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Lombard special needs trust lawyerIf you are considering ways to provide for a loved one with special needs, you have probably discovered the inherent conflict with giving money directly: Any funds you contribute could make this individual ineligible for benefits under the Social Security SSI program, Medicaid, and other forms of public assistance. Your heart may be in the right place, but you could be doing more harm than good when it comes to qualifying for needs-based programs that focus on income and assets.

With this information in mind, you may have also come across special needs trusts when researching ways to provide support. In short, this legal structure allows you to place funds in a trust managed by a trustee who makes permissible distributions that enable your loved one to still qualify for public programs. An estate planning lawyer can help with the details specific to your case, but you might benefit from knowing a few basic things about special needs trusts.

Creating a Third-Party Special Needs Trust 

You establish a third-party trust when you make the arrangements for a disabled beneficiary, often by appointing yourself as trustee. A first-party special needs trust would be one created by the person with special needs, such as when he or she received a settlement or inheritance. The distinction is important, since a first-party trust must pay Medicaid back when the beneficiary passes.

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DuPage County family law attorney paternity

In today’s world, it is becoming increasingly common for parents to have children while they are unmarried. However, this can lead to issues when it comes to establishing the paternity of that child. Establishing paternity is an important step in securing the same parental rights and responsibilities for the father of a child that are not automatically granted when parents are unmarried. Most of the time, paternity cases are aimed toward proving the paternity of a child, though in some cases, disproving the paternity of a child can be just as important. The easiest way to deny the paternity of a child is to sign the Denial of Parentage form at the hospital when the child is born; however, this does not always mean you are off the hook for parental responsibilities.

Fighting the Presumption of Paternity if You Are Married

In the state of Illinois, a man is presumed to be the father of a child if he was married or in a civil union with the mother at the time the child was born or during the 300 days prior to the child’s birth. This is true even if the child is not the man’s biological child, which is where issues can arise. If the presumed father is not the child’s biological father, he can sign a Denial of Parentage form, stating that he is not the father. However, he will still be considered the child’s legal parent and held responsible for child support unless the biological father signs a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity (VAP) form confirming that he is the child’s biological father. 

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Lombard, IL estate planning lawyerOne of the main goals of estate planning is to ensure that your wishes regarding your assets and property are carried out after your death. Of course, a qualified estate planning attorney is equipped to help you prepare the necessary documents and instruments to make the process relatively simple for you. For many of our clients, however, the real challenge is determining exactly what their wishes are. It can be difficult to decide who is to receive what portion of your estate, and while an attorney cannot tell you how to choose your beneficiaries when drafting your will, we can offer some things to consider.

Include Variety

It may be very tempting to oversimplify your will by naming your spouse as your only beneficiary. Or, perhaps, in acknowledgment that your spouse may not outlive you, you may choose to leave everything to one child. In creating your will, it is important to remember that you are planning for the future, which is always uncertain. Having a sole beneficiary can essentially negate most of your effort should something happen to that beneficiary, and suddenly, the disposition of your assets is dependent upon his or her own estate planning decisions.  By choosing multiple beneficiaries, or even designating secondary or tertiary beneficiary levels, you and your executor will maintain more control over the distribution of your estate.

Consider Family Dynamics

Although it may not seem fair to have to do so, you should also give thought to the way in which your family is likely to react to your decisions. Try to avoid a “who cares, I’ll be gone” attitude. In your estate planning, you have the opportunity to promote family harmony or to sow discord. Obviously, you cannot always predict emotional reactions, but you can take reasonable precautions and eliminate potential loopholes. For example, you may choose to leave a majority of your estate to one child with the understanding that he or she will distribute the inheritance among siblings and descendants. An “understanding” is not the same as explicitly naming the other beneficiaries, however, and there is no law preventing the beneficiary child from keeping the full inheritance.

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DuPage County family law attorney child custody

In Illinois, the term “child custody” was replaced by the “allocation of parental responsibilities” in 2016. Instead of one or both parents having “custody” of their children, the parents are expected to create an agreement that allocates the parental responsibilities and parenting time—formerly known as visitation. This agreement is called a parenting plan, and it involves careful consideration to create one that makes the children’s well-being a priority. 

What Is a Parenting Plan?

When getting a divorce, the parents of children must decide how the children will be taken care of after the separation. A parenting plan will be drafted that explains which parent has what responsibilities, and who the children will see, and when. A schedule will be created that both parents and the children will follow after the divorce. That schedule may include what days children spend with either parent, who picks up the children from school, and what activities each parent is involved in. 

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DuPage County family law attorney divorce mediation

If you are getting a divorce, you might want to consider employing divorce mediation to help both you and your spouse reach a fairer and less stressful dissolution of your marriage.

In addition, many other issues in family law could be resolved through mediation as well, including child custody. Here is some more information about mediation in case you are considering it for you and your family.

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DuPage County estate planning lawyerIt is tragically common for children of any age to experience serious problems following the death of a parent. What may have begun as typical sibling rivalry and relatively minor annoyances may develop into an irreparable chasm between brothers and sisters when their mother or father is no longer there to mediate. In some cases, sibling estrangement is inevitable, as years of competition and hurt feelings may eventually lead to a permanent rift. In other situations, however, conscientious estate planning by the parent can help prevent more serious problems from developing.

If you have noticed that your children struggle to get along with each other at times, an experienced estate planning attorney can help you put together a plan designed to reduce friction and promote healthy relationships.

Discuss Certain Elements of Your Plan in Advance

Jealousy is one of the most common factors between estranged siblings, but communication can often alleviate such feelings before they become problematic. Before you formalize your estate plan, sit down with your children and have a frank discussion about the future. Your children are not responsible for making your estate planning decisions, but their input can be very valuable in developing a plan that will foster ongoing relationships when you are gone.

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Lombard estate planning attorneyAccording to an analysis of information from the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of couples who choose to live together without getting married skyrocketed from 230,000 in 1995 to over 1.5 million today – a 550 percent increase. Included in these numbers are older couples who choose to cohabit without the various legal protections that a legally recognized marriage offers. This lack of protection can have a significant impact on rights of inheritance and other estate planning concerns.

At our firm, we have helped hundreds of families develop an estate plan to meet their unique needs, and we understand the challenges that unmarried, cohabitating couples may face. There are steps that both younger and older couples who cohabit should consider to ensure that if something should happen to one of them, the other is both financially and legally protected.

Transferring Assets

Couples who are married are entitled to tax-free transfers of at least a significant portion of assets upon the death of one spouse. Cohabiting couples, however, are not afforded that same benefit. That is why it is essential for unmarried couples to have a will in place that clearly specifies what their wishes are when it comes to those assets. It may also be a smart move to consider a living trust, which allows for more control during your lifetime and can help to avoid the costs and uncertainty of probate.

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DuPage County family law attorney parenting time

divorce does not just affect you and your spouse. It also has a significant impact on your children. What used to be one home now becomes two. They may have to change schools, make new friends, and will rarely spend time with both parents. Holidays, birthdays, and even soccer games are going to be different. Of course, children can and do adjust. How well they do so is often reliant upon how well their parents get along once the divorce process is complete. This is why all parents should work exceedingly hard at successfully co-parenting during and after their divorce.

#1. Stay Focused on What Is Really Important

It is easy to get caught up in the swirling emotions of divorce. Your anger, bitterness, or sadness may cause you to fight for things that might not otherwise matter. Alternatively, you may give up things that are important, just to get the process over with. Neither will serve you or your child well in divorce. You deserve time with your child, as does your spouse. The little things you are arguing over may not matter in a few years. So, rather than argue over the details, try to keep your focus centered on your child. Know when the fight is worth the effort, and when it is better to just let go.

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DuPage County estate planning attorneyDo you have a plan for the allocation of your property and assets in the event of your death? Such concerns can be difficult to address, as many people, including a large number of my clients, have trouble with the concept of death and estate planning. It is extremely important, however, to formalize arrangements for your estate well in advance. As uncertain as the future may be, leaving your estate in the hands of the state without a will or other direction can be even more unpredictable. Personal assets that are not addressed in a will or a trust are known as intestate property and will be allocated by the state in accordance with its intestacy laws.

Intestate Succession

The condition of intestacy is created, generally, when a person dies without a will. In the event a will was created but did not make provisions for certain assets or contain broader provisions for unaddressed assets, intestacy laws are applied to the specific, unaddressed property. When a person dies intestate, Illinois law requires that all debts and obligations of the deceased must be satisfied before any property may be allocated. Once that is completed, a seemingly endless list of “if-then” possibilities govern how the estate is to be divided.

For example, if a person dies intestate, leaving a spouse and children, then intestacy laws provide that the spouse receives half of the person’s assets, and the children receive the other half. If the deceased has children but no living spouse, the children inherit everything. The same would be true in reverse: with no children, but a surviving spouse, the spouse would inherit the entire estate. When a person dies intestate with no spouse or descendants, the law then looks to parents and siblings of the deceased, and the complexities increase.

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DuPage County family law attorney order of protection

While you are in a relationship, it may difficult to recognize the signs of domestic abuse. However, just as you may recognize the symptoms of an illness, there are signs to be aware of that show that you may be a victim of abuse. It is important to recognize these signs and take steps to protect yourself and your family from harm. 

What Is Domestic Abuse?

In Illinois, physical harm, willful restriction of personal liberties, threats, harassment, and stalking are all considered domestic abuse. Accusations of abuse are very serious, and they could lead to criminal consequences such as jail time or fines, as well as decisions in family court that affect divorce proceedings and a person’s parental responsibilities regarding his or her children. 

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DuPage County living will attorneyIt is understandably difficult for many people to consider their own end-of-life health care decisions. They may convince themselves that they will have plenty of time to think about such things when the time comes. What if you do not have plenty of time, however? What if, for example, you are suddenly diagnosed with a fast-moving illness or terminal injuries? Being prepared is always the better option, and a power of attorney for health care and a living will can help you stay ahead of life’s unpredictability.

What is a Power of Attorney for Health Care?

While a living will and power of attorney for health care can be used in conjunction with each other, it is important to understand the basic differences between the two. A power of attorney for health care grants an individual or entity of your choosing—known as an agent—the authority to make medical and health-related decisions on your behalf should you become unable to do so. This typically applies to situations of mental or physical incapacitation. The power of attorney may include specific directions for the agent regarding your wishes, and any health-related concern you have not specifically addressed will be decided at the discretion of your appointed agent.

What Can I Include in a Living Will?

Compared to a power of attorney, a living will is a bit more specific. The Illinois Living Will Act provides the applicable guidelines for such documents, or declarations, as they are statutorily known. A living will is sometimes called an advance medical directive and is used to outline your wishes regarding “death-delaying procedures” in the event you are suffering from a terminal condition. A declaration would only take effect if you were unable to give directions related to your care.

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Lombard IL estate planning attorneyMore than half of all Illinois households include at least one family pet. Of course, in many homes, a companion animal like a dog or cat is much more than a pet; they are a part of the family, with their own personality, temperament, and individuality. But, have you considered what will happen to your beloved animal friend in the event that you are no longer able to care for them? Through the estate planning process, you have probably begun to address your home, car, and the guardianship or care of your children. However, it is also important to plan for the ongoing care of pets. Fortunately, there is a tool known as a pet trust, that when used properly can offer you the peace of mind that comes with knowing your dog or cat will be well cared for, even if you cannot provide the care.

Why Not a Will?

According to the law, pets—even domestic animals—are considered property. However, in various applications, including divorce, courts have begun recognizing that there are some special considerations that must be made. While pets are not quite human, they are certainly different from property like furniture or artwork. For the purposes of estate planning, the Illinois legislature has created the ability for a pet owner to establish and fund a pet trust to provide for the care of companion animals after the owner’s death. As property, pets can also be included in an owner’s will, but given that a will has to go through the often time-consuming and messy process of probate, a trust allows the animal to be settled into its new home and environment much faster with less hassle.

Elements of an Illinois Pet Trust

You should, of course, work with a qualified estate planning attorney when developing the terms of your pet trust, but the law in Illinois provides some basic guidelines. When deciding how much money to set aside for the care of your pet, it is important to realize that the court may reduce the amount if it is deemed to be unreasonable. Setting aside too much could also give rise to a will contest by disgruntled would-be heirs claiming that you were not mentally competent during the estate planning process.

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DuPage County family law attorney parenting time

There used to be just two options for married couples: Stay together or get divorced. Now there are conscious uncouplers, bird-nesters, and even those who turn their traditional marriage into a “parenting marriage.” This last non-traditional family unit—the parenting marriage—is gaining a lot of traction lately, particularly among those who are at a deadlock in their marriage but still want to see their children every day. Could this model realistically work for your family as an alternative to divorce?

What Is a Parenting Marriage?

In many ways, a parenting marriage is a lot like a traditional marriage. The couple is (usually) still legally married, and they continue to live in the same house. However, their marriage is no longer an intimate relationship. Instead, it is a platonic one. They do not share the same bed, there is little to no physical intimacy, and most have separate finances and accounts. The sole function of their marriage is to raise their children together under the same roof without the stress of trying to mend a relationship that is no longer working.

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DuPage County estate planning attorney wills and trusts

If you were to ask your children or other family members what you should do about dividing your assets and property upon your death, you would likely get a variety of answers. Some may suggest that you just divide it equally—without offering ways to determine what “equal” means. Others may remind you that you can make any arrangements that you want since it is your property. Of course, chances are also good that the same family members telling you to do whatever you think is best could be the same ones who are offended when they discover that their inheritance is not what they expected it would be. Fortunately, a qualified estate planning lawyer can offer a great deal of insight into planning for the future and, based on previous experience, can even provide advice on how to prepare your family for what is ahead.

Determine Your Priorities

Those who remind you that you have the right to do with your estate what you wish are exactly correct. You certainly have that right. However, it is important to consider how dividing your assets could affect your family and loved ones over the long term. You may decide that you do not really care if family members are upset or offended by your choices since you will be gone, and that too is your right. For many people, the specific property and assets that each heir receives are far less important than maintaining stable, trusting family relationships. Although it is not true in every situation, you may have the power with your estate planning decisions to positively or negatively affect your surviving family. Use it wisely.

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DuPage County divorce attorneyEnding a marriage is a difficult endeavor with many possible financial pitfalls from which a person may spend years trying to recover. In fact, one study suggests that it may take as long as five years to overcome the financial impact of a divorce. In some cases it may take even longer, possibly decades. However, there are ways to minimize the financial risks of divorce, especially if you are well prepared and you have the guidance of a qualified divorce attorney.

The Intersection of Divorce and Debt

Most Americans have debt. Some fail to manage it responsibly, but others are diligent about only taking on obligations they can afford. However, both groups are at risk of financial difficulties after a divorce. This is due, in part, to the splitting of one household into two. Each party must now cover their own separate bills, housing expenses, and utilities. They must also be able to pay the share of the marital debt that was allocated to them, which can be difficult to manage on a single income. The more debt a couple has going into the divorce, the higher their risk typically is.

How Divorce Planning Can Help

Instead of leaving themselves open to financial risks during and after divorce, couples can plan for the event and adjust their situation accordingly. This might mean putting off the divorce until debts are paid, or determining who will be responsible for each debt ahead of time. This can be done through mediation or other forms of alternative dispute resolution. Alternatively, if an agreement cannot be reached, it may be necessary to take an aggressive litigated approach to protect your interests during the divorce process. In either case, the assistance of an attorney is highly encouraged.

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Lombard estate plan lawyerEstate planning can be a complex matter, with state and federal laws to consider, but the initial steps do not have to be complicated. In fact, almost anyone can complete an effective estate plan with the right mindset and good advice from an experienced estate planning attorney. While some estates are more complicated than others, there are basic concepts that apply to virtually every situation.

Know Your Assets

From your real estate property, to the remainder of your retirement plan, to your beloved baseball card collection, it is crucial that you know what you own before you start the estate planning process. Start by gathering detailed documents for all of your financial accounts, including bank accounts, savings bonds, and retirement accounts, as well as your real estate, vehicles, and other large assets. Then make a list of family heirlooms and property that may have value. If necessary, have items appraised so that you know how much you are leaving to each of your heirs.

Determine Who Will Inherit From Your Estate

There are many ways to determine how your assets are distributed upon your death. For example, you could lay out detailed terms of inheritance in your will, or you could establish trusts that give you greater control of the distribution and allow your assets to bypass the probate process. It is also important to determine how you will prioritize your spouse, children, grandchildren, other relatives and friends, and possibly charitable or community organizations. How you distribute your assets is up to you; just make sure you have a plan, because it can save you both time and money when meeting with your attorney.

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DuPage County family law attorney divorce

When it comes to health complications, divorcees have the odds stacked against them. In fact, studies have linked divorce to everything from weight gain and depression to an increased risk of experiencing a heart attack. Granted, an increased risk does not mean you will experience a stroke, nor does it mean you should avoid divorce if it truly feels like the right path for your life. However, it does suggest that divorcees should know how to protect their health and mitigate against the risks.

Examining the Possible Link

Nearly anyone who has endured divorce can tell you it is an emotionally, mentally, and sometimes even physically trying experience. Thankfully, the stress usually diminishes over time, but the damage could already be done by the time things calm down. In fact, experts now believe that stress may be the driving factor behind all links to potential heart conditions. It certainly makes sense when you consider what stress does to the body.

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DuPage County family law attorney parenting time

The divorce process often involves challenging questions regarding how parents will fairly allocate parenting time and decision-making responsibility regarding important issues related to their children’s health and education. Sometimes, these issues must be resolved through trial litigation, while in other cases they can be settled out of court by parents who are committed to working together for the sake of their children. However, even the most cooperative and committed parents have been tested by the COVID-19 pandemic, and divorced parents who are healthcare workers face unique challenges when it comes to co-parenting and acting in the best interests of their children.

Co-Parenting Issues in a Health Crisis

If you or your former spouse works in healthcare, you have likely faced many of the following challenges in your attempts to co-parent effectively in the past year:

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DuPage County probate attorneyWhen an Illinois resident dies, his or her estate will often need to go through the process of probate. In Illinois, probate is required to validate and administer the decedent’s will, or to determine that the decedent did not have a valid will in place. Depending on the circumstances, probate can be a long and daunting process, and it may be a source of stress when there are arguments about the estate, but understanding the process can go a long way in helping you through it.

The Role of the Executor or Estate Administrator

During the probate process, an estate executor or administrator manages the assets and debts of the deceased. If there is a valid will, it will usually name the person who will serve as executor. In the absence of a will, the court will appoint an administrator, which will often be the closest surviving family member. Named executors can decline their duties if they are unwilling or unable to fulfill them.

Handling Creditors During Probate

During probate, the decedent’s heirs are not the only people who may be entitled to assets from the estate. Creditors may also come forward to pursue unpaid debts. By law, they must do so within the fixed time period allotted to them. In addition, the IRS must be paid any and all income taxes due. This cannot be avoided by selling assets—in fact, selling assets may be necessary to generate the necessary funds to pay the outstanding debts and taxes. Only then can the remaining assets be distributed to heirs. A final income tax return must also be filed for any assets that earn income during the probate period.

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Lombard IL estate planning attorneyEstate planning can be simple, but most often, it is a bit more complex than most people realize. Regardless of your situation, the best way to ensure your wishes are known and followed after your death is to have the proper documents in place by creating a will and appropriate trusts with the help of a skilled estate planning attorney. It also helps to know some of the most common mistakes made by those creating estate plans, including:

Failing to Plan at All

The statistics are alarming: more than half of all Americans do not have an existing will. Unfortunately, if you die without an estate plan, your assets will be divided according to the intestate succession laws of Illinois. Not only is it highly unlikely that this will happen according to your wishes, but the process of probate can end up chipping away at—and potentially decimating—the assets you have left behind.

Another concerning matter is that, if you should die without a will and have minor children, there is no guarantee as to who will assume responsibility for their guardianship until they become adults. Avoid this common mistake, and take the first steps in creating an estate plan today.

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