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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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DuPage County family law attorney guardian ad litem

Many of the most important issues that must be resolved during the divorce process are related to the couple’s children, including parenting time, parental responsibilities, and child support. Often, divorcing parents place their children’s best interests as a high priority, and they may even be willing to work together to agree on a parenting plan without the court’s intervention. However, sometimes child-related issues in a divorce can be much more contentious, and the court may enlist the services of a guardian ad litem (GAL) to ensure that all decisions made are in the best interests of the children. If the court has assigned a guardian ad litem in your divorce, it is important for you to know what to expect.

What Does a Guardian ad Litem Do in Illinois?

One of a guardian ad litem’s most important responsibilities is to thoroughly investigate the case to which they are assigned and the issues at hand to gain an understanding of what would be in the child’s best interests. As part of this investigation, the GAL will interview the child and both parents, and they may also interview relatives, teachers, and other parties who have a relevant perspective, as well as request additional information regarding the child’s education and medical care and the parents’ criminal history.

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DuPage County family law attorney parenting time

After your Illinois divorce, you will most likely be spending less time with your children than you are used to, even if you have been granted the larger share of parenting time. Parents whose time is limited to weekends and the occasional weeknight or special occasion may find the aftermath of a divorce to be especially hard. With these limitations on time with your children, it is even more important to make the most of the time that you do have.

Tips for Quality Parenting Time

As you work to make sure that your parenting time is meaningful and to protect your relationship with your children, here are some suggestions that can help:

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Lombard IL living trust attorneyMany people associate estate planning with death, and as a result, they often miss out on a truly valuable instrument of asset protection and financial management during their lifetime. A great place to begin learning about and utilizing estate planning is what is known as a “living trust.” This estate planning resource can allow you greater control over the transfer of your assets to your loved ones when the time is right through a mechanism that bypasses the time and expense of probate. To begin benefitting from estate planning, whether through a living trust, a will, or other tools, work with an experienced Illinois estate planning attorney.

Functions of a Living Trust

Unlike a will or a testamentary trust, which become effective only upon your death, a living trust can become effective while you are living. For many, a primary reason to create a living trust is to protect assets from the probate process. This form of lawful asset protection is accomplished when legal ownership of the assets is transferred from you—the “grantor”—to the trust under the control of a “trustee.” The trustee holds the assets in trust for those you who have selected to benefit from them—the “beneficiaries”.

Importantly, the law even allows you to be named as the trustee of your own living trust, which permits you to retain full control of the assets held in the trust during your lifetime. You have the ability to add or remove assets, modify the terms of the trust, or revoke the trust as you see fit. It is also important to name a successor trustee who will take over management of the trust assets in the event of your death or incapacitation. After your death, the assets can then be distributed to your named beneficiaries according to your wishes.

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DuPage County family law attorney prenuptial agreement

Finding a new romantic partner and planning a future together is an important step for many people after the stresses of a divorce, and it has the potential to enrich your life in many ways. However, a remarriage is usually not as simple as a first marriage, and there are important matters that you will need to consider before making the decision to move forward. Your remarriage will not only affect your life, but also the lives of your children and even your ex-spouse.

Important Considerations for a Remarriage

The choice to remarry after divorce is personal, and you and your new partner will certainly have your own considerations that factor into your decision. That said, the following three issues are likely to arise in many remarriages, so it is wise to keep them in mind.

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DuPage County contested will attorneyIt can be traumatic when the loss of a loved one is coupled with shock and surprise over a will that transfers the estate’s assets in a way that appears inconsistent with the intentions of the deceased testator. If you are dealing with such a scenario in the wake of the loss of your parent, spouse, child, or another close relative, you may have the option to formally contest the validity of the will in question. In doing so, you should work closely with an experienced Illinois wills and trusts attorney.

 A Will Must Comply With Applicable State Laws to be Valid

Wills and trusts are serious business. As such, a will must comply with all formalities imposed by state law in order to be regarded as valid. For example, Illinois law requires that a will must be signed by the person whose estate it concerns, who is known as the “testator”. In addition, the testator’s signing of the will must occur in the presence and hearing of two valid witnesses. In most cases, in order to be a valid witness of a will, a person must not be a beneficiary of the will. If you have reason to believe that the will was not created in accordance with these requirements, you may have grounds to contest it.

The Drafting and Execution of a Will Must Be Free from Undue Influence and Fraud

In addition to signature and witness requirements imposed by Illinois state law, the drafting and signing of a will must be free from undue influence and fraud. Undue influence exists when a testator is subjected to extreme pressure or severe duress to the extent that free will is suppressed. When mental or physical capacity diminishes with age, a testator may be particularly vulnerable to undue influence exerted by individuals lacking scruples.

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Lombard estate planning lawyerA last will and testament can serve as the backbone to any estate plan. It can be used to determine who will become the executor of your estate, who will inherit what, and who will assume guardianship of your children or your pets. But, there are some things that a will cannot do. In some cases, the limitations are set by state laws or federal regulations. However, there are also situations in which additional documents can be used to ensure your final wishes are carried out.   

When Incapacitation Precedes Death

Wills are meant to cover what happens after your death, but not all accidents, illnesses, or chronic health conditions lead to immediate death. When incapacitation occurs, whether it is short-term or long-term, physicians will follow standard protocols. If you have wishes that deviate from that standard of care, additional estate planning documents are needed. Examples include:   

  • Power of Attorney for Health Care: Also called a medical proxy, giving someone power of attorney over your health care allows him or her to make medical decisions for you, should you become incapacitated.

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Lombard estate planning lawyerIt seems that at least a dozen times a year, we hear of families fighting over the distribution of assets of a deceased person’s estate. At first glance, it may seem silly to squabble over such matters, but many underestimate the emotional value that can be placed on a tangible item. Maybe it is that china set used for family holiday dinners that everyone is fighting over. Or, perhaps it is simply easier to focus on the argument than the grief of losing a loved one.

Unfortunately, asset and estate arguments can also damage family relationships. Feelings get hurt. Words are said that are not truly meant. Resentment can live on long after the assets have found their homes. And, a good share of the estate may have been lost while trying to resolve the matter in probate court. Thankfully, careful planning can prevent family arguments before they start, regardless of any underlying issues.

Wills and Trusts – How They Differ

When people consider creating an estate plan, wills are what typically come to mind. However, there are many other tools that can be used when creating an estate plan—some of which may make all the difference between a family fight and a peaceful division of assets.

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Wheaton family lawyerLaws throughout the United States, including in Illinois, require both of a child’s legal parents to contribute to child support to provide for basic needs until the child reaches the age of 18. However, many children benefit from the financial support of their parents even after they reach adulthood, especially if they want to pursue a college education. In general, parents are not legally required to provide support under these circumstances, but Illinois law does include a provision through which both parents may be ordered to contribute to their children’s college expenses after a divorce or separation.

When Is a Child Eligible for Support for College Expenses?

Parents are, of course, free to make their own arrangements to contribute to their children’s higher education under any circumstances. However, after a divorce or separation, it may be best for a parent to pursue a legally binding order that ensures that both parents contribute. In these cases, an Illinois court will only consider issuing an order if the following criteria are met:

  • The child must usually be under the age of 23, but support may continue until the age of 25 if there is a valid reason.

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Lombard estate planning attorneyVideo wills are not a new concept. In fact, they have been around since the early 1980s—basically since video cameras became widely available to the general public. You may have even seen one featured in a show or movie, probably used for dramatic effect. Maybe the owner of the fortune cut someone out of the will at the last minute or made conditions through which an heir might receive their fortune. Are they really legally binding, though? More importantly, should you use one for your estate plan? The following explores this interesting and unique option, and provides some details on how to execute it properly, should you decide this is the right option for you. 

Video Wills and Your Family

One of the biggest reasons that individuals decide to read their will on video is because they want to give their family one last memory. For some, it is a way to heal broken bonds. For others, it is a way to comfort from beyond the grave. Whatever your reason, ensure your intentions are pure. No matter how angry or irritated you might be with a member of your family, no matter how distant the two of you might have become, they will still likely grieve losing you. So be sensitive and kind. It will be their last memory of you.

Video Wills and the Law

Though a video may give your family comfort after your death, it will not be considered legally binding on its own. Illinois law requires that a will be written, and it must be signed in the presence of at least two witnesses. This means that you will likely still need a written document that has been kept in a safe place in addition to your video will. Of course, the video could still be used as evidence to prove that you were of sound mind at the time of creating the will, should any of your family members contest the will’s validity. Still, it is important that you speak with your estate planning attorney to determine what (if any) legal value a video will lend to your situation. 

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DuPage County divorce attorney spousal maintenance

As you contemplate whether to get a divorce, one of your biggest concerns may be your ability to support yourself financially without your spouse’s income, especially if you are a stay-at-home parent or you are out of work for other reasons. In these cases, you may be able to make the case for spousal support as part of your divorce resolution. It is important to understand when spousal support, otherwise known as maintenance or alimony, is awarded and how long it may last so that you can plan accordingly.

When Is Spousal Maintenance Awarded?

If you and your spouse have a legally valid prenuptial or postnuptial agreement that provides for the amount and duration of spousal maintenance in the event of a divorce, you can likely expect the court to honor that agreement. However, in any other case, decisions regarding spousal support are settled at the time of your divorce. You will either need to negotiate for maintenance with your spouse or demonstrate to the court that you have a need for it. Some reasons the court may consider include:

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DuPage County divorce attorney parenting time

For many families, the winter holidays are a time for celebration. They can also be a time of heightened emotions, and those feelings are not always positive. Families who have recently gone through a divorce may still be coping with grief, sadness, even anger, and they may understandably find it hard to recapture the joy of past holiday seasons. However, this does not mean that this year’s holidays cannot be enjoyable in a different way. 

Approaching the Holidays as a Divorced Parent

As a parent, there are a few things you can do to help make the holidays less sad or stressful and more enjoyable after your divorce. Here are some suggestions to consider:

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Lombard estate planning attorneyThe 2015 landmark ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges was a game-changer of epic proportions. All couples—regardless of gender or sexual orientation—were given the right to marry in all 50 states. As such, they were afforded the very same rights as all married couples, including tax breaks and exemptions, ownership equality, and legal mechanisms that ensure survivorship and guardianship rights.

But, more than five years later, many couples are still facing legal challenges. Some are the same challenges experienced by all married couples. Others are completely unique to LGBTQ relationships. Regardless, couples should plan accordingly with an estate plan that reflects their needs and wishes in the event of an unexpected health complication or death.

Rights Under the Marriage Equality Law

Just like all other married couples, same-sex couples may file their taxes jointly, receive the same tax exemptions, have access to survivorship benefits under all pensions, insurance, and retirement benefits, give tax-free gifts to one another, and have spousal priority and identity in the event of their partner’s incapacitation or death. These provisions are guaranteed at both the state and federal levels and cannot, under any circumstances outside of divorce, be revoked by any government agency.

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DuPage County divorce attorney mediation

Many divorcing couples try to avoid the time, cost, and stress of a trial by pursuing an uncontested divorce, in which they come to an agreement on many important decisions. However, this can be easier said than done, and in many cases, it helps to seek the assistance of a qualified divorce mediator. Mediation can be especially beneficial when attempting to resolve the often complicated matter of dividing marital assets, property, and debts.

What Is the Role of an Illinois Divorce Mediator?

Unlike a divorce attorney, whose role is to represent the interests of one of the parties, a mediator remains neutral and seeks to guide negotiations between spouses to allow both perspectives to be heard, minimize conflict, and identify opportunities for agreement on the way to a finalized resolution. While there is usually some financial cost for divorce mediation, it is often lower than the expenses that the two parties may face if the divorce goes to trial.

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DuPage County family law attorney paternity

In many cases involving unwed parents, establishing legal paternity is important to ensure that the child has the financial support of both parents, and that the mother can rely on assistance from the father by way of regular child support payments. However, establishing paternity can also be crucial for unmarried fathers who wish to be part of their children’s lives, in that it helps them secure important father’s rights.

Benefits of Establishing Paternity for Unmarried Fathers in Illinois 

If you are an unmarried father, taking the steps to establish legal paternity can ensure that you have parental rights that may come into play in several different legal situations. One such situation is a potential adoption proceeding involving the child. If you have been legally recognized as the child’s father, the adoption of the child by another party will usually require your consent in addition to that of the child’s mother. By withholding your consent, you may be able to prevent an unwanted adoption and ensure that you remain your child’s legal father.

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Lombard estate planning lawyerThose with children often create an estate plan because there is this sense of responsibility—a need to ensure their children are cared for in the event of a premature death. In contrast, individuals that do not have children tend to overlook the importance of an estate plan, either because they assume they have time and do not feel the same sense of responsibility, or because they simply do not believe that one is necessary. Whatever the reason behind it, failing to create an estate plan can have devastating results.

Where Will Your Assets Go?

When you are married or have children, it is fairly easy to determine where your assets will go. If you fail to create a will and have children or a spouse, they are typically the default heirs for anything you have left behind, even if the matter has to be resolved in probate court. But, where do those assets go if you have no heirs? If you have not named a charity or individual to receive your assets, most often, your hard-earned money will end up going to the government.

Who Will Make Medical Decisions for You?

Imagine a car accident, a sudden illness—any kind of situation that could possibly leave you in a coma or unable to make your own medical decisions. Who will decide what type of treatment you should receive? Who will determine if your quality of life has diminished too greatly for you to continue living on machines? Again, when you have a spouse or children, the responsibility of this decision typically rests with family.

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DuPage County divorce attorney

Psychological research shows that when children are exposed to high levels of conflict between their parents, they may suffer from many long-lasting effects, including an increased risk of anxiety and depression. When you are in the midst of a divorce, it can be hard to shield your children from conflict entirely, but the more that you are able to do so, the better the position your children will be in to cope with the divorce and recover from the emotional trauma that it brings.

Protecting Your Kids from the Negative Effects of Conflict

The following suggestions can help you mitigate the effects of conflict on your children both during and after the divorce process:

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Arlington Heights, IL divorce attorney parenting plan

If you are a parent who is planning to divorce in Illinois, you may already be thinking about how you and your spouse will share child-related responsibilities. As part of the divorce process, you will be asked to describe the allocation of parental responsibilities and parenting time in your “parenting plan” and submit this plan to the court. If the court approves of the plan, the plan becomes a part of the legally enforceable divorce decree. Illinois law lists the issues that must be addressed in a parenting plan, but these are only the minimum requirements. You and your child’s other parent have the option of including additional agreements in the plan as well.

Planning in Advance to Prevent Future Conflict

Most parents have different beliefs, ideas, and strategies when it comes to raising their children. These differences can develop into arguments and legal disputes after divorce. One of the best ways to prevent conflict regarding child custody issues is to create a detailed parenting plan describing each parent’s responsibilities and expectations. The more you agree upon during the creation of the parenting plan, the fewer issues you will need to sort out in the future.

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Lombard estate planning lawyerFor married individuals, estate planning is typically pretty straightforward, as most assets are often allocated to a surviving spouse and/or children. However, statistics show that more people are opting for the single life with no children—either permanently or at least until later in life. This creates some important considerations when determining what to do with your savings and assets in the future.

Should You Wait to Create Your Estate Plan?

It can be tempting to wait to create your estate plan until you are married or older. However, it is important to consider the unexpected. Accidents, health conditions, and other unpredictable incidents can end your life suddenly or place you in a vulnerable medical situation. Because of this, every person over the age of 18 should create and execute appropriate estate documents, including a will, powers of attorney, and an advance medical directive such as a living will.

A large part of the importance stems from the risk of being incapable of making financial or medical decisions. However, you should also consider that, when there is no will or trust, the government takes predetermined paths that eat up valuable assets that could have gone to someone else.

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Wheaton family law attorney divorce

For many people, a divorce is a time of heightened emotions, including sadness over the end of your marriage, anger at your spouse’s behavior, and fear surrounding what will happen next. It can also be a huge source of stress, as you face the prospect of making important decisions that can affect the rest of your life, and possibly going through a lengthy trial or negotiation process. During this difficult time, it is more important than ever that you focus on your mental health while letting an experienced attorney help you navigate the legal proceedings. 

Strategies for Promoting Mental Health

It can be hard to put your mental health first with everything else competing for your attention during the divorce process, but here are some suggestions that might be beneficial:

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