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IL estate lawyerThe circumstances necessitating estate planning can be unpleasant to think about and people often avoid putting off writing their will. However, writing your will and establishing your priorities after your death is one of the best ways you can show love to the people you care about most. You may think you are too young to write a will, but the truth is that the sooner you write a will, the safer your loved ones will be.

If you have never written a will before, you may wonder what you should include. In this post, we will discuss some of the things you should consider when you are writing your will.

What Is a Will?

If you are writing your first will, you may be unsure about what a will is or what it does. Essentially, a will is a binding legal document that details what will happen to your property after you die. If relevant, a will can also address who will be appointed as a guardian for your minor children. A will also appoints someone who ensures the will is implemented correctly. This person is called an executor.

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IL estate lawyerFor people of any age, estate planning allows them to make decisions about what will happen in the future. In many cases, the focus of an estate plan will be on what happens after a person’s death, and this will be covered in part by their last will and testament, which is commonly referred to as a will. However, multiple types of estate planning documents, including a living will, can also be used to address how issues such as medical care will be handled throughout the remainder of a person’s life. By understanding the differences between wills and living wills, a person and their loved ones can ensure that their wishes will be followed correctly.

Wills vs. Living Wills

A last will and testament is used to make decisions about how a person’s final affairs will be handled after their death, including who will inherit their property and assets. It will name a person known as an executor who will complete the probate process and ensure that the deceased person’s instructions will be followed when distributing their assets to their family members or other beneficiaries. A will can also be used to nominate a person as the guardian of the deceased person’s minor children, and it can specify the deceased person’s wishes for their funeral and burial or cremation.

The term “living will” would seem to indicate that it is a document that covers similar issues as a last will and testament prior to a person’s death. However, a living will can only address certain types of specific issues, and it will only apply in certain situations. Basically, a living will can make decisions about the medical care a person receives prior to their death, ensuring that their wishes will be followed if they cannot make these wishes known. To make decisions about medical treatment in other situations, other estate planning tools such as powers of attorney may be used.

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Lombard estate planning attorneyNo matter what your age, a will can offer numerous benefits as part of a comprehensive estate plan. As the AARP notes, your will serves as a roadmap for stating your intentions, distributing your possessions to beneficiaries, and wrapping up your final affairs. With a will, you maintain control over your assets instead of being subject to Illinois intestacy laws and reduce the potential for disputes among surviving loved ones, saving time and money in the estate administration process.

What you may not know is there are a few objectives you cannot accomplish by creating a will. This can lead to surprises if you expect to achieve certain goals, so it is wise to consult with an estate planning attorney regarding the details. Here is an overview of four things you cannot do through your will.

1. Evade Creditors

If you incurred debts or related legal obligations during your lifetime, you will not be able to get rid of them through your will. Your creditors can still pursue your estate, and in some cases, specific beneficiaries, to obtain payment. The person you name as executor cannot avoid debts, because they will be required to provide notice to creditors and pay verified claims.

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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 probate attorneyWhen an Illinois resident dies, his or her estate will often need to go through the process of probate. In Illinois, probate is required to validate and administer the decedent’s will, or to determine that the decedent did not have a valid will in place. Depending on the circumstances, probate can be a long and daunting process, and it may be a source of stress when there are arguments about the estate, but understanding the process can go a long way in helping you through it.

The Role of the Executor or Estate Administrator

During the probate process, an estate executor or administrator manages the assets and debts of the deceased. If there is a valid will, it will usually name the person who will serve as executor. In the absence of a will, the court will appoint an administrator, which will often be the closest surviving family member. Named executors can decline their duties if they are unwilling or unable to fulfill them.

Handling Creditors During Probate

During probate, the decedent’s heirs are not the only people who may be entitled to assets from the estate. Creditors may also come forward to pursue unpaid debts. By law, they must do so within the fixed time period allotted to them. In addition, the IRS must be paid any and all income taxes due. This cannot be avoided by selling assets—in fact, selling assets may be necessary to generate the necessary funds to pay the outstanding debts and taxes. Only then can the remaining assets be distributed to heirs. A final income tax return must also be filed for any assets that earn income during the probate period.

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Lombard IL estate planning attorneyEstate planning can be simple, but most often, it is a bit more complex than most people realize. Regardless of your situation, the best way to ensure your wishes are known and followed after your death is to have the proper documents in place by creating a will and appropriate trusts with the help of a skilled estate planning attorney. It also helps to know some of the most common mistakes made by those creating estate plans, including:

Failing to Plan at All

The statistics are alarming: more than half of all Americans do not have an existing will. Unfortunately, if you die without an estate plan, your assets will be divided according to the intestate succession laws of Illinois. Not only is it highly unlikely that this will happen according to your wishes, but the process of probate can end up chipping away at—and potentially decimating—the assets you have left behind.

Another concerning matter is that, if you should die without a will and have minor children, there is no guarantee as to who will assume responsibility for their guardianship until they become adults. Avoid this common mistake, and take the first steps in creating an estate plan today.

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DuPage County estate planning attorneyIn Illinois, wills, trusts, and other estate planning documents must meet certain criteria in order to be valid. In order for the court to uphold a will, the person who created the will, called the testator, must fully understand the provisions contained in the will and the consequences of these provisions. If a testator was forced, under undue influence, or could not comprehend what he or she was doing when he or she signed the will, the will may not be legally binding. If the validity of the will iscontested and the court finds that the testator did not consent to the directions contained in the will, it could be thrown out completely. If you have a loved one with dementia who wishes to draft a will, you will need to take special precautions to ensure that the will is legally enforceable.

Testamentary Capacity Explained

The term “testamentary capacity” refers to a testator’s mental clarity and understanding. Testamentary capacity is also sometimes called “sound mind and memory” or “disposing mind and memory.” Testators as presumed to have testamentary capacity unless there is convincing evidence to the contrary. If your loved one wishes to create a will or other estate planning document and he or she suffers from dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease, or another illness that affects cognition, this could be grounds for his or her testamentary capacity to come into question.

Ensuring That Your Loved One Has Testamentary Capacity

Your loved one deserves to have his or her final wishes followed. In order to ensure that the will is not considered invalid due to testamentary capacity concerns, you should ensure that your loved one meets Illinois criteria for proving testamentary capacity. The Illinois Probate Act of 1975, states that an adult has the authority to draft a will if he or she “is of sound mind and memory.” Illinois appeals court case Beyers v. Billingsley addressed exactly what constitutes sound mind and memory in 1977. There are three conditions that must be met in order for a testator to have sufficient testamentary capacity. A person is of sound mind and memory for the purposes of estate planning if he or she can:

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Lombard estate planning attorneysIt is not easy to think about what will happen to your personal belonging and financial assets after your death. However, the process of estate planning can be an important part of providing your surviving family members with the security and peace of mind that they deserve.

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for families to become fractured and split by disagreements over the estate of a deceased loved one. Such disputes can lead to many years of bitterness between family members who were once close. In some cases, a family member might feel so left out that he or she files a challenge to the decedent’s will. While there is no way to fully guarantee that one of your family members will not contest your will, there are few things you can do to reduce the possibility of such action.

1.  Make Your Plan Early

Many will contests are filed on the basis that the testator—the person who wrote the will—did not have the mental clarity needed to execute a will. The longer you wait to write a will, the more likely it is that your advancing age, decreasing health, and other considerations might be used as “reasons” for contesting your will. Draft and execute your will long before your mental state could reasonably be questioned, and work closely with a qualified estate planning lawyer.

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Lombard estate planning attorneysThere are many reasons and situations that require an update to your estate plan. Divorce is one of the most common and potentially catastrophic situations. Unfortunately, it is also easy to overlook or forget. There are many loose ends to tie up once the divorce process is complete, and with more to manage, estate planning can easily slip through the cracks. Unfortunately, if something does happen to you before you have made changes to your estate plan, assets may not go to the people and places you had hoped. Do not let this happen to you. Learn what and when you should update in an estate plan after divorce.

Changing Your Beneficiaries

If you have a 401K, IRA, or other retirement plan, the beneficiary listed on your policy should be checked upon completion of the divorce. Of course, you may have to split some of your savings with your former spouse, but the remaining amount should go to you. If you do not want the remainder to go to your ex upon your passing, and he or she is listed as the current beneficiary, it is important that you change this in your policy. Alternatively, if you wish your spouse to be listed as a trustee for your children, ensure the policy and your other estate planning documents reflect this wish.

Updating Your Powers of Attorney

If you are like most people, you probably have your spouse listed as your power of attorney (the person that acts and makes decisions for you in the event of incapacitation). Now, it is possible to keep your spouse as your power of attorney, but few divorces end quite that amicably. Instead, you might want to consider naming a close friend, a sibling, a parent, or an adult child. Make sure they are someone you can trust to carry out your wishes.

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Lombard estate planning attorneysHave you ever sat down with a member of your family and helped him or her apply for government-funded assistance programs? If so, you have probably seen firsthand that many of these programs have eligibility criteria that often include limits on income and owned assets. These requirements, in most cases, were established in order to ensure that those with the greatest need were served by these programs. However, the limits have also created unintended consequences for many people.

Such is often the case when an individual who receives benefits through Social Security, Medicaid, or other income-based programs is named as an heir in someone else’s will. It turns out that even a one-time transfer of property—which is generally what happens in inheritance situations—could have an effect on the heir’s eligibility to continue receiving benefits on which he or she may rely.

Understanding Government Aid Programs

Government assistance programs are virtually everywhere in today’s world, but many of them have been around for decades. Some even trace back to the “New Deal” measures of the 1930s, which were originally designed to help Americans who were most devastated by the Great Depression. As anyone who pays attention to politics can attest, government benefit programs are topics of constant debate and controversy, as legislators rarely agree on the future or the funding of such programs. Very few people, however, deny that these benefit sources are useful for those who are truly in need of medical care and financial help.

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will-estate-planning-probate-law.jpgThere are many misunderstandings about wills and estate planning in general. People incorrectly assume that they do not need to worry about estate planning until they have retired or that only the rich need a last will and testament. The reality is that having a will is beneficial to people of all ages and lifestyles. Passing away without a will means that strangers will decide how your property and wealth is managed and distributed to heirs instead of you. Although it can be difficult to make decisions about what will happen after you die, creating an estate plan put you in control of the assets you worked so hard to earn. The following are the most compelling reasons to stop procrastinating and get started on your will today.

Choosing a Guardian for Children if You Pass Away

If you are a parent of minor children, have you ever considered what would happen to your children if you passed away suddenly? Even a family with two parents can be struck by an unexpected tragedy which leaves the children parentless. A will allows you to name a legal guardian or guardians for your children if the worst happens. Parents who pass away and did not name a legal guardian for their children leave that decision up the court.

Determining How Your Assets Are Divided

Creating a last will and testament allows you to choose how your property and assets are divided among heirs. How your estate is distributed should be a personal decision – not one decided by strangers or impersonal state laws. If you do not create a will, when you pass away, your property and debt will be distributed according to Illinois law. This could mean that loved ones will not receive the inheritance you intended for them to receive and other heirs may be given these assets instead.

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Lombard estate planning attorneyMost people recognize the importance of having an estate plan in place just in case something unexpected happens. Depending on the size and nature of your estate, a comprehensive estate plan may include a will, various types of trusts, powers of attorney, a living will, and more. Sometimes, however, the unexpected “something” can take the form of a divorce. A divorce can dramatically impact your existing estate plan, so if your marriage will soon be ending, you will need to review and amend nearly every element of your estate plan.

Over the next couple blog posts, we will highlight several types of estate planning tools and how they might be affected by your divorce.

Your Will

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