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IL estate lawyerAlthough pop star Britney Spears was a household name in the 90s and early 2000s, the singer faded into the background in later years. However, a new legal battle has returned Spears’ name to news headlines. Concerns over a court-appointed conservatorship have led many to question exactly when an adult should be subject to guardianship. Some believe that Spears’ father’s control over her finances is a despicable abuse of power. Others see it as a necessary means of assisting a woman with a history of mental instability and substance abuse issues.

Understanding the Purpose of Guardianships and Conservatorships

Estate planning terms vary from state to state. In Illinois, the term “conservatorship” is often used synonymously with guardianship of a person’s estate. A conservator or “guardian of the estate” is in charge of managing the finances of another individual. A “guardian of the person” manages the non-financial concerns in the person’s life, such as housing and medical decisions. Both conservatorships and guardianships give authority of a person’s life to another party. Conservatorships and guardianships are typically used to protect the interests of minor children or those with dementia or other conditions that reduce the individual’s ability to make sound decisions.

Why Was Britney Spears Subject to a Conservatorship?

For over 13 years, Britney Spears has been subject to a court-appointed conservatorship which gives control of her affairs to her father Jamie Spears. The conservatorship was established in 2008 amid concerns over the singer’s mental health problems and drug and alcohol use. Spears has attended several rehabilitation facilities for substance abuse and has also been placed in the hospital under psychiatric holds on two occasions. However, many proponents of the #FreeBritney movement say that conservatorship is no longer necessary. Spears has requested that her father be removed as conservator and for a financial institution to take control of her estate. In February of this year, a judge denied this request and ruled that both Jamie Spears and the financial institution would oversee Britney’s financial affairs. Britney will attend a hearing on June 23 to address the ongoing legal battle.

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Lombard IL estate planning lawyerWith just one glance at the hundreds of statutory provisions in the Illinois Probate Act, you can tell that the estate administration process can be overwhelming and complex. Unfortunately, it is usually necessary for most estates to go through probate. The timeline varies widely based upon the circumstances of the case, but the proceedings can take several months to more than a year. It can be disheartening to think about the time and cost involved, and you may be wondering if there is anything you can do to avoid the probate process. The good news is that there are multiple strategies for sidestepping a drawn-out court case, and one or more of them are often suitable to achieve many of your estate planning goals.

1. Joint Ownership of Certain Assets

For any real estate you currently own jointly, as well as property you purchase with someone in the future, you can title it as “joint tenants with right of survivorship” to avoid the probate process. It is also possible for joint tenants to have survivorship interests on a vehicle registered in Illinois. When this language appears on the deed or Certificate of Title, your interest in the asset passes to the other joint owners by operation of law when you die–not through the probate process.

2. Beneficiary Designations

Another way to pass on assets outside of probate is through beneficiary designations, which will also lead to an automatic transfer of ownership upon your death. Typically, you would include a beneficiary for a life insurance policy, as well as some bank and investment accounts. You can also name a beneficiary on an Illinois vehicle Certificate of Title.

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Lombard estate planning attorneyNo matter what your age, a will can offer numerous benefits as part of a comprehensive estate plan. As the AARP notes, your will serves as a roadmap for stating your intentions, distributing your possessions to beneficiaries, and wrapping up your final affairs. With a will, you maintain control over your assets instead of being subject to Illinois intestacy laws and reduce the potential for disputes among surviving loved ones, saving time and money in the estate administration process.

What you may not know is there are a few objectives you cannot accomplish by creating a will. This can lead to surprises if you expect to achieve certain goals, so it is wise to consult with an estate planning attorney regarding the details. Here is an overview of four things you cannot do through your will.

1. Evade Creditors

If you incurred debts or related legal obligations during your lifetime, you will not be able to get rid of them through your will. Your creditors can still pursue your estate, and in some cases, specific beneficiaries, to obtain payment. The person you name as executor cannot avoid debts, because they will be required to provide notice to creditors and pay verified claims.

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DuPage County estate planning lawyerIf you have already created a will, you should be happy to count yourself among the majority of Americans in certain age groups who have done so as well. According to AARP, almost 70 percent of individuals aged 65 years and older have prepared a will, as have just under 60 percent of people ranging from 50 to 64 years old. Like you, these testators appreciate having more control over their final affairs and the Illinois estate administration process, as well as knowing their assets are better prepared to make it to the hands of their intended beneficiaries.

However, there is much more to estate planning than just a will. Without other critical documents, there could be substantial gaps in your estate plan. As such, it is wise to talk to an estate planning attorney about other arrangements outside of your will, such as:

Health-Related Advance Directives

Some of the most critical estate planning documents provide advantages before your passing. Illinois allows for different kinds of advance directives, which provide instructions on how to handle your health care and medical needs if you become incapacitated. These include:

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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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