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Lombard estate planning attorneysThe American Stress Institute has named divorce as the second-most stressful event a person can endure. Ending a marriage is considered even more stressful than losing your job or going to jail. Of course, the emotional toll that comes with ending a serious relationship is a big part of this stress, but the logistics and paperwork required to properly divorce can sometimes be even more stressful. This is one reason A. Traub & Associates is dedicated to helping clients adjust their estate plans after a divorce. In this final post of a four-part series about how divorce will affect your estate plan, we will discuss updating beneficiaries after a divorce.

Estate Planning Housekeeping for Those Getting Divorced

In the last few posts, we discussed updating wills, trusts, and powers of attorney after a divorce. In addition to these tasks, divorcing individuals should make sure to update documents that designate beneficiaries for things like insurance policies, pensions, and retirement plans. If you are like most people, you probably named your spouse as the primary beneficiary of many policies and accounts. Some individuals assume that when a person divorces, these beneficiary designations automatically change. However, this is not the case. If you are getting a divorce and do not want your soon-to-be-ex-spouse to be a beneficiary anymore, you are responsible for making these changes.

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Lombard estate planning attorneyOver the last couple of weeks, posts on this blog have discussed how your estate plan could be affected by a divorce. The first post covered your will while the second post talked about the impact of a divorce on certain types of trusts. While wills and trusts are two of the most common estate planning tools, there are others that might need to be updated if you decide to get divorced, including powers of attorney for property or health care.

Powers of Attorney

A power of attorney refers to an arrangement in which a person—called the “principal”—gives legal authority to another person—called an “attorney in fact” or an “agent—to make decision on the principal’s behalf. A power of attorney can include a wide range of decision-making responsibilities, but there are two basic types. A power of attorney for property gives the agent the authority to make decisions regarding the principal’s assets, debts, and other property, while a power of attorney for health care allows the agent to act on the principal’s behalf in matters related to health and medical care.

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Lombard estate planning attorneyBeing the executor of a will is a serious responsibility. An executor is tasked with managing the estate of a deceased individual and must do so until the estate is legally closed. When choosing the executor of your estate, it is important to select someone who has integrity and is capable of fulfilling the required duties. An estate executor is responsible for paying creditors and taxes and must oversee any legal processes such as a will contest or an estate tax audit. Depending on the circumstances, the job of being an executor can last months or even years. Experts have some advice for those who are ready to choose their executor.

The Importance of Having a Will – Regardless of Age

Recent surveys have shown that a staggering 64 percent of Americans do not have a last will and testament. This is quite surprising because it is one of the most fundamental estate planning tools a person can utilize. A will provides directions for how a deceased person’s property should be managed after death and can also include instructions regarding any minor children the person has. Those who pass away without a will put decisions regarding property, inheritance, guardianship of minor children, and more in the hands of the court.

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Lombard estate planning attorneyAccording to a CNBC.com survey, over one-third of high-net-worth families have failed to take even basic steps to provide for their loved ones when they die and to ensure that their final wishes are granted. More specifically, 38 percent of people with over $1 million or more in assets have not created an estate plan.

Many people do not realize the ways a comprehensive estate plan can help them and their loved ones, while others mistakenly believe that they do not make enough money to qualify for an estate plan. Another reason many otherwise financially-savvy people do not have an estate plan is because it can be exhausting and overwhelming to try to plan everything on your own. Studies show that some individuals suffer from what is called “estate planning fatigue” which makes them less likely to have up-to-date, enforceable estate plans.

Constant Changes to the Federal Estate Tax Laws Have Been Confusing

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Lombard estate planning lawyerDo you know someone who is struggling to manage their life due to advanced age, illness or disability? Most of us know a person like this in our own families. In many cases, it is possible to help a person manage their affairs by sitting down with them and assisting them with paying bills, making health care decisions, and other aspects of everyday life. While this type of assistance is fine in some situations, others may require more drastic measures. One such option may be for you to seek guardianship of the person in question, but doing so can be complicated.

Identifying the Need for a Guardian

According to Illinois law, guardianship for an adult can only be granted by the court, but before the court can appoint a guardian, it must first determine that the adult is in need of one. Specifically, the court must find that the person in question is disabled due to deteriorating mental faculties, physical incapacitation, mental illness, or developmental disability. The court may also find a guardian to necessary for a person dealing with severe gambling, drinking, or drug problems.

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Lombard estate planning attorneysFor many, estate planning is similar to doing your taxes. You know you should do it, but you put it off or procrastinate. Estate planning is especially difficult because it forces you to face your own mortality and have what can be uncomfortable conversations with loved ones about a time when you are not around anymore. Creating a comprehensive estate plan is critical to ensuring that your property and assets are distributed according to your wishes and that the end of your life is how you intend it to be.

Unfortunately, only four in 10 American adults have a will or living trust. The other 60 percent will have significantly less control regarding their property and final wishes than those who plan ahead. Luckily, there is no wrong time to start planning for the future, and there are estate planning steps that you can take at each stage of your life.

In Your 40s and 50s

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Lombard estate planning attorneysIt is never too soon to start planning for your future. At every age, there is an opportunity to make estate planning decisions and preparations that will benefit you and your family in the future. The most financially successful individuals among us will tell you that it did not happen by accident. It is important to be aware of your financial situation and to be intentional about the way your plan for the future. At every stage of life, there are some estate planning steps that you should take in order to minimize complications or expense in the future.

Over the next few weeks, we will discuss how you can consider the future, no matter how old you are right now.

In Your 20s

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Lombard estate planning attorneyWhen you hear or read the phrase “estate planning,” what comes to mind? If you are like most people, you probably think about wills or maybe trusts that are used to protect a person’s property and distribute it to the person’s heirs upon his or her death. While the protection and transfer of assets are certainly a major focus of estate planning, there are other elements that deal with the quality of a person’s life as he or she gets older. Unfortunately, many of these important subjects are uncomfortable or difficult for many people to talk about, leading to assumptions and misunderstandings that can create serious problems in the future.

Deciding on a Caregiver

Most of us are hesitant to consider a time when we are no longer able get by on our own. The reality, however, is that many of us will need someone to help us with the activities of daily living, especially as we get older. A large number of American adults assume that their children will step into the role of caregiver when the time comes. In fact, according to at least one survey, about three-fourths of parents expect at least one of their children to provide physical or financial help as they get older, and 60 percent of those parents expect to be their daughter.

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Lombard estate planning attorneyMany people realize at some point in their lives that they need to start planning for a time when they are not around. It could be the addition of a new baby in the family, retirement, or a medical crisis that spurs a person’s interest in estate planning. For those seeking the cheapest estate planning process possible, using online legal document services may seem like a good idea. Although some do use these types of products with success, relying on an online service to plan your final affairs can be a risky move.

Do Not Be Fooled By a Professional-Appearing Website

Online legal document services may appear to offer the same benefits as a law firm, but they do not. These types of services do not hire attorneys, but instead “document assistants”—individuals who do not have nearly the extensive education and training an attorney has. A document assistant cannot help you choose the best legal option for your unique estate circumstances or warn you if you are making a grave mistake while creating your plans. Because the people involved in these online service websites are not lawyers, they cannot give you legal advice of any kind. In fact, the websites cannot even promise that legal documents drafted though the service will be valid or that there will be a usable result from the time, effort, or money spent on these online services.

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Lombard estate planning lawyerMany of us have seen celebrity disputes in the news regarding a deceased person’s estate. For instance, after music legend Michael Jackson died in 2009, his family became embroiled in financial and legal arguments regarding his last will and testament. Jackson’s siblings—who were not named as beneficiaries—claimed that pop icon’s will was fake. Another dispute arose when Anna Nicole Smith’s billionaire husband J. Howard Marshall died. In a series of dramatic court cases, Smith was at first awarded but then denied a share of her late husband’s estate. Smith died just a year after her late husband and the argument was not resolved.

Celebrities are not the only ones to experience the tension of an estate dispute. Every day, families whose names we do not know experience the pain and trauma of arguments over inheritance. There is no way to eliminate the risk that your estate plan will be challenged by a family member, but there are some steps you can take to minimize the risk:

  1. Talk to your family about your plans. Although it can be an extremely difficult to talk to your family about plans for after your death, it is also critically important. By explaining your estate planning choices to your family, you can help avoid disputes in the future;
  2. Do not wait until you are sick to create an estate plan. People often think that only older individuals or those with a terminal illness should take estate planning seriously. In reality, having an estate plan in place while you are physically and mentally well can lessen the chance of problems later on. An estate plan which is created when the testator is in ill health is more susceptible to being contested;
  3. Update your estate plan appropriately. Estate planning is an ongoing process. Plans should be reviewed and updated based on changes in your family.  When a beneficiary gives birth, gets married or divorced, or passes away, you must account for these changes in your plan. It is also imperative to monitor your assets and your beneficiary designations;
  4. Consider using a revocable living trust to avoid probate. A revocable living trust puts property and financial assets into a trust which are then administered for the creator’s benefit during their lifetime. After death, the assets in the trust are either distributed or held in trust for future distribution to named beneficiaries; and
  5. Do not try to navigate the estate planning process alone. An experienced estate planning attorney will be familiar with changing laws and court decisions. He or she will be able to guide you in your estate planning process and help you lessen the chance of a contested will or dispute.

Seek Skilled Legal Assistance

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Posted on in Estate Planning

Lombard estate planning lawyerA person’s last will and testament is a vitally important document. In it, an individual can record their wishes regarding guardianship of children and the distribution of assets and property. However, there are instances in which the directives set forth in a will are not carried out. If a judge determines that the person signing the will was not of sound mind or was illegally influenced, the court can disregard the will. In these cases, decisions about property and guardianship can become incredibly complicated.

The Person Signing the Will is Not of Sound Mind

Often, as a person ages, they experience changes in cognitive capacity and memory. A will must be written and signed by a person of “sound mind” in order to be considered valid. A person has “testamentary capacity” if he or she fully understands the instructions set out in the will and agrees to them. It can be extremely difficult to prove that the testator was not mentally capable of understanding the will that they signed. Often the strongest evidence of testamentary capacity comes from the people who witnessed the will maker signing the will.

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Lombard estate planning attorneyOur society is becoming more accepting of non-traditional families which means that many couples no longer feel pressured to get married before starting a life together. In fact, the number of live-in couples in the U.S. rose 25 percent from 2000 to 2010. If you are in a committed relationship with someone but you are not legally married, you may miss out on some of the legal protections and advantages provided through marriage, particularly those related to inheritances and estate planning. However, with some preparation, it is possible to create an accurate estate plan which reflects your wishes even if you are not married.

Create a Will

An important step for anyone is creating a last will and testament. It is especially crucial for unmarried couples to be deliberate about their wills. In order to ensure that your assets are passed to your significant other when you die, you must specifically name your partner as your beneficiary on all pensions, retirement accounts, and insurance policies. Some retirement accounts have rules against nonfamily beneficiaries, so double check with an estate planning attorney that you are able to legally name your partner on all necessary accounts. You may need to designate your significant other as your power of attorney and sign an advance care directive if you wish him or her to make decisions about health care and finances if you ever become unwell.

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Posted on in Estate Planning

Lombard estate planning attorneyOne of the greatest things about our country is that we have the freedom to define what family means to us. Some families consist of only one mother or father, others are the classic nuclear family, while still others contain step-parents and stepsiblings, half brothers or sisters, or even adopted members. If you have a large blended family, there are special considerations you should keep in mind when it comes to estate planning.

Remarrying With Children

The number of remarriages has been increasing over the last several decades. In 2013, 40 percent of unions included at least one spouse who had previously been married, and many of these unions involve children. One consideration for large or blended families to think about is how a person’s assets will be distributed in the event that he or she passes away. It is vitally important if you remarry that you change your primary beneficiary from your former spouse as soon as possible. Another common mistake happens when a parent names their new spouse as the primary beneficiary and names their biological children from another marriage as contingent beneficiaries expecting that they will all receive a portion of his or her estate upon death. What instead happens is that the primary beneficiary receives all the assets and becomes free to share or not share them with the children. One possible solution to this is to name multiple primary beneficiaries who each receive a percentage of your estate.

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Posted on in Estate Planning

DuPage County estate planning lawyerWhen someone asks you to be the executor of their last will and testament, you may feel both honored and also overwhelmed. What exactly does an executor do? Who can be an executor? Being an executor of someone’s will is a huge responsibility, but with some research and help, most are able to take on the challenge.

An Important Role

The overall job of an executor is to make sure a person's last wishes are granted with regards to the disposition of their property and possessions. He or she is responsible for paying the deceased's debts and creditors, and distributing any remaining money or property according to the deceased’s wishes. The law does not require an executor to be a lawyer or financial expert, however, it does require than an executor fulfill their duties with honesty and diligence. This responsibility is called "fiduciary duty," which means that the executor must act in good faith and in the best interests of the deceased person’s estate.

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Lombard estate planning lawyersIf you watch television at certain times of the day, you are likely to see occasional advertisements for reverse mortgages. These ads often run in similar timeslots as commercials for arthritis medication and electric scooters. It is clear that they are intended to reach a certain demographic—namely, seniors who are starting to consider the reality that they will not live forever. As with most television pitches, it understandable that the audience would be skeptical, but a reverse mortgage may be an option for certain individuals and families.

Reverse Mortgages Defined

Most people understand that a standard mortgage is a financial arrangement in which a lender provides a borrower with money to buy real estate, including a home. The property itself is the collateral used to secure the loan. The borrower makes regular installment payments until the amount borrowed and any accumulated interest is repaid.

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Lombard estate planning attorneyOlder men and women are often among the most vulnerable members of our society. Children, of course, are also vulnerable, but as a whole, we have been historically more likely to aggressively protect children than adults and seniors. Unfortunately, this means that is relatively easy for elder men and women to be exploited—often by those who have been entrusted with guardianship or other responsibilities. With proper estate planning that includes contingency clauses and protections, it may be possible to reduce the likelihood of such abuse. A new federal law will also provide additional help in the battle against elder abuse and exploitation.

Bipartisan Efforts

The Elder Abuse Prevention and Protection Act was drafted by Representative Elizabeth Esty, a Democrat from Connecticut, and Representative Barbara Comstock, a Virginia Republican. The bipartisan measure passed the House and Senate and was signed into law by President Donald Trump earlier this month.

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Lombard estate planning lawyerWhen most people think about estate planning, they often focus the transfer of assets from one generation to the next. Wills and trusts—the most common vehicles for transferring such assets—represent a significant part of the estate planning process, but there are many other considerations that should be addressed. One of the most often overlooked aspects of estate planning is preparing yourself and your home to make life easier as you age, and doing so often takes time, money, and self-awareness regarding your current and possible limitations.

A Glaring Need

According to the Pew Research Center, an estimated 12 million Americans over the age of 65 live alone. A disproportionate 69 percent of that number—nearly 8.3 million—are women. While independence among senior citizens is often a desirable alternative to assisted living or nursing facilities, the reality is that a home that is suitable for a healthy, able-bodied adult may not be convenient or safe for an aging senior.

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Lombard estate planning attorneyMost people are familiar with the concept of different “stages of grief.” While you may not necessarily be able to list the five stages as they were introduced in 1969, you are most likely aware that grieving, for most people, is a process with fairly distinct elements. While there are other situations that could cause a person to go through the grieving process—such as a divorce or giving a child up for adoption—the most common is during the period following the death of a loved one. When you die, your children, grandchildren, and other family members will almost certainly experience a great deal of grief, which makes responsible estate planning all the more important.

What Are the Five Stages?

In 1969, a Swiss-American psychiatrist named Elisabeth Kubler-Ross published a book called "On Death and Dying" which introduced the stages of grief as she saw them. Based on her experience and study, she identified the five stages as Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. Despite being laid out as linear—suggesting that one stage leads into the next—the reality is much more complicated. A person who is largely in the Anger stage of grief is likely to experience moments or days of Denial and Depression. He or she may even skip a stage and effectively come back to it at a later point.

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Lombard estate planning attorneysDo you have a signed and executed will or any other elements of an estate plan in place? If so, you are already ahead of more than half of American adults.

Next question: Have you had in-depth discussions about estate planning with your children and other important family members? If so, you and your family are well prepared for unexpected surprises—assuming your estate plan addresses all or most of the details that are significant to you and your loved ones.

Final question: Would your children agree that you have had the necessary conversations and do they know where to find important documents, passwords, and account information? Unfortunately, serious disconnects in communication are all too common when it comes to estate planning.

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Lombard estate planning lawyersEvery person deserves to have control over the medical care they receive, including that which is provided at or near the end of their lives. Advance medical directives, such as a living will, give you the power to make certain decisions about your end-of-life care in advance, taking into account the possibility that you may not be able to make such decisions if and when they are necessary. Unfortunately, many advance medical directives are open to interpretation which could result in a decreased quality of life and unneeded suffering. There are some things you can do, however, to ensure that medical care is provided in accordance with your wishes, regardless of your condition at the time care is needed.

Death-Delaying Procedures

A living will is used primarily to specify the types of death-delaying procedures that you wish to be provided if you are ever diagnosed with a terminal condition and are unable to make care decisions for yourself. Death-delaying procedures refer to treatments and care that are postponing death in situations where healing or curing the condition is not possible. Such procedures include blood transfusions, artificial respiration, dialysis, and intravenous feeding or medications.

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