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Lombard estate planning attorneyAn estate plan generally involves human heirs, such as children and grandchildren, but this is not always the case. Some individuals have non-human dependents to consider. Does that mean everyone should include their pet in an estate plan? Not necessarily, yet it might be worth considering if there is even the slightest possibility that your companion may outlive you. It is important to realize that this provision might be important, and how you can take the first step toward implementing it in your estate plan.

Why Plan for Your Pets?

When the owner of an animal dies or becomes incapacitated, the animal may end up at a shelters, especially if there are no family members who are willing to take on the responsibilities of surrogate pet ownership. It happens so frequently, in fact, that estimates suggest some 100,000 to 500,000 pets are admitted to a shelter after their owner’s death or incapacitation. How do these once companions end up in shelters?

Often, it is the friends, family, or children of the deceased that surrender them. Perhaps they do not have the room income to care for the animal, or have tried to care for it but do not know how to do so appropriately. Still others might have allergies, small children, or other extenuating circumstances that make caring for an animal difficult or nearly impossible.

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Lombard estate planning lawyersIn most cases, the assignment of assets to a single heir is straightforward; you only need to determine a creative way to decrease the tax load. By contrast, assigning assets to multiple heirs is generally more complex. Not only do you have to determine how to increase the overall amount each person receives after their tax liabilities but you must also discern whether to distribute the assets fairly or equally. What is the difference between these two options, and which one is most appropriate for your estate planning needs?

Fair or Equal: What is the Difference?

While some people use the terms fair and equal interchangeably, the two terms are quite different from one another. To split things equally means to give everyone the exact same amount, but fair distribution is not always equal. Sometimes, it may appear that one heir is getting “more,” but the truth is that they are getting more for a very specific reason.

Determining What Constitutes “Fair”

Fair can mean something different to everyone. For example, children who see another child with more food or a later bedtime might cry, “Not fair!” – even if the other child is older. Fair is much like this; it determines what is appropriate to give in terms of responsibility or amounts by weighing various factors. Asset fairness is no different.  

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DuPage County estate planning attorneyIf you have already developed an estate plan, congratulations! You are already a step ahead of more than half of American adults. However, it is also important to understand that estate planning is not a “set it and forget it” undertaking—to borrow a phrase from a well-known infomercial. You need to review your plan on regular basis to make sure that it is still ready to meet your evolving needs. In addition, there are certain situations or life changes that may require you to update or make changes to your estate plan.

Getting Married or Divorced

When you get married, your new spouse does not automatically become a beneficiary in your existing estate plan. He or she will only inherit a portion of your estate if you update your plan. On the other hand, a divorce will nullify any provisions in your will that pertain to your ex-spouse, but only once the divorce is finalized. You will need to choose a new beneficiary to receive the portion of the estate once meant for your spouse.

Keep in mind that you will need to update your named beneficiaries on retirement accounts and other investments. A divorce will not automatically revoke your ex’s status as beneficiary for those type of assets.

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Lombard estate planning attorneyWhen married people create an estate plan, both parties are generally involved. What can you do, though, if you want to get serious about planning your estate and your spouse is still reluctant to get on board? Nagging certainly will not do the trick, nor will threatening or begging. Still, there are some ways that you may be able to ensure your heirs do not get shortchanged. It may be helpful to learn a few strategies for dealing with a spouse who seems hesitant to get on board.

Do What You Can On Your Own

While it is best to have your spouse on your side before you create an estate plan, you may not ever be able to persuade them. This does not mean you cannot create an estate plan. In fact, there are strategies that you can use on your own to ensure your assets go to the right people and charities. Assets that are yours—solely yours—can be drafted into an estate plan, regardless of whether or not your spouse participates. Further, you can ensure you have named your power or attorney for health or financial decisions just in case you ever become incapacitated.

You should also ensure you have a complete log of any joint accounts, should you outlive your spouse and end up becoming the executor of their estate. This can help you avoid any last-minute confusion and may even expedite certain issues, even if they failed to create their own estate plan. Further, if you and your spouse should pass away together, your other heirs will still have the information they need to manage your joint assets.

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Lombard estate planning attorneysDuring probate, the formal vetting process all wills must go through, heirs who believe a will is invalid can challenge that will in court. For example, if a relative worries that his elderly grandmother was coerced into agreeing to her will, he can contest that will. The court will examine the evidence and make a decision to either enforce the will or start from scratch and distribute the deceased person’s property according to state law. Wills can also be contested for dishonest reasons. For example, an heir who is unsatisfied with his or her inheritance may contest the will simply in an attempt to receive a greater inheritance. If you wish to make your will much less susceptible to being contested in court, a no-contest clause may be right for you.  

What Exactly is a No-Contest Clause?

A no-contest clause, often called a terrorem provision, is a set of directions written into a will or trust which addresses potential contests. The Latin phrase “In terrorem” literally translates to “about fear.” It is called this because the provision includes a penalty for anyone who tries and fails to contest the will during probate. If a disgruntled heir challenges the will without justification, that heir may be penalized. In this way, a no-contest clause can help discourage heirs or beneficiaries from challenging a will or trust.

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Lombard estate planning attorneySome people are just born rich. They are fortunate to be part of a family with wealth going back several generations. Others manage the impossible and win the Powerball jackpot, becoming enormously wealthy virtually overnight. Most people, however, work very hard throughout their lives to accumulate the assets and property that make up their estate. You have probably made sound financial decisions and put in the hours to earn what you have, so when it comes time to decide what will happen to your assets upon your death, you have the right to do so.

Keep in mind, however, that while the right to make decisions about your estate is yours and yours alone, such decisions are not made in a vacuum. The choices you make are likely to have an effect on your family members and loved ones. Whether that effect is positive, negative, or neutral depends on your circumstances and how you handle them.

Eliminating Assumptions

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Lombard estate planning lawyersIf you have started the process of planning for your family’s future through a comprehensive estate plan, you have probably considered where many of your possessions will go. Perhaps your car will be gifted to a grandchild, while your home will be sold and the proceeds split between your children.

When deciding what will happen to physical property, many otherwise-dutiful estate planners forget about their digital assets. Have you considered what should happen to your personal documents and data stored online after you pass away? What about your social media accounts? The world is becoming more and more digitized with each passing day, and it is important we account for this in estate plans.

What Exactly Is Considered a Digital Asset?

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Lombard estate planning lawyersOne of the most important steps of creating a last will and testament is choosing the personal representative—or executor—who will oversee and manage your estate after you pass away. This individual will have several important responsibilities, so it is important that you choose someone who is competent and able to handle the job. There is no perfect way to choose the right executor, but there are some guidelines you should keep in mind as you create your estate plan.  

Responsibilities of the Executor

The legal representative named as the executor of a will has several duties. Firstly, he or she must estimate the value of the deceased person’s (testator’s) estate. A list of property and assets including bank accounts, retirement accounts, real estate property, fine art or expensive jewelry, stocks and bonds, and other items must be drafted and assessed during probate. Additionally, the executor must pay the deceased person’s taxes and debt as well as file a personal income tax return on their behalf. He or she will also have to pay estate taxes and distribute the testator’s remaining property to beneficiaries as per the directions stated in the will.

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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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