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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, IL estate planning lawyerOne of the main goals of estate planning is to ensure that your wishes regarding your assets and property are carried out after your death. Of course, a qualified estate planning attorney is equipped to help you prepare the necessary documents and instruments to make the process relatively simple for you. For many of our clients, however, the real challenge is determining exactly what their wishes are. It can be difficult to decide who is to receive what portion of your estate, and while an attorney cannot tell you how to choose your beneficiaries when drafting your will, we can offer some things to consider.

Include Variety

It may be very tempting to oversimplify your will by naming your spouse as your only beneficiary. Or, perhaps, in acknowledgment that your spouse may not outlive you, you may choose to leave everything to one child. In creating your will, it is important to remember that you are planning for the future, which is always uncertain. Having a sole beneficiary can essentially negate most of your effort should something happen to that beneficiary, and suddenly, the disposition of your assets is dependent upon his or her own estate planning decisions.  By choosing multiple beneficiaries, or even designating secondary or tertiary beneficiary levels, you and your executor will maintain more control over the distribution of your estate.

Consider Family Dynamics

Although it may not seem fair to have to do so, you should also give thought to the way in which your family is likely to react to your decisions. Try to avoid a “who cares, I’ll be gone” attitude. In your estate planning, you have the opportunity to promote family harmony or to sow discord. Obviously, you cannot always predict emotional reactions, but you can take reasonable precautions and eliminate potential loopholes. For example, you may choose to leave a majority of your estate to one child with the understanding that he or she will distribute the inheritance among siblings and descendants. An “understanding” is not the same as explicitly naming the other beneficiaries, however, and there is no law preventing the beneficiary child from keeping the full inheritance.

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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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Lombard estate planning lawyersThe passing of a loved one is almost always a terrible ordeal to endure. When a relative passes without a will, the process of managing the deceased person’s final affairs only adds to the difficulty. A person who dies without a will is considered to have died “intestate.” Illinois intestacy laws determine how a person’s property and debt are distributed after their death when a valid will is not present.

Laws of Intestate Succession When No Valid Will Exists

The rules regarding how a deceased person’s property should be divided are largely dependent on the deceased person’s surviving relatives. When a single person with no children passes away, his or her estate will go to his or her parents or siblings. If that person does not have living parents or siblings, their estate will go to nieces and nephews or more distant relatives. If an unmarried person with children passes away, their estate will go to their children. If a married person passes away, their spouse will usually receive the part of the estate which is considered marital property. Unfortunately, unmarried couples do not have any legal right to their partner’s property if that partner passes away without a will.

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