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Arlington Heights estate planning attorneysWhile many people assume estate planning only involves drafting a will or other estate planning document which dictates how assets are distributed upon an individual’s death, this is only one of many types of estate planning instruments which can benefit you. An advance directive, also referred to as a living will, medical directive, or advance decision, is a type of legal document which specifies how decisions should be made on behalf of an individual who is incapacitated by illness or injury. Read on to learn about how incapacity is defined for the purposes of these types of decisions in Illinois.

An Incapacitating Accident or Illness Can Happen to Anybody

If you are like most people, you have probably not given a lot of thought as to what would happen if you became unable to speak for yourself. Although we often think of incapacitation as something that happens to elderly people or those with Alzheimer’s Disease, the truth is that people of all ages can become incapacitated. For example, if you are in a serious car accident, you could suffer a head injury which leaves you in a coma. Who would make medical decisions on your behalf if this happened? Would you wish to be kept alive via artificial life support if there was little chance of recovery? These are the types of questions which can be addressed through an advance directive.

When Do Advanced Directives Take Effect?

There is not a specific set of criteria which is always used to determine when a person is incapacitated in Illinois. The situation will vary significantly based on the unique circumstances of the sick or injured person and his or her loved ones. If you are unable to speak for yourself and a loved one has petitioned the court to become your legal guardian, a judge will decide whether or not you are disabled to the point that you require a guardian. The Illinois Probate Act states that a disabled person is one who:

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Lombard estate planning attorneysWhen you hear the phrase “estate planning,” you might think of extremely wealthy people meeting with their lawyers and accountants to create wills and trusts that will facilitate the transfer of assets from one generation to the next. However, there is much more to estate planning than just wills and trusts. More importantly, estate planning is not just for those with extensive assets or complicated investments. Every adult should have an estate plan of some sort in place as a measure of protection in the event of a tragedy.

One estate planning tool that is often overlooked or misunderstood is the power of attorney. A power of attorney can be extremely useful in protecting your best interests should the unexpected occur.

Power of Attorney Basics

Using a power of attorney document, a person—called the principal—can appoint another individual to serve as his or her agent in financial matters. Illinois law also recognizes powers of attorney for health care which give agents the authority to make medical-relate decisions for the principals.

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Lombard estate planning attorneysIf you have started the process of estate planning, there is a good chance that you have spent some time thinking about how you will distribute your assets among your children, grandchildren, loved ones, and, possibly, charitable organizations. Depending on the size of your family or your circle of friends, it could be quite easy to overlook the pets that might be an important part of your life. Is it possible to look after companion animals like dogs or cats in your estate plan? In short, the answer to that question is yes.

What Are Pet Trusts?

Under Illinois law, a person is permitted to create and fund a trust for the stated purpose of providing for the care of “one or more designated domestic or pet animals.” The applicable part of the Illinois Trusts and Trustees Act (760 ILCS 5/15.2) does not specify the types of animals that can be covered, but a series of cases in Illinois courts have set precedents that allow pet trusts to cover dogs, cats, horses, and several other animals. Livestock, such as cows and sheep, are generally not eligible.

In order to establish a pet trust, you must specifically identify each animal to be cared for with funds owned by the trust. You will need to list the animal’s species and breed (if applicable), as well as its name, age, sex, and any other important factors like implanted microchips or tags. If your animal has any known health concerns, those should be noted as well so that the person you appoint to manage the trust—called the trustee—knows what to expect regarding the animal’s necessary care.

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Lombard estate planning attorneysThe benefits of proper estate planning cannot be overstated. Drafting a will, trust, or utilizing other estate planning documents puts you in charge of you and your family’s future in a way that nothing else can. Having a comprehensive estate plan also saves your loved ones the burden of making highly personal decisions on your behalf if you are incapacitated or pass away. Many married couples, especially couples with children, recognize the importance of estate planning. However, there are some situations in which one spouse is interested in estate planning but the other spouse does not want to participate. If you are married and interested in gaining the many benefits that come with a comprehensive estate plan but your spouse is disinterested, consider the following tips.

Consider Why Your Spouse Is Not Interested in Estate Planning

Estate planning can bring up many upsetting topics. Wills and trusts deal with what happens to your property upon your death. Advance medical directives dictate how healthcare and financial decisions should be made on your behalf if you are incapacitated through illness or injury. Naming a guardian for minor children forces you to consider who you would want to raise your children if you and your spouse pass away before the children are adults. It is completely understandable that many people would want to avoid these topics – especially if they do not understand the advantages estate planning brings.

Speaking with your spouse about why he or she does not want to participate in the estate planning process may give you insight about how to help them overcome their hang-ups. It is important to remember that while estate planning does deal with unpleasant topics, the peace of mind you will gain from having your plans in place far outweighs the discomfort of facing these topics. 

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DuPage County estate administration lawyersIf you have started creating your own estate plans or you have recently lost a loved one, you may have heard the term “probate.” This term is used to refer to the legal proceedings which transfers a deceased individual’s assets to heirs. If the deceased person, or decedent, has signed a will before he or she died, the probate courts determine whether or not the will is enforceable and oversee the distribution of the decedents’ assets. If a decedent does not have a will or the will is not enforceable, the probate process is much more involved. Because it can often be time-consuming and expensive, many people try to avoid probate through careful estate planning.

What Happens During Probate?

The probate process differs from estate to estate depending on several factors. If the decedent had a will, the judge will ensure that the will meets the criteria required by Illinois probate law. Wills must be written and signed by the deceased person. If evidence exists to suggest that the deceased person wrote their will under undue influence or that the will is fraudulent in some way, the will may be invalidated.

If the decedent had identified an executor in their estate plans, the judge will assign this person several responsibilities. The executor must distribute the decedent’s assets according to the will, notify the decedent’s creditors of the decedent’s death, pay the decedent’s final bills, and file income taxes on their behalf. Generally, the executor role falls to the decedent’s next of kin if there was no prior determination regarding this important responsibility.

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