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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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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 estate planning attorney wills and trusts

If you were to ask your children or other family members what you should do about dividing your assets and property upon your death, you would likely get a variety of answers. Some may suggest that you just divide it equally—without offering ways to determine what “equal” means. Others may remind you that you can make any arrangements that you want since it is your property. Of course, chances are also good that the same family members telling you to do whatever you think is best could be the same ones who are offended when they discover that their inheritance is not what they expected it would be. Fortunately, a qualified estate planning lawyer can offer a great deal of insight into planning for the future and, based on previous experience, can even provide advice on how to prepare your family for what is ahead.

Determine Your Priorities

Those who remind you that you have the right to do with your estate what you wish are exactly correct. You certainly have that right. However, it is important to consider how dividing your assets could affect your family and loved ones over the long term. You may decide that you do not really care if family members are upset or offended by your choices since you will be gone, and that too is your right. For many people, the specific property and assets that each heir receives are far less important than maintaining stable, trusting family relationships. Although it is not true in every situation, you may have the power with your estate planning decisions to positively or negatively affect your surviving family. Use it wisely.

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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 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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Wheaton estate planning attorney

When you are setting up your Illinois estate plan, it is important to consider more than just the laws that exist today. It is also a good idea to plan accordingly for rising interest rates. Of course, it is impossible to predict the future. However, there are some wealth-transfer strategies that could minimize the impact of estate taxes while also offering some additional tax breaks to trustees later on down the road.

Using Intra Family Loans

Some families opt to provide an intra family loan to their adult children, or they may transfer a promising investment to pass down an inheritance. Paired with a promissory note that requires the adult child to pay interest, the net returns of these investments are a tax-free transfer of wealth.

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Lombard estate planning lawyerWhen creating an estate plan, most parents have the very best of intentions in mind. By taking the time to lay out their wishes, they are usually trying to not only manage their assets but also to provide for their heirs well into the future. Unfortunately, a lack of understanding of estate tax laws can lead to serious and significant mistakes—sometimes in the form of “tax bombs” for their children and grandchildren. You most likely have no intention of leaving behind unpleasant surprises for your heirs, so it is important to work closely with an experienced estate planning attorney to ensure that everything is arranged properly.

Tax Levies Will Vary

Tax levies—or the amount owed by an heir after receiving an inheritance or gift—can vary drastically, depending on a number of factors. Such factors include the size and value of the inheritance and how the asset was transferred to the heir. If, for example, a parent passes down an asset before his or her death, hoping to protect the asset from long-term health care costs or to avoid having the asset pass through probate court, the item can usually be considered a gift. Depending on the value of the gift at the time of the transfer and the amount originally paid for the item, the child may be required to pay gift taxes on the difference. The bigger the difference, and the higher the value of the item, the bigger that tax will likely be.

Advance Preparation May Protect Assets

Instead of using the gifting process to protect large assets from probate court or being chipped away at by long-term healthcare costs, individuals can utilize other planning and preparation tools to effectively manage their estate. One such example would be the use of a revocable living trust.

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Lombard estate planning attorneyIn life, there are few absolute truths; the fact that things change is one of them. When such change includes divorce or remarriage, other aspects of your life—including your estate plan—must be adjusted to accommodate. Failure to do so can result in negative consequences, particularly for those who stand to inherit. So, if you are planning a major life change, it is important to know how you can address it accordingly in your Illinois estate plan.

Estate Planning After a Divorce

After a divorce, all of your financial documents must be reviewed and updated as needed. This, of course, includes all aspects of your estate plan, including your health or financial powers of attorney, beneficiaries, life insurance policies, and retirement accounts. Keep in mind, however, that these changes should be done according to the agreement made during your divorce. In some instances, the judge may rule that your ex-spouse remains a beneficiary on certain policies or accounts—possibly as security for maintenance or child support payments. Clarify these agreements whenever possible, and always request written confirmation from insurance companies or life insurance companies to ensure they have received your change requests.

Also, remember to make considerations regarding any family members of your ex-spouse. Under Illinois law, any provisions in your will and many other estate planning documents that pertain to your spouse are automatically voided when your divorce is finalized. However, this is true for your spouse only. Any provisions that you made in your estate plan regarding your spouse’s family will remain in effect until you change them. Failure to do so could mean that your in-laws will inherit a portion of your estate upon your death, and there will be little anyone can do about it at that point.

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Lombard estate planning lawyerThere is nothing wrong with a little do-it-yourself (DIY) work. In fact, there are few things that are quite as satisfying as a job that you have done well. However, there are times when a particular job is best left to the professionals. You would not try to completely rewire your house if you had no experience in electrical work. Similarly, estate planning should be done with the help of someone with working knowledge and experience in the industry. Granted, an estate plan gone wrong may not pose the same physical threat as an electrical DIY project, but there are still dangers that can and should be avoided.

The Importance of a Clear and Valid Estate Plan

When it comes to mistakes in estate planning, the future of your loved ones may be placed at risk. Efforts to save money in the short-term—such as using commercially available kits or DIY programs to create your estate plan—could end up costing your heirs more down the road. Unclear or improperly executed estate plans can take months, if not years, to hash out in probate court. All the while, your estate dwindles as a result of attorneys’ fees, taxes, court costs, and other administrative expenses. In some cases, this could take a sizable chunk out of your estate, which means you will be leaving behind a lot less than you had intended.

Common Mistakes Made in DIY Estate Planning

The opportunity for mistakes in estate planning are nearly endless. Some are more common than others, however. For example, many DIY estate planners use the wrong documents or make critical errors in their preparation. Others fail to accurately consider the tax implications of their estate. For example, a DIY estate planner may draw up a plan according to federal tax laws but fail to factor in how local state taxes will affect their estate. Or, they may attempt to consider both state and federal tax implications but improperly calculate their earnings or the value of their estate.

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estate planning, family future, Lombard estate planning attorneysAlthough it is a subject that many Americans would rather not think about, eventually our individual lives will end and our loved ones will inevitably be left with burdens, be it emotional, financial, or both. Decades ago, when someone passed away, there were no credit cards, families did not travel as much, and divorce was taboo. Everything that was left behind generally either went to the state or the family members left behind. With the growing complexity of family structure in conjunction with our spending habits, the need has arisen to secure a plan for after we die. Legal documents such as wills, trusts, and other estate planning measures can help protect the future of your loved ones after you pass.

Know the Difference

The best and most direct route of starting the process is to know which option is best for your current circumstances. It may be that none of the options are a completely perfect or it may mean that multiple options will help achieve your goals. No matter the case, it is necessary to understand the each option. 

Estate Planning: "Estate planning" is an umbrella term used to describe the preparation of your estate. Your estate is everything that belongs to you. This includes physical items (jewelry, home, vehicle, etc.), but also encompasses the items sometimes not planned for, such as other real estate property, checking and savings accounts, life insurance policies, and investments. Planning of this nature should also delve into what you would like to happen to your children if they are minors or what should happen to you if you are left unable to make decisions for yourself.

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Posted on in Estate Planning

Lombard estate planning lawyersEstate planning can be a difficult task for many individuals. Rare is the person who is excited about confronting his or her own mortality. The reality is that none of us will live forever, and estate planning affords us the opportunity to provide for our family members and loved ones well beyond our lifetime. Some elements of estate planning, however, are intended to take effect, if necessary, while you are still living so that your affairs can be properly managed, no matter what happens to you. Powers of Attorney are among the most important estate planning instruments, but they are often overlooked by those who are unfamiliar with their application.

Two Types

There are two different kinds of Powers of Attorney (POA): Power of Attorney for Property and Power of Attorney for Health Care. The two categories refer to the subject matter covered by the document, but both types give a trusted friend or family member the authority to make decisions for you in the event you are not able to make them for yourself. As their names imply, a POA for Property gives your chosen individual or entity—known as an agent—the power to make decisions regarding your finances, assets, and debts while a POA for Health Care appoints an agent to make medical and health-related decisions. By using POAs properly, you can help protect your family from uncertainty and unnecessary costs associated with guardianship proceedings.

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Lombard estate planning attorneyFollowing a divorce, the terms and provisions of your estate plan may become obsolete, especially if your ex-spouse factored prominently in your plan. While there are laws that help prevent estate planning issues after a divorce, it is still a good idea to take another look at your will, trusts, and any other estate planning tools to determine if modifications are needed.  

Revocable Trusts

A revocable or living trust is the most common instrument that requires review during or after a divorce. In a revocable trust, the holder of property (called a settlor) confers that property to a trustee to hold for a beneficiary while still retaining the right to take the property back. It is very common for either the trustee or the beneficiary to be a spouse.

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Lombard estate planning lawyersLast week, we started a discussion about common myths that many people believe about the process of estate planning. In that post, we talked about how it is never too early to begin estate planning and why probate is not always a terrible thing. Unfortunately, there are a number of other misconceptions that can cause unsuspecting individuals to make preventable mistakes as they draft their estate plans. Let’s look at a few more:

Myth: If I Die Without a Will, the State Will Take Everything

While there is no question that estate planning is important, it is not uncommon for some people to develop a plan only out of fear. Such individuals often believe that if they do not draft a will or create an estate plan, their property will be seized by the government and not distributed to their family members.

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Posted on in Estate Planning

Lombard estate planning lawyerAs you look ahead to a time when you will no longer be around to care for your loved ones, you have probably given a great deal of thought to those who rely on you the most. You may have a son or daughter or even a sibling with a disability or other types of special needs who is unable to care for him- or herself. While you may have been able to care for a loved one with special needs during your lifetime, providing for him or her after your death could present significant challenges and may require you to establish a special needs trust in your loved one’s name.

What Is a Special Needs Trust

A special needs trust, sometimes called a supplemental needs trust, is a tool that can allow the assets placed under the trust to be used for the care of a person with a disability or special needs without affecting his or her eligibility for government assistance programs. Special needs trusts are often funded by large, lump-sum settlements or through gifts and inheritances. Without a properly-drafted special needs trust, leaving part of your estate to a loved one with disabilities could potential disrupt the delicate balance of government aid programs upon which he or she relies.

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