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Lombard estate planning attorneysWhen a family member or close friend passes away, figuring out what paperwork you need to find can be overwhelming and confusing. Especially if you are the executor of the estate, you will have several important responsibilities including paying the deceased person’s bills and taxes, manage their assets, obtaining a death certificate, and more. You will need access to several different documents in order to complete these tasks. If you loved one created an estate plan before they passed away, finalizing their affairs will be much easier than if they had no plans.

For this reason, and many others, everyone should have a will, trust, or other estate planning tool in place – even if they do not own a great deal of high-value assets. When you pass away with an estate plan, the burden on your surviving loved ones is significantly less that it would be if you did not have an estate plan.

Locate the Following Documents When a Loved One Passes Away

When a friend or family member passes away and you are responsible for settling their final affairs, there are many different pieces of information and paperwork you will probably need. These include but may not be limited to:

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DuPage County estate planning attorneyIn Illinois, wills, trusts, and other estate planning documents must meet certain criteria in order to be valid. In order for the court to uphold a will, the person who created the will, called the testator, must fully understand the provisions contained in the will and the consequences of these provisions. If a testator was forced, under undue influence, or could not comprehend what he or she was doing when he or she signed the will, the will may not be legally binding. If the validity of the will iscontested and the court finds that the testator did not consent to the directions contained in the will, it could be thrown out completely. If you have a loved one with dementia who wishes to draft a will, you will need to take special precautions to ensure that the will is legally enforceable.

Testamentary Capacity Explained

The term “testamentary capacity” refers to a testator’s mental clarity and understanding. Testamentary capacity is also sometimes called “sound mind and memory” or “disposing mind and memory.” Testators as presumed to have testamentary capacity unless there is convincing evidence to the contrary. If your loved one wishes to create a will or other estate planning document and he or she suffers from dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease, or another illness that affects cognition, this could be grounds for his or her testamentary capacity to come into question.

Ensuring That Your Loved One Has Testamentary Capacity

Your loved one deserves to have his or her final wishes followed. In order to ensure that the will is not considered invalid due to testamentary capacity concerns, you should ensure that your loved one meets Illinois criteria for proving testamentary capacity. The Illinois Probate Act of 1975, states that an adult has the authority to draft a will if he or she “is of sound mind and memory.” Illinois appeals court case Beyers v. Billingsley addressed exactly what constitutes sound mind and memory in 1977. There are three conditions that must be met in order for a testator to have sufficient testamentary capacity. A person is of sound mind and memory for the purposes of estate planning if he or she can:

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Lombard estate planning attorneyMany people do not realize it, but taking steps to prevent identity theft is an important part of estate planning. Sadly, more and more criminals are taking advantage of grieving families by stealing the identities of deceased individuals. An identity thief can use a deceased person’s name and personal information to obtain and use credit cards that are in the deceased person’s name, apply for loans, falsify tax returns, and more. If your loved one’s identity is stolen after they pass away, you will be burdened with resolving the issue with law enforcement and financial institutions. Follow these steps to minimize the chances of your loved one’s identity being stolen after they pass away.

Tip #1: Notify Interested Financial Companies of the Death

When a loved one dies, it is usually up to the executor of the estate to contact financial institutions and close accounts. It is important to do this as soon as possible. Unscrupulous individuals can take advantage of the window of time between when an individual dies and when the decedent’s finances are settled. Contact every bank that your loved one had an account with and notify them that your loved one has passed away. You should notify the banks even if the deceased person’s spouse or another person is still listed on the accounts. You will also need to notify any lenders, mortgage companies, or investment companies your loved one had business with.

Tip #2: Close Credit Cards and Contact the Major Credit Bureaus

You will need to compile a list of all of your loved one’s credit card accounts so that you can close them. Looking through their purse or wallet can give you some information, but a better idea may be to request a copy of their credit report. You should also continue to monitor their credit report for suspicious activity. The Social Security Administration (SSA) will eventually notify the credit bureaus of your loved one’s passing but doing so yourself may expedite the process and help prevent an identity thief from opening a new line of credit under your loved one’s name. Sometimes a funeral director will contact the SSA on behalf of a family, but contacting the SSA, as well as the Internal Revenue Service, is ultimately the surviving family member’s responsibility.

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Lombard estate planning attorneysPreparing a will is, for many people, the cornerstone of estate planning. For some, a will can be enough to cover much of their estate, while others may require additional planning instruments to meet their needs when they are gone. Regardless of the size of your estate, choosing an individual to oversee the execution of your will is one of the most important determinations that you will have to make during the estate planning process. A person or entity tasked with such responsibility is called an executor in Illinois—sometimes known as a personal representative in other states—and should be worthy of the trust that you have placed in him or her to protect your assets and property.

Duties of the Executor

An executor may be a financial institution, trust company, or other entity, but in most situations, it is an individual person, often a friend or family member. Upon your death, your executor will be responsible for:

  • Locating and compiling your assets, if you have not already done so;
  • Notifying creditors, and satisfying outstanding debts or other obligations with funds from your estate;
  • Manage all assets during the process of probate;
  • Distribute property to surviving spouse and dependents, as required by law; and
  • Distribute remaining property to beneficiaries named in the will, or as required by law.

If your estate is valued at less than $100,000, Illinois law permits your executor to close the estate without court involvement. Estates that exceed a value of $100,000 must be handled through probate court unless other estate planning steps have been taken to avoid the probate process legally.

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DuPage County estate planning attorneysIt is hard to believe, but the winter holiday season is just about upon us once again. While Thanksgiving evolved as a celebration of the harvest and is, therefore, a fall holiday, it is also seen by many as the first of the winter holidays that also include Christmas, Hanukkah, and New Year’s. For the next month or so, families throughout the country will be getting together to eat, drink, and honor traditions that stretch back for many generations.

If your family will be getting together during the holidays, you might consider taking advantage of the opportunity to discuss your estate plans. Obviously, talking about what will happen after your death might not be the most comfortable discussion ever, but having the conversation now could go a long way toward preventing disputes and family infighting later.

Things to Talk About

This estate planning discussion does not need to last for many hours, nor does it need to be terribly detailed. The main goal is to let your loved ones know that you have created an estate plan and that the plan includes several important decisions. It is up to you to decide who should be included in the discussion, but most experts agree that your spouse and all of your children should be present, if at all possible.

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