Ten Things You Should Know About Estate Planning in Illinois
Estate planning is the process of creating documents that will help you during your life and help your family when you are no longer living. These documents will determine who inherits your assets, cares for your children and who is in charge of the process. Here are some things you should know about estate planning:
- Powers of attorney only apply while you're living. They automatically terminate once you die. If you want one of your children to handle your affairs after you die, name them as executor in your will.
- If you don't have a will, the law will make decisions for you. Dying without a will is called dying intestate. If you die intestate, the court will distribute your property according to the rules set out in Illinois law. Illinois law says that if you have a spouse, they get everything; if you have a spouse and kids, they split everything; if you have neither, it goes to your parents, etc.
- Not all wills are valid. If a will is made while the person isn't of sound mind, or if they are forced to sign it under duress, it might not be valid. Also, in Illinois a will needs to be signed by two witnesses.
- A "living will" is for end-of-life care, not distributing your property. People confuse the term living will with a will that says who gets your stuff when you're gone. A living will (also called an advance directive) actually tells doctors whether to keep you alive on life support. It's more detailed than that, but that's the general idea.
- You can do some of this on your own. If you have a straightforward situation, you can find forms online for powers of attorney (healthcare and finances) and advance directives. In fact, we offer those forms for free on our website. Estate planning beyond that is best done by an attorney.
- You should keep your estate plan up to date. You don't have to revisit it every year, but if there is a major life change – birth of a child, divorce, remarriage, etc. – it's a good idea to have your attorney make some changes to your estate planning documents.
- You don't have to be rich to set up a trust. If you put your property in a trust, it can be protected from probate. This means that it can automatically pass assets on to the person of your choosing, without going through the court system first.
- A trust needs a trustee. The trustee is the person assigned to manage the assets in the trust, make distributions, etc. You can be your own trustee while you are alive and name a successor trustee to take over after your death.
- Plan for guardianship of minor children. An experienced estate planning attorney also will help you make a plan about who will care for your children if they are minors. This is an important part of the estate planning process.
- Estate planning attorneys charge hourly or a flat rate. Make sure you discuss fees with your attorney when you meet them for the first time. Some offer a flat rate for a set of documents that includes everything you need.
If you have additional questions about estate planning in Illinois, or if you need a referral to an Illinois estate planning attorney, feel free to contact us at (800) 517-1614 or (312) 346-5320. You can also contact us online.