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Lake Forest Illinois Trusts and Estates Law Blog

Should you talk to your parents about estate planning?

You find it difficult enough to talk about your own estate plan. For this reason, you may not have much desire to dive headfirst into the estate plan that your parents have created.

It may not be your idea of a good time, but there are many benefits of talking to your parents about estate planning. As long as you know how to start the conversation and the approach to take, everything should begin to fall into place.

Issues that prompted probate litigation in an heiress' estate

Huguette Clark was the daughter of a coal baron. When she died, her estate was worth more than $300 million. She had signed a will that left most of it to 21 relatives, some of whom she did not even know. At some point, however, she reportedly signed a second will that negated the first, and this action eventually led to probate litigation after she passed away.

It seems the second will changed the instructions, leaving most of her estate to her nurse, her goddaughter and a charity. Many of the relatives mentioned in the first will challenged the second, saying Clark was coerced into signing it. Their case was ultimately settled without going to trial and the relatives received approximately $30 million.

Issues that often spark disputes between heirs

When a parent dies, siblings usually grieve together. Whether the loss comes after a long illness or is sudden and unexpected, emotions are understandably frayed at such a stressful time. Sometimes, the heirs may also find themselves in conflict over the coming estate proceedings. In Illinois and elsewhere, it is important to know where to seek support if a problem arises.

If there was no last will and testament, it often causes a lot of confusion among loved ones left behind. This can be particularly difficult among siblings who may be unsure of what steps are required and what happens to the parent's assets in the absence of a will. An estate must go through probate when there is no existing will. 

Tips for avoiding sibling inheritance disputes

If you are grieving the recent loss of one of your parents, you will share this loss with your siblings. In some situations, the loss of a parent can bring siblings closer together. However, grief can also mean that people are more prone to stress and becoming involved in petty arguments. In the days and weeks after the loss of a parent, you may be especially sensitive to conflict. At the same time, you will have to deal with issues relating to the administration of your parent's estate.

Unfortunately, it's common for siblings to become involved in a dispute after the loss of a parent. While the contents of your parent's estate plan are beyond your control, it is possible to take certain actions to avoid becoming involved in an emotionally draining and financially costly dispute. The following are some tips for successfully doing this.

When conditions are placed on heirs and beneficiaries

Illinois residents and others often execute thorough estate plans before they die. For those of high-net worth value, it is always a good idea as it allows estate owners to control what happens to their assets after they pass away. Some estate owners place conditions on money they wish to leave for heirs and beneficiaries. In fact, a woman in another state recently sought advice because she feels that her grandmother's inheritance conditions were unfair.

The woman is hoping she has legal recourse to override a condition her wealthy grandmother placed on hers and her sisters' portions of inheritance. Her grandmother left instructions for her seven figure inheritance to be equally divided among her three granddaughters, providing that they marry spouses who practice the same religion as her. In two of the sisters' cases, the condition poses no problem because their husbands happen to share the grandmother's faith.

Heirs of Aretha Franklin continue to fight over her estate

The judge overseeing litigation regarding late soul music superstar Aretha Franklin's estate has ordered court supervision of the administration of the estate. Franklin's heirs, namely, one of her four sons, is challenging the appointment of the late singer's niece as estate representative. The situation has sparked opposition between the brothers.

Franklin's estate is reportedly worth approximately $80 million. However, the former Queen of Soul's assets have the potential to generate hundreds of millions more down the line. The son has requested that his cousin be removed as estate representative, asking that he be appointed in her stead. 

Estate litigation must meet requirements, can tear families apart

When a person passes away, the ones who are left behind might not believe the terms set in the will. Unfortunately, this situation can require legal action. As you can imagine, it can rip families apart when they should be coming together to mourn the person who died.

A person can only contest a will if they have a valid reason to do so and if they have legal standing. In some cases, it is difficult to meet these requirements. Whether you think that you need to file a contest or find out that a family member will, you should know all you can.

Issues that warrant estate planning updates

No one can predict the future. That is why it pays to be as prepared as possible, especially regarding the estate planning process. Many people, no doubt including some in Illinois, procrastinate when it comes to planning their estates because they simply do not want to think about their own mortality. Others, however, understand the benefits of executing a thorough plan early in their adult lives.

The problem is that many people who have estate plans forget to update them. It is always best to schedule a periodic review of an existing plan to make sure it is current and aligns with applicable laws. Changes in the tax laws can have a significant impact on an estate plan.

Probate litigation: What if someone dies without a will?

Every Illinois resident will basically die in one of two ways, legally speaking. Either a person dies testate (meaning, he or she left a last will and testament) or intestate (meaning, there is no will). The latter can spark complications  for loved ones regarding probate litigation.

When an adult dies without having executed a last will and testament, there are hearings held in a probate court that has jurisdiction over the particular estate. The purpose of these hearings is so the judge in question can determine how to distribute the decedent's assets. If a valid will does exist, the estate owner likely designated someone to act as executor. Anyone considering writing an estate plan may wish to discuss potential designations such as executor or power of attorney with those so chosen before finalizing a particular plan to make sure they understand what they're being asked to do and agree to it.

When should you update your will and estate plan?

A strong will and estate plan work together to protect your property and ensure that the people and organizations that matter to you benefit from your planning when the time comes. Many people put off creating these important documents until it is too late, leaving their loved ones with a legal mess to sort through when they pass away. Others create estate plans and wills that they never update, assuming that simply having these plans in place is all the protection they need.

Unfortunately, many life events may impact these documents, creating conflicts between the wishes outlined in a will and the beneficiaries of the will creator. Similarly, estate planning laws are not written in stone, and may change without much publicity, complicating some estate plans that do not keep up with the changes.

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