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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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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 attorneyMost people are vaguely familiar with the concept of a last will and testament. However, there are actually many different documents that individuals use to distribute their assets and property upon their death. Wills and trusts sometimes get lumped together, but they serve different purposes. You may choose to use one, both, or neither based on your own personal circumstances and wishes.

A will is a document in which a person—the grantor—dictates what they want to happen to their property after they have passed away. He or she designates beneficiaries who then receive the assets and property upon the grantor’s death. A trust, by comparison, is a legal arrangement which allows a third party, called the trustee, to hold assets on behalf of a beneficiary or beneficiaries.

One significant difference between a will and a trust is that a will goes into effect only after the person who authored it, passes away whereas a trust can be effective immediately. Also, a will can only govern the distribution of property owned in the testator's sole name. Assets that pass directly to a beneficiary by contract or law, such as life insurance policies or joint tenancies with rights of survivorship, cannot be addressed by a will. Trusts, on the other hand, can manage and distribute any property the grantor chooses. Trusts can include life insurance policies and tenancy-in-common interests.

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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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Lombard estate planning lawyersAs 2017 comes to a close and we venture into 2018, it is important to make sure your estate plan is still accurate and reflects your current wishes. An up-to-date estate plan will offer peace of mind that your family is taken care of and that your final wishes are fulfilled after you have passed. An estate plan also protects your rights and financial interests while you are still living.  

Without an estate plan, a person’s assets are divided according to state laws. This means that a person without a comprehensive estate plan has little say in how their assets are disseminated after they pass away. If you currently have an estate plan in place, the end of the year is a good time to review and modify the plan as needed.   

Review Your Current Estate Plan  

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Lombard estate planning lawyerIn today’s world, you can Google a “how-to” on nearly anything. Want to build a playhouse for your children? There are YouTube videos to show you how. Trying to become a better writer? A quick search can offer you thousands of workbooks, prompts, and exercises. Need a will or a power of attorney document? Countless resources are available to help you skip the “hassle” of hiring an estate planning lawyer. Unfortunately, a do-it-yourself estate plan is rarely a good idea, as even a small mistake can have significant consequences.

Retaining an estate planning attorney may seem unnecessary, especially as you draft your documents. At the very least, however, you should have a lawyer review your will and any other documents before you sign them to ensure that you do not become a victim of:

Selecting the Wrong People

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Lombard estate planning lawyersIf you have taken the time to create a will or any other instrument of estate planning, you are already better off than more than half of American adults. When drafting a will, most people consider most of their physical belongings along with investments or savings kept in the bank or at other financial institutions. Digital assets, however, often go overlooked, as many people do not even remember that they exist when they sit down to develop their estate plans. Some may not even know what digital assets are.

What Are Digital Assets?

Do you have a library of e-books from Amazon? What about a collection of songs from iTunes or apps from Google Play? These are some of the most common examples of digital assets. With the advancement of online technology, there are more types of digital assets today than ever before. In addition to e-books, programs, and music, digital assets also include pictures, data, visual designs, artwork, and online accounts for gaming, entertainment, and social media. If you have even one these types of assets—and since you are reading a blog right now, you probably do—it is important to develop a plan for dealing with them after your death.

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Lombard estate planning lawyerWhen a person dies without a will or any other instruments of estate planning in place, his or her property will be distributed by the Probate Court in according with Illinois laws regarding intestate succession. Such cases often create significant disagreements among surviving family members. Of course, families may also fight when they discover what they are to receive in a will as well—and in some situations, things can get completely out of control.

More Than Money

While people often throw their familial allegiances to the wind and try to take as much as they can, family disputes on inheritance are not always about money. Conflict can arise for emotional reasons as well. While a grandson may not care to inherit a particular pie plate that his grandmother used for 30 years, for example, that same item could mean the world to someone else in the family. It is worth putting time and careful thought into your plan regarding who inherits the sentimental assets that you own. In doing so, there are a few things you should consider.

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Lombard estate planning lawyerPeople often wonder whether they can handwrite their will or change their will by writing in new provisions or crossing things out. To be clear, if you want to be sure that your will is followed exactly after your death, all changes should be made with the help of your attorney. That said, whether you can handwrite a will or make handwritten changes to a will depends primarily on where you live and where your will is to be executed upon your death.

Jurisdiction Matters  

The validity of a handwritten will depends on the laws of the state in which you reside. Many states recognize handwritten wills as potentially valid, but each state may have different witness requirements. Witnesses ensure that you have the mental capacity and intent to make a will and that you, in fact, were the one to sign it. In some jurisdictions, a witness does not need to be present for a handwritten will to be valid. This type of will is known as a holographic will. In other jurisdictions, two witnesses must be present.

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Lombard estate planning attorneyAs you age, it is not unreasonable for your needs to change. Depending on your physical and mental health, you may require more personal and medical care than you once did. While your family members and loved ones may be willing to help, they may not always be equipped or able to do so. In such cases, you may need to depend upon a caregiver with whom you have no family or personal relationship—at least at the beginning. Over time, you may become very close with your caregiver, possibly even close enough to consider including him or her in your will.

Legal Protections

In 2015, Illinois lawmakers amended to the Illinois Probate Act to provide additional protections for those who are under the care of non-family caregivers. The amendment created the presumption that any transfer of property exceeding $20,000 to an unrelated caregiver is fraudulent if the transfer is challenged. According to the law, the presumption of fraud would invalidate the will or trust making such a transfer.

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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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estate planning, family future, Lombard estate planning attorneysAlthough it is a subject that many Americans would rather not think about, eventually our individual lives will end and our loved ones will inevitably be left with burdens, be it emotional, financial, or both. Decades ago, when someone passed away, there were no credit cards, families did not travel as much, and divorce was taboo. Everything that was left behind generally either went to the state or the family members left behind. With the growing complexity of family structure in conjunction with our spending habits, the need has arisen to secure a plan for after we die. Legal documents such as wills, trusts, and other estate planning measures can help protect the future of your loved ones after you pass.

Know the Difference

The best and most direct route of starting the process is to know which option is best for your current circumstances. It may be that none of the options are a completely perfect or it may mean that multiple options will help achieve your goals. No matter the case, it is necessary to understand the each option. 

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