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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 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 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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