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Lake Forest Illinois Trusts and Estates Law Blog

Estate planning: Start young and get a head start

There are many people who state when you should, or should not, begin estate planning. There are guidelines to begin in your 30s or 40s. There are suggestions to start when you have children or a family to protect.

The reality is that you should start as soon as you can, no matter what your situation is. Once you turn 18, your life is in your hands, and that means you should establish what you want to have happen if you are too ill to take care of yourself or die unexpectedly.

Prevent probate problems for heirs and beneficiaries

Many Illinois residents avoid discussions about mortality, which is not atypical, as most people would rather think of something other than the fact that they are going to die someday. However, executing a solid estate plan while you're of sound mind can have many benefits. One of the most important things you can do by planning ahead is help your heirs and beneficiaries avoid probate trouble.

When the time comes to administer your estate, one way to ensure that those who receive assets are of your own choosing is to designate them in your final will. If you fail to execute a will, then your estate becomes intestate. Any person who claims to be your heir or claims to be entitled to money or property, upon your death, will have to address the matter in probate court.

Probate litigation: Things to know about challenging a will

There are numerous reasons why someone may want to challenge a will. There are also several reasons why he or she would not be permitted to do so. For any man or woman considering probate litigation, it is critical to first seek clarification of any and all regulations that may apply to a particular situation.

To challenge a will, the person wishing to contest it must be an interested party. Interested parties are legally defined as spouses, children, heirs or others having property rights or claims against the estate that is being administered. In addition to being an interested party, a person wishing to contest a will must also prove his or her standing, meaning he or she was named in the will or stood to receive money or other assets had there have been no will at all.

Income tax filings after death: Important information

Whenever someone dies, the estate needs to settle the decedent's outstanding debts -- including taxes -- before the remaining proceeds can be distributed. This means that the estate executor must fill out and submit to the IRS the final Form 1040, which will cover all taxes owed by the decedent from the date of Jan. 1 until the date of death. If the decedent died in 2018, then the tax filing is due by the standard 2019 filing date for 2018 taxes.

Sometimes it's not entirely straightforward how to prepare and file the last tax return for an estate, which is why many executors choose to work with a tax planning professional when preparing the final tax filing.

When the main goal is to avoid probate litigation

Illinois estate owners may be able to help their loved ones avoid future problems by transferring assets outside of the probate process. Probate litigation often leads to months or years of entangled courtroom battles, which also often leads to contention between family members. Such problems often cause irreparable rifts where siblings or other relatives stop speaking to each other.

There are several ways to transfer property ahead of time in order to avoid the probate process. A means many estate owners employ is to execute revocable living trusts. Entering joint ownership of property is another probate-avoidance tool.

Man considering probate litigation against his stepfather

When an Illinois estate owner executes a plan that includes provisions regarding a home -- in particular, who might live in it when the time comes to administer the estate, it often specifies the name of a spouse, adult child or other family member. It seems like it should all be relatively simple, meaning the person listed in a final will as being permitted to live in a house does so and everyone is happy. That is not always how things work out, however, especially if another family member is not satisfied with the situation. A man in another state recently wrote to an advice column to ask whether or not he has grounds to pursue probate litigation against his stepfather.

The man's mother died and she left all her assets to him, including her debt-free house, after his stepfather also dies. In the meantime, however, in her final will, the woman granted permission to her spouse to live in her home, provided he pay for upkeep, taxes and insurance premiums. Upon remarriage, the man would have to pay rent to the son. The son claims that his stepfather refuses to pay for anything; the stepfather says the son has cheated him. 

Millionaire's heirs and beneficiaries are battling over her death

A retired school teacher in another state who is now deceased was married to a scientist (also now deceased) who pioneered studies of cloning. Following her husband's successful and prestigious scientific career, the former teacher's estate was worth more than $5 million when she died. The woman's heirs and beneficiaries are now battling, not only over her estate but also over her actual death.

The woman reportedly had named one of her sons as executor of her estate. His brother, however, was apparently not happy about that. There are also reports stating that the unhappy brother had been written out of his mother's will back in 2007, without his knowledge.

Estate planning for your children when you're a same-sex couple

Same-sex couples can marry just like opposite-sex couples, but there are some differences that must be highlighted when same-sex spouses are raising children together -- especially when only one of the spouses has formally established their parental status.

When a same-sex couple has a child together, the child will only have the genes of one parent (unless there is a new fertility procedure that is unknown at the time of this writing). Because the child only carries one parent's DNA, the nonbiological parent needs to ensure that they have the same and equal parental rights for estate planning purposes.

Resolving estate problems when heirs and beneficiaries disagree

When an Illinois estate owner executes a final will and testament, updates and changes can be made as needed, provided the estate owner is of sound mind and wishes to do so. Once he or she passes from this life, however, the terms of the final will and testament, as written before death, must be carried out. If heirs and beneficiaries disagree, things can get quite complicated.

If an heir is aware of the contents of a final will and believes that he or she has not been treated fairly regarding inheritance, the time to do something about it is while the benefactor is still living. For instance, a son or daughter can speak to a father and ask whether he would consider changing his will. A man in another state is considering doing this because he believes his sister will receive more money than he will after his father dies.

How to prevent family rivalries over your estate

We take the time to design a sound and fair estate plan for the benefit of our families. That's why the idea that our families could break apart into fighting and squabbles after we pass away is such a disheartening one. Even though disagreement is common after a death in the family, there are some things we can do in our estate plans to avoid such an outcome.

Here are some of the most pertinent strategies for keeping your family in good standing with each other after you're gone:

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