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Lombard estate planning attorneysThe very idea of estate planning can be frightening for many people, as it is not easy to confront the realization that nobody lives forever. Drafting an estate plan that includes a will, trusts, and other documents requires you to look past the end of your own life. While the difficulties associated with estate planning are understandable, it is critical to have an estate plan. If you were to die without a will or other estate plans, most of your property would probably be subject to the intestate succession laws of Illinois.

What Does “Intestate” Mean?

A particular asset is deemed to be “intestate” if there is no direction specified for how the asset will be disposed of following the owner’s death. Jointly owned property is not usually intestate because the ownership of the joint property will generally transfer to the other owner or owners. Likewise, an investment account that has named beneficiaries or a transfer-on-death clause is not an intestate asset. The named beneficiaries will receive the funds in that account when you die. However, if you are the sole owner of an asset and you have not established legally enforceable instructions on handling the asset upon your death, the asset will be treated as intestate property.

Intestate Succession Laws

The laws governing intestate succession in Illinois are contained in the Illinois Probate Act. Intestate property allocation will depend on your specific circumstances, including your surviving spouse, any children, and other family members. Intestate succession can become extremely complicated, however, as the law provides for a wide variety of possible situations.

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Lombard estate planning attorneyAs you get older, your needs are going to change. Many people require more medical and personal care in their later years than they did when they were younger. If this happens to you, your loved ones and family members will probably be on board with helping as much as possible, but they might not be able or equipped to provide the level of care that you need. In such a situation, you might need to rely on an independent caregiver—someone that you are not related to or do not really know in any other capacity. While a caregiver might be a stranger at first, it is possible that you will become closer with him or her over time. Depending on the circumstances, your caregiver might do so much to help you that you even think about adding him or her as an heir in your will.

What the Law Says

Several years ago, lawmakers in Illinois updated the Illinois Probate Act of 1975 (755 ILC 5) to address inheritances left to non-related caregivers. The 2015 amendment addressed situations in which an estate planning instrument, including a will or trust, left more than $20,000 to a caregiver who was not related to the decedent. Under the amended law, a transfer of property greater than $20,000 is presumed to be fraudulent in the event that the transfer is subject to a challenge. The presumption of fraud will invalidate any instrument making the transfer.

The law, as it now stands, might seem harsh, but it was passed with good intentions. A caregiver often has virtually unrestricted access to a person whose health, age, or mental capacity might leave him or her especially vulnerable. A dishonest caregiver could fairly easily exercise undue influence over the person and convince him or her to write a new will or to add provisions that will benefit the caregiver. Family members and other would-be beneficiaries might not even know about the changes until after the person dies.

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