause, often called a terrorem provision, is a set of directions written into a will or trust which addresses potential contests. The Latin phrase “In terrorem” literally translates to “about fear.” It is called this because the provision includes a penalty for anyone who tries and fails to contest the will during probate. If a disgruntled heir challenges the will without justification, that heir may be penalized. In this way, a no-contest clause can help discourage heirs or beneficiaries from challenging a will or trust.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_court-gavel-judge-jurisdiction.jpgThe application and enforcement of the law can be very complex in many situations. This can be especially true in cases related to allocated parental responsibilities—formerly child custody—and parenting time, or visitation. One of the fundamental principles of law is the concept of jurisdiction, which refers to the authority that a particular county, state, or federal court system maintains over the parties and the subject matter of the case in question. Only a court with appropriate jurisdiction can make decisions and enter orders in accordance with applicable statutes.

In some situations, jurisdiction may be fairly straightforward. For example, if you live in DuPage County, and were injured in an accident near your home caused by another resident of DuPage County, you probably realize that the DuPage County circuit court has jurisdiction over your case, and your claim should be made there. In other cases, however, jurisdiction may not seem quite so clear, at least to the average citizen. One such example can be found in the area of family law. If your parenting plan and parental responsibilities orders were entered in Illinois, and you decide to move out of state, which state has continuing jurisdiction over your family’s case?  Fortunately, there are laws in place to address this exact scenario.

Relocation and Substantial Change in Circumstances

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Lombard estate planning attorneySome people are just born rich. They are fortunate to be part of a family with wealth going back several generations. Others manage the impossible and win the Powerball jackpot, becoming enormously wealthy virtually overnight. Most people, however, work very hard throughout their lives to accumulate the assets and property that make up their estate. You have probably made sound financial decisions and put in the hours to earn what you have, so when it comes time to decide what will happen to your assets upon your death, you have the right to do so.

Keep in mind, however, that while the right to make decisions about your estate is yours and yours alone, such decisions are not made in a vacuum. The choices you make are likely to have an effect on your family members and loved ones. Whether that effect is positive, negative, or neutral depends on your circumstances and how you handle them.

Eliminating Assumptions

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Lombard divorce attorneysIf you and your spouse are having serious problems in your marriage, one of you may decide to find another place to stay while you figure out what to do next. You might, for example, stay with a family member so that you can gather your thoughts about how to proceed. This practice is so commonplace that most couples would not even consider a divorce while still sharing a home.

Just because something is a common practice, however, does not mean that it is a legal requirement. In fact, it may come as surprise to learn that Illinois law does not require any period of separation in most divorce cases.

Knowing the Law

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Posted on in Estate Planning

DuPage County estate planning attorneyIn the comedy show Parks and Recreation, there is a scene where Ron Swanson is being lectured about how his impressive estate is not covered by a will. He replies that he does have a will and that he wrote it when he was eight years old. To the horror of his financially-savvy colleague, Ron pulls out a small folded note with a few scribbles on it. If you have thought about creating your last will and testament, you may have wondered if you can simply write the instructions down in a notebook or on a piece of paper. The answer varies depending on where you live, but it is important to note that Illinois wills must meet certain criteria to be legally binding.

States Vary on Rules Regarding Handwritten Wills

The enforceability of a handwritten will depends on state law. Many states do accept handwritten wills that meet other criteria, but each state’s laws vary with regard to witness requirements. The purpose of having witnesses sign off on people’s wills is to ensure to the court that the will’s creator, called a testator, signed the will of his or her own volition. Testators must have the mental capacity to understand what they are signing and cannot be coerced into signing a will. Having witnesses also helps guarantee that the signature on the will is that of the testator and is not forged. Nevertheless, in some jurisdictions, witnesses are not required to be present for a handwritten will to be legal. This is known as a holographic will. Two witnesses must be present when the will is signed in other jurisdictions.

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Lombard divorce attorneysAlthough it is not required, the majority of women who get married change their last name to match that of their new husband. This can lead to an unexpected challenge if the marriage ends. If you are planning to end your marriage through divorce, you may be wondering what you should do about your last name. Some women choose to keep their married name post-divorce while others go back to their maiden name. Still, others come up with completely unique solutions to the dilemma of what to do with their last name as a newly-single woman. Whatever you decide, make sure to consider both the short-term and long-term effects on your personal and professional career.

The Decision to Keep Your Married Name Is Completely Your Own

Except in very rare circumstances, the choice of whether a divorcing woman changes her last name from her married name to something else is completely up to that woman. The vast majority of divorce decrees do not include requirements about names. The decision is a deeply personal one and can be influenced by a wide variety of factors. One thing many women consider is what the name symbolizes to them. For some, keeping their ex-husband’s name may bring up too many painful emotions. Other women are able to separate the name itself from the memories of their marriage or for other reasons do not feel negatively towards their married name.

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Lombard estate planning lawyersIf you have started the process of planning for your family’s future through a comprehensive estate plan, you have probably considered where many of your possessions will go. Perhaps your car will be gifted to a grandchild, while your home will be sold and the proceeds split between your children.

When deciding what will happen to physical property, many otherwise-dutiful estate planners forget about their digital assets. Have you considered what should happen to your personal documents and data stored online after you pass away? What about your social media accounts? The world is becoming more and more digitized with each passing day, and it is important we account for this in estate plans.

What Exactly Is Considered a Digital Asset?

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Lombard spousal support attorneysIf you will soon be getting divorced, you may believe that you have the right to receive spousal support—also called maintenance—payments from your soon-to-be-ex-spouse. Spousal support, unlike child support, is not automatically assumed to be necessary in every Illinois divorce. Under Illinois law, the court must take each case individually to determine if a maintenance award is actually needed to promote an equitable outcome. This means that if you think you are entitled to support, you will probably need to ask for it explicitly.

Marital Misconduct Is Not a Factor

Unless you and your spouse included behavior clauses in a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement, the court will not consider the conduct of either party when deciding whether to award maintenance. While your spouse’s behavior may leave you feeling like he or she owes you some type of restitution, the law in Illinois specifically prohibits marital misconduct from being a factor in maintenance proceedings. Spousal support is meant to help you meet your financial needs and obligations, and is not intended to be used as a punitive measure against your spouse.

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Lombard estate planning lawyersOne of the most important steps of creating a last will and testament is choosing the personal representative—or executor—who will oversee and manage your estate after you pass away. This individual will have several important responsibilities, so it is important that you choose someone who is competent and able to handle the job. There is no perfect way to choose the right executor, but there are some guidelines you should keep in mind as you create your estate plan.  

Responsibilities of the Executor

The legal representative named as the executor of a will has several duties. Firstly, he or she must estimate the value of the deceased person’s (testator’s) estate. A list of property and assets including bank accounts, retirement accounts, real estate property, fine art or expensive jewelry, stocks and bonds, and other items must be drafted and assessed during probate. Additionally, the executor must pay the deceased person’s taxes and debt as well as file a personal income tax return on their behalf. He or she will also have to pay estate taxes and distribute the testator’s remaining property to beneficiaries as per the directions stated in the will.

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Lombard divorce attorneysIf you are considering ending your marriage, you probably have a thousand different concerns. Will I be too lonely living by myself? How will the divorce affect my children? How will I tell my friends and family? Unfortunately, there is no way of getting through a divorce pain-free, but there are some steps you can take to help you cope with the emotional burden of ending a marriage.

Strategy 1: Do Not Take It Personally

It is reasonable to assume that if your marriage was unhealthy, the divorce will not be the most cooperative or collaborative process either. Often, couples getting divorced continue to struggle with the same issues they struggled with when they were married. If your spouse attempts to sabotage efforts to end the divorce efficiently and amicably, do not take it personally. Someone acting out in childish or hurtful ways toward you does not reflect on your character; it reflects on theirs.

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DuPage County estate planning attorneysWhen one thinks of estate planning, the main legal tool that most often comes to mind is the last will and testament. Of course, having a will in place is tremendously important. Not only does a will give you the peace of mind that your possessions and property will end up in the right hands after your death, it also helps your loved ones wrap up your estate much more quickly and efficiently than would otherwise be possible. Even though wills are vital, they are not the only estate planning documents we should be concerned about. As you plan for your future, make sure not to overlook these other important legal and financial implements. 

Advance Health Care Directive

An advance health care directive is a plan that is made ahead of time in regard to a person’s health care. Illinois law allows citizens to create four different types of advance directives: a medical power of attorney; a living will; mental health treatment preference declaration; and a Do-Not-Resuscitate (DNR)/Practitioner Orders For Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST). Depending on your circumstances, you may wish to use more than one of these types of documents to plan for your future.

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Posted on in Adoption

Lombard adoption attorneyIf your spouse has a child from a previous relationship, you know how sensitive and complex issues related to parenting can be. While you may not be the child’s biological parent, it is understandable that you would wish to offer a positive, reliable adult influence for the child—not to mention an authority figure with whom the child is comfortable sharing concerns and problems. With time and effort, you are likely to find a sense of family starting to develop. In some situations, the bond becomes so strong that the stepparent is willing to take on the legal responsibilities of parenthood through the adoption process.

Is the Adoption Appropriate?

When you are thinking about a potential stepparent adoption, you must be aware that the decision to adopt affects the child as much or more than it affects you. You might ready, willing, and able to accept the duties of a legal parent, but that is not enough to make the adoption the right choice. If the child has a healthy, productive relationship with a second parent—other than your spouse—there is little reason to try to cut that parent out of the picture, and a stepparent adoption would probably not serve the best interests of the child. If, however, there is effectively no second parent or the other parent has shown to be uninterested in being a parent, your adoption might serve the child well.

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Lombard living trusts attorneyWhen you are beginning to prepare an estate plan, it is important to remember that you are not just planning for the time after your death. An estate plan is necessary for more than just the rich—though that designation can be quite misleading. An estate plan is an outline set up by anyone—including those in lower- and middle-class income sectors—that determines what will happen to one’s assets and property. For those who may tend toward the higher end of the socioeconomic spectrum, it may be in your best interest to establish a living trust, which is a tool that can be used to manage your assets while you are still alive. Among other benefits, living trusts can useful in protecting certain assets and maintaining eligibility for government financial aid programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.

Two Types of Living Trusts

There are two main types of living trusts: irrevocable and revocable. The vast majority of living trusts are revocable, meaning that they can be amended or revoked at any time by the creator. When you create a living trust, the assets you select are transferred to the trust and ownership is in the trust’s name rather than in the name of an individual. Your designated trustee then administers the trust, meaning that the trustee makes decisions for the leveraging, sale, or gift of any assets in the trust. Most people name themselves the trustee of their own living trusts, meaning that there is essentially no difference in the way that one administers his or her own assets—only that they are now technically owned under the umbrella of the trust.

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Lombard family law attorneyAs a divorced parent, you have probably had to work through a number of difficult discussions with your child. You may have been the one to break the news of your divorce to him or her and, in the time since, you may have answered dozens—if not hundreds—of questions about the future. Now, as you consider getting remarried, you will need to address difficult topics with your child once again.

Every Family Is Different

Your approach to talking with your child about remarriage will depend on a number of factors, including how long it has been since your divorce, the role of the other parent in the child’s life, and your child’s age and maturity. The relationship between your child and your new partner is also a major consideration. For example, if your child was very young at the time of your divorce and has come to see your new partner as a member of the family already, the conversation may much easier in many regards. By contrast, if you only recently got divorced and your child is extremely close with your ex-spouse, your child may not be prepared to accept a new stepparent so willingly just yet.

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