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DuPage County estate planning attorneysWhen one thinks of estate planning, the main legal tool that most often comes to mind is the last will and testament. Of course, having a will in place is tremendously important. Not only does a will give you the peace of mind that your possessions and property will end up in the right hands after your death, it also helps your loved ones wrap up your estate much more quickly and efficiently than would otherwise be possible. Even though wills are vital, they are not the only estate planning documents we should be concerned about. As you plan for your future, make sure not to overlook these other important legal and financial implements. 

Advance Health Care Directive

An advance health care directive is a plan that is made ahead of time in regard to a person’s health care. Illinois law allows citizens to create four different types of advance directives: a medical power of attorney; a living will; mental health treatment preference declaration; and a Do-Not-Resuscitate (DNR)/Practitioner Orders For Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST). Depending on your circumstances, you may wish to use more than one of these types of documents to plan for your future.

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Lombard living trusts attorneyWhen you are beginning to prepare an estate plan, it is important to remember that you are not just planning for the time after your death. An estate plan is necessary for more than just the rich—though that designation can be quite misleading. An estate plan is an outline set up by anyone—including those in lower- and middle-class income sectors—that determines what will happen to one’s assets and property. For those who may tend toward the higher end of the socioeconomic spectrum, it may be in your best interest to establish a living trust, which is a tool that can be used to manage your assets while you are still alive. Among other benefits, living trusts can useful in protecting certain assets and maintaining eligibility for government financial aid programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.

Two Types of Living Trusts

There are two main types of living trusts: irrevocable and revocable. The vast majority of living trusts are revocable, meaning that they can be amended or revoked at any time by the creator. When you create a living trust, the assets you select are transferred to the trust and ownership is in the trust’s name rather than in the name of an individual. Your designated trustee then administers the trust, meaning that the trustee makes decisions for the leveraging, sale, or gift of any assets in the trust. Most people name themselves the trustee of their own living trusts, meaning that there is essentially no difference in the way that one administers his or her own assets—only that they are now technically owned under the umbrella of the trust.

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Lombard estate planning attorneysPeople can get uncomfortable when discussing the role finances play in how successful or fulfilling a marriage will be. However, the simple fact is that money is consistently found to be the number one cause of stress in marriages. Studies have even shown that couples arguing over finances is the top predictor of divorce. Marriage is a financial partnership as much as it is a romantic partnership. If you are tying the knot this summer or have recently wed, read on to learn the steps newlyweds should take to protect their financial future.

Update Beneficiary Designations

Getting married can be quite the challenging and chaotic undertaking. Between choosing the venue, inviting guests, hosting the reception, and finding places for all those wedding gifts, some newlywed couples forget that there are certain financial steps they should take as well. Many unmarried individuals have their parents chosen as beneficiaries on things like life insurance policies and retirement accounts. When those individuals get married, they will need to change the beneficiary to their new spouse—presuming they wish to do so, of course. If the beneficiary designation is not modified and a tragic accident occurs, the surviving spouse will not receive any of that life insurance policy's payout. After getting married, each spouse should review financial accounts such as 401ks, brokerage accounts, IRAs, and bank accounts and update beneficiary designations as needed.

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Lombard estate planning attorneyIn Part 1 of this series of posts, we talked at length about how a divorce could impact the provisions and enforceability of a person’s will. A will, in many cases, is just one component of a comprehensive estate plan, which means that there are other estate planning instruments that could be affected by a divorce. For example, you may have established one or more trusts to protect and transfer your property to your chosen beneficiaries. The types of trusts that you have set up will determine how they are affected by your divorce.

Revocable Trusts

Illinois law provides that any provisions, appointments, or nominations made regarding a person’s spouse in the person’s will are automatically revoked when a judgment of divorce is issued. The law is similar in regard to trusts but with some important differences. The differences are caused by the nature of certain kinds of trusts and the rules that apply to them.

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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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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 attorneyResearch shows that only about half of Americans have any estate planning documents in place. Those without a last will and testament and other critical estate planning documents risk having their estate decisions made for them if they pass away or become incapacitated. One vital piece of estate planning that is important for anyone to have is a power of attorney. A durable power of attorney is a legal document which gives someone else the authority to act on your behalf if you cannot do your yourself.

Types of Power of Attorney

A general power of attorney assigns an agent which will be responsible for the medical decisions, legal choices, personal banking, investment, insurance and real estate transactions of the person signing the document (the principal) should they become incapacitated. A special power of attorney allows the principal to be more specific. He or she can narrow down the types of choices the agent(s) can make. It is possible to have several different powers of attorney for different purposes. An individual may choose their spouse or family member to make medical decisions on their behalf, but he or she may choose another individual to make financial or business decisions in the event they are incapacitated.

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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 lawyerThe reading of a deceased person’s will is often portrayed in movies and on television as a highly dramatic event. Usually, some conflict, plot point, or comic relief revolves around heirs being surprised about what they will be receiving as an inheritance. In some cases, the scene is meant to draw attention to someone being left out of the will. In real life, things are rarely so theatrical, though the feeling of being neglected or left out of a loved one’s will can be quite unpleasant and possibly offensive. Depending on the situation, such a person may wish to contest the will—especially if he or she believes that he or she was excluded by mistake or due to fraud of some kind.

Grounds of a Will Contest

If a loved one’s will left you with less of inheritance that you expected or none at all, contesting the will could be an option, but doing so is not likely to be easy. First, you must understand that a will contest must be based on legitimate grounds. A decision that you do not agree with is not enough. For a will contest to be successful, you will need to show that:

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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 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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Posted on in Estate Planning

Lombard estate planning lawyersThere are many things to consider when you are creating your Last Will and Testament. One you may have not considered is what will happen if your will is contested. A will contest is a lawsuit that an individual files in order to invalidate a deceased person’s will. Someone might file a will contest because they don’t believe a family member’s or friend’s will accurately reflects their true final wishes. Any intestate heir or beneficiary named in the person’s will can file a will contest.

In previous blog posts, we have talked about challenging the will of a recently-deceased loved one using a will contest. Today, however, we will look at how you can help prevent your will from being challenged. There are a few things that can be done to protect your will. One of these is a provision included in the will known as a “no-contest clause.”

What Is a No-Contest Clause?

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Lombard estate planning lawyerWhen most people are asked about the concept of estate planning, they immediately think about a will and how it can be used to determine what will happen to a person’s assets and property upon his or her death. A will is certainly one of the cornerstones of a comprehensive estate plan, but on its own, a will is not always enough. There are four major elements of estate planning, and an experienced attorney can help you address each one properly.

Protecting Your Property During Your Lifetime

While estate planning is largely focused on what will happen after you die, the process also includes ensuring you have enough financial security to live out the rest of your life as you see fit. Investment strategies and savings, of course, are important, but you may also want to take steps toward protecting your family business or income-generating real estate holdings. You should also consider assigning power of attorney for property to a trusted person who can make decisions regarding your affairs in the event that become incapacitated and unable to make such choices for yourself.

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Lombard estate planning lawyerWhen you get divorced, virtually your entire life is affected. Your relationship with your children changes, your living arrangements are different, and even your outlook on the future is likely to evolve. A divorce can also have a dramatic impact on the viability and the appropriateness of your existing estate plan. If you have recently gone through a divorce, it is a good idea to sit down with your lawyer and go over the details of your will, trusts, and any other estate planning tools you have in place.

Changes in What You Own

One of the most important reasons to update your estate plan after a divorce is the potential change to the property that comprises your estate. According to Illinois law, marital property must be divided equitably between divorcing spouses, which means that you probably own less now that you did when you were married. If your estate plan only makes general references to the property in your estate, the existing terms may be sufficient. Many estate plans, however, contain provisions for specific items or assets such as a particular vehicle or the family home. In the wake of your divorce, you may no longer own these assets, thus making an update necessary.

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DuPage County estate planning attorneysIn many ways, estate planning is similar to dieting and healthy living. We all know that we should eat better, exercise more, and spend fewer hours in front of computer and televisions screens. Compared to the total population, only a portion actually make a sustained, consistent effort at improving their lives. The same is largely true for estate planning. Most of us understand that it is important to have a formal plan in place for when we die. We know that it will be better for our families, and it could even benefit us during our lifetime. Yet, for some reason—or many reasons—more than half of American adults do not have a will or any other type of estate plan in place.

The similarities between estate planning and healthier living do not stop there. Have you ever been at the gym when someone pointed out that you were doing a particular exercise wrong? It can be frustrating, since doing something—even if your technique is not perfect—is better than doing nothing. Estate planning is no different in that regard, but there are several common mistakes that many people make as they go through the process, including:

  • Thinking an estate is too simple or small to need a plan. Are you over the age of 18? Do you have a car and a checking account? All adults should have an estate plan in place, even if the plan is very basic. Sure, you do not need a complex plan loaded with contingencies and endowments, but you should know what will happen to your assets upon your death. If you have children, planning for their future can also be part of your estate planning process;
  • Trusting that things will work themselves out. Life is full of surprises, both good and bad. Marriages, divorce, births, deaths, illnesses, addictions, new jobs, and financial windfalls can all create uncertain circumstances that should be accounted for in your estate plan. A well-developed estate plan can be created to include possible “what-if” scenarios, ensuring that your assets can be fully protected both now and in the future;
  • Choosing the wrong people to manage your estate. Your estate plan affords you the ability to choose an executor, as well as trustees or Powers of Attorney depending on your needs. Too often, people name someone just to get it done, with little thought given to the actual responsibilities in question. The results of doing so can be devastating not only to your estate but to your family’s stability as well; and
  • Forgetting the pets. You would not create an estate plan that failed to account for your young children, but many plans do not address family pets. Instruments such as pet trusts are available and relatively easy to set up so that your furry friends can be well provided for in the years following your death.

Contact a Skilled Lawyer

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Lombard estate planning attorneyThe ASPCA estimates that about 78 million dogs and 85.8 million cats are owned in the United States. For many people, their pet is a valued member of the family. They think of their pet not as a piece of property, but as a beloved companion. If you are one of these people, it is important to consider what will happen to your cherished pet when you are not around to care for it. A pet trust is an estate planning tool which can give you piece of mind that your pet will be looked after even if you cannot be the one to do so.

What Is a Pet Trust?

A trust is an arrangement that holds property or money for a beneficiary, often for when the creator of the trust passes away. Since a person cannot leave money or property directly to an animal, a pet trust legally enforceable arrangement regarding how your pet will be cared for in the event that you cannot care for it.

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Lombard estate planning attorneyWhen it comes to making decisions regarding the end of your life, there are many factors to consider. No matter how difficult it may be for you to think about, leaving such decisions to your loved ones to make can leave lasting feelings of guilt, regret, and wondering if they made the right choice. Fortunately, there are several ways you can prepare in advance regarding your desired end-of-life care. They represent an important but often overlooked element of the estate planning process.

Advance Medical Directives

There are two common ways in which you can make your end-of-life care decisions ahead of time, and both are considered types of advance medical directive. An advance medical directive, put simply, is contingency plan that specifies your wishes to be carried out if you are no longer able to make such decisions for yourself. Living wills and do-not-resuscitate (DNR) orders allow you to maintain control of your own life to the very end.

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