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Lombard IL estate planning lawyerWith just one glance at the hundreds of statutory provisions in the Illinois Probate Act, you can tell that the estate administration process can be overwhelming and complex. Unfortunately, it is usually necessary for most estates to go through probate. The timeline varies widely based upon the circumstances of the case, but the proceedings can take several months to more than a year. It can be disheartening to think about the time and cost involved, and you may be wondering if there is anything you can do to avoid the probate process. The good news is that there are multiple strategies for sidestepping a drawn-out court case, and one or more of them are often suitable to achieve many of your estate planning goals.

1. Joint Ownership of Certain Assets

For any real estate you currently own jointly, as well as property you purchase with someone in the future, you can title it as “joint tenants with right of survivorship” to avoid the probate process. It is also possible for joint tenants to have survivorship interests on a vehicle registered in Illinois. When this language appears on the deed or Certificate of Title, your interest in the asset passes to the other joint owners by operation of law when you die–not through the probate process.

2. Beneficiary Designations

Another way to pass on assets outside of probate is through beneficiary designations, which will also lead to an automatic transfer of ownership upon your death. Typically, you would include a beneficiary for a life insurance policy, as well as some bank and investment accounts. You can also name a beneficiary on an Illinois vehicle Certificate of Title.

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Lombard IL living trust attorneyMany people associate estate planning with death, and as a result, they often miss out on a truly valuable instrument of asset protection and financial management during their lifetime. A great place to begin learning about and utilizing estate planning is what is known as a “living trust.” This estate planning resource can allow you greater control over the transfer of your assets to your loved ones when the time is right through a mechanism that bypasses the time and expense of probate. To begin benefitting from estate planning, whether through a living trust, a will, or other tools, work with an experienced Illinois estate planning attorney.

Functions of a Living Trust

Unlike a will or a testamentary trust, which become effective only upon your death, a living trust can become effective while you are living. For many, a primary reason to create a living trust is to protect assets from the probate process. This form of lawful asset protection is accomplished when legal ownership of the assets is transferred from you—the “grantor”—to the trust under the control of a “trustee.” The trustee holds the assets in trust for those you who have selected to benefit from them—the “beneficiaries”.

Importantly, the law even allows you to be named as the trustee of your own living trust, which permits you to retain full control of the assets held in the trust during your lifetime. You have the ability to add or remove assets, modify the terms of the trust, or revoke the trust as you see fit. It is also important to name a successor trustee who will take over management of the trust assets in the event of your death or incapacitation. After your death, the assets can then be distributed to your named beneficiaries according to your wishes.

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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 lawyerFor many people, the first time they hear the word “trust” in relationship to financial matters is when it is used—often disparagingly—to describe a child of extremely wealthy parents. In the eyes of some working-class people, these “trust-fund kids” have things pretty easy, which may, in turn, lead to a negative connotation for the idea of a trust. Trusts, however, are extremely valuable tools with a wide variety of economic applications. When a trust, like a revocable living trust, is used in estate planning, it can dramatically ease the process of distributing the decedent’s property to his or her chosen beneficiaries.

What is a Trust?

A trust, put simply, as an arrangement that places assets and property under the care of a particular person, entity, or other third-party to be distributed to beneficiaries at some point in the future. The party responsible for managing the trust is known as the trustee and should be chosen with great care. There are many potential advantages to using a trust in place of or in addition to a traditional last will and testament.

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