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Lake Forest Illinois Trusts and Estates Law Blog

Estate planning: What does it mean to get one's affairs in order?

Many Illinois residents understand the value of planning for their futures. How each person interprets that may be somewhat unique, although the estate planning process is a common tool most people use to organize their assets and execute a plan to be carried out if they should become sick or incapacitated. When someone says that he or she wishes to get his or her affairs in order, it can mean different things.

It is common for those planning their estates to designate one or more people to handle their financial affairs or to make medical decisions on their behalf if they are unable to do so for themselves. A power of attorney is an important document that serves as an advance directive. A living will is another document that allows an estate owner to make his or her wishes known, which can make it easier for loved ones to address health care needs down the line.

Major life changes require updates to your estate plan

Maintaining your estate plan can seem inconvenient, but putting off important updates to your plan can cause major complications if you never get around to it. Many life changes may affect your estate plan, making it wise to review your estate documents from time to time.

As a general rule, you should look over your estate plan after any significant life event or every four years. This schedule for review helps account for changes in the law that may affect your plan, which can happen without your knowledge.

Estate planning requires a sound mind, but how is that defined?

Can a person think he or she is of sound mind but not be so? It is logical to assume that certain mental illnesses or levels of decline in mental capacity might prompt conditions wherein a man or woman is not fully aware that he or she is not fully aware. Dementia, for instance, may be present without the person afflicted by it realizing there is a problem. When it comes to estate planning, it is critical that an Illinois resident executing an estate plan be of sound mind; otherwise, the documents therein may be invalid.

How is a sound mind legally defined? Most states list two essential components to determining whether a testator is capable of executing a valid will or other estate document. First, the person must clearly understand what he or she is doing. He or she must also show understanding of the implications of the action; for instance, in signing a last will and testament, the estate owner must understand that he or she is planning for the distribution of assets.

Bob Marley heirs win appeal regarding trademark dispute

Many Illinois residents and those in other states who inherit property or money often encounter legal challenges when they set out to claim what they are entitled to receive. The heirs of former reggae singer Bob Marley have been entangled in a legal dispute regarding a trademark issue. An appellate court judge recently ruled on the matter and upheld an earlier federal court decision, which has reportedly greatly pleased the Marley heirs.

The situation involves Marley Coffee. The Fifty-Six Hope Road Music Company severed ties with Jammin' Java Corporation. However, the latter apparently continued to use the Marley trademarks to turn a profit.

Why wills are so important to successful estate planning

Most Illinois adults earn livings in one way or other. While some people sacrifice careers to stay home and raise families, many still earn incomes through telecommuting opportunities. Others are solely dependent on a spouse or other family member for financial support. No matter what a person's particular circumstances happen to be, if he or she wishes to protect assets and provide for loved ones after his or her own death, the estate planning process is a valuable tool toward achieving such goals.

key document in most estate plans is a last will and testament. Executing a will is perhaps the best way to avoid family disputes when it comes time to administer an estate. It is also the easiest way to ensure that one's assets are distributed to the beneficiaries of one's choosing rather than having a probate court decide who should get what according to intestacy laws in Illinois.

The warning signs of a family fight after you're gone

If you're the glue that holds your family together, what will happen after you die? Will your family descend into serious problems that involve intense fights and even legal battles over your estate? It's never easy to predict whether a particular family is at risk of fighting over a loved one's estate, but there are several warning signs you might want to look out for to judge whether or not this could happen to your family:

Sibling rivalries: It's not uncommon for a sibling rivalry to last a lifetime. In fact, even if it appears that two siblings have been getting along for years, family members could be surprised to find that they suddenly fall back into those old, familiar ruts after money is on the table. 

Estate litigation: Circumstances when you can challenge a will

A will is legally binding in most cases, so the probate court must adhere to the terms laid out in the document by the creator of the will. But what if circumstances are such that heirs, beneficiaries or other interested parties wish to challenge the validity of the document?

There are situations when such a will contest could be viable and respected in court. Many wills have been overturned after family members or those who were not treated well by the will submitted a challenge in court. The court might invalidate the entire will or just a piece of it.

Probate litigation and murder accusations intersect

A young man in another state says that legal problems surrounding an inheritance that is due to him have taken up the last five years of his life. He has reportedly survived a harrowing experience as well, when he and his mother were on a fishing trip a few years back and his boat sunk, leaving his mother lost at sea. That incident and the death of the man's grandfather have become intertwined in accusations against him, claiming he caused both deaths in order to gain millions of dollars in inheritance. Those accusations are now a central focus of probate litigation proceedings.

It is the man's three aunts, sisters of his late grandfather, who have accused him of murdering their father and also causing his own mother's death so that he would be the sole heir who would then be set to claim the grandfather's inheritance. Problems have arisen in the courtroom also, when the judge overseeing the case accused the aunts' attorneys of taking advantage of the defendant's pro se status. The aunts were displeased that their counsel had fallen out of favor with the judge, and they requested a postponement so that they could hire new attorneys.

My heirs are bad with money: What should I do?

If you have worked your entire life to amass a considerable estate, you are, no doubt, proud of the legacy that you will leave behind to your loved ones. But what if your loved ones are horrible at managing money. As much as you adore them, their gifts and skills do not fall within the realm of asset management. You don't judge them for this, but you want to protect them from themselves. What should you do?

First and foremost, remember that you are not alone. Many estate planners have faced the same situation, and this is why we have the tradition of the "spendthrift" trust. A spendthrift trust will create sufficient controls to prevent your fiscally irresponsible heirs from losing all of your money as soon as it gets into their hands.

Do your research before entering estate planning process

Many Illinois residents understand the importance of protecting their assets and providing for their loved ones in the event of their own deaths. However, some jump into the estate planning process without any basic knowledge or guidance as to what state regulations are or how certain documents may work for or against them regarding their particular estate needs and goals. There are numerous mistakes that are quite common that those considering executing an estate plan will want to avoid.

First, no estate owner (or anyone involved in any type of written agreement) should sign anything without clearly understand the terms therein. If someone who is not well-versed in estate planning and probate laws draws up documents without really understanding the implications of what he or she is doing, it can create a financial mess, and it may cause problems for loved ones when the time comes to administer the estate. Avoiding this error is quite easy by requesting assistance from an experienced estate planning and administration attorney.

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