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Lake Forest Illinois Trusts and Estates Law Blog

Choosing a trustee for your estate is a big decision

Once you decide to create a trust, you'll find yourself faced with a variety of decisions and questions. Among the most important are those associated with choosing a trustee.

In short, this person is responsible for administering property and assets both while you're alive and after your passing. Since this is such a big decision, it's critical that you choose the perfect trustee for your situation and goals.

Learn about common estate planning errors so you can avoid them

There are several topics that many Illinois readers might consider issues to avoid talking about, especially when they're gathered with family members, friends or co-workers. Religion, politics and estate planning are often considered topics to avoid. Some people simply do not like to think about their own immortality. Others may feel they don't have enough knowledge about such issues to discuss them intelligently.

When it comes to planning an estate, it is never too soon to begin researching and learning about the process. It actually isn't one, single process; rather, there are numerous issues to consider and documents to prepare and sign. An important part of learning about how to execute a thorough and solid plan is to learn about some of the most common errors people often make when developing their plans.

Probate litigation: What will happen to Janet Reno's homestead?

Some Illinois readers may be aware that the late, former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno owned a homestead that is said to be of significant historical value. Before she died, Ms. Reno executed an estate plan that included specific instructions regarding transfer of ownership of the homestead in the event of her death. Due to extenuating issues, Reno's wishes could not be carried out, which has sparked a complex probate litigation case between her niece and other members of her family.

If a trustee dies or becomes incapacitated before he or she is able to fulfill his or her duties as designated in someone's estate plan, a successor trustee is appointed. In the case regarding Reno's homestead, one of her nephews is acting as the successor trustee. In the initial trust, Reno specified that she wanted to donate her homestead to Miami University, providing that the new owners preserve and maintain the grounds in its current, undeveloped condition. The university reportedly rejected the terms of the trust; therefore, the donation was declined. 

Is it time to talk with your parents about estate planning?

Many Illinois residents are adult children of aging parents. In some households, elderly parents live with a son or daughter. There are also older parents who are able to maintain independent lifestyles, and some who have transitioned into semi or fully-assisted living facilities. As parents age, estate planning often becomes a big concern.

A survey from 2017 shows that only approximately 42% of adults in the United States have executed last wills and testaments. Adult children who are trying their best to provide for their parents' needs, especially regarding health care, often encounter serious financial and legal challenges when there is no estate plan in place. That is one of numerous reasons why it is a good idea to discuss the estate planning process with aging parents while they are still of sound mind.

What is the purpose of probate and can it be contested?

Probate is the legal process of administrating a person's estate after their death. While there are ways that probate can be avoided, for example through the creation of a trust, in the majority of cases at least a portion of a person's assets will be subject to probate.

If you have recently lost a loved one, you may be faced with the responsibility of overseeing the probate process, and you may have questions about why and how it is conducted. The following is an overview of the purpose of probate and a summary of how it typically takes place.

When the goal is to avoid probate litigation

Many Illinois estates are comprised of high-net worth assets while others are less complex. Either way, an ultimate goal of estate owners is often to execute a thorough plan to help loved ones avoid probate litigation. Such litigation is typically time-consuming, expensive and often aggravating for heirs. 

Setting up a trust is usually the simplest means for avoiding probate. A revocable (or living) trust may be changed or updated as needed, as long as the estate owner is still alive and of sound mind. Joint property ownership is another way to steer clear of probate proceedings.

Reviewing celebrity estate issues to avoid probate litigation

No two estate plans are exactly the same. However, Illinois residents concerned about probate litigation may want to review several cases involving celebrities, as doing so may help avoid certain legal problems down the line. Many people are familiar with former rock star Jimi Hendrix although not many people are aware that he died with having executed a last will and testament.

Hendrix died at age 27. His case perhaps emphasizes the fact that it is never too early to develop a strong estate plan. When the rock star suddenly passed away, leaving fans and family members grieving their unexpected loss, it led to a legal battle that lingered for more than 30 years.

The debts you need to pay on behalf of a deceased loved one

Handling the estate of a deceased loved one, whether they are a spouse, a parent or a friend, can create a lot of stress and confusion. There is a specific process that you should follow, but not everyone is aware of what is involved in the administration of an estate.

Some people become so fixated on the distribution of assets to family members and friends that they completely forget about the very important obligation to settle the debts of the deceased person before distributing assets to heirs and beneficiaries.

Probate litigation: Some things you should know

When an Illinois estate owner dies, it typically activates a court process. Depending on whether the person died intestate or testate determines how the process unfolds. There are often ways to avoid probate litigation, but in certain circumstances it is necessary.

If a particular estate owner dies testate, this means he or she signed a last will and testament while still of sound mind. In this case, property and other assets are simply transferred, under the court's supervision, to heirs or beneficiaries designated to receive them in accordance with instructions in the will. Dying intestate means there is no existing last will and testament, in which case the court will determine what happens to the decedent's assets based upon the state's laws of intestacy.

Estate planning is useful for wealthy estates

Getting certain affairs in order can have its difficulties. When it comes to estate planning, Illinois residents have a lot to go through and organize in efforts to make their wishes known. Though it may seem like a challenging task, it is one that is often worth the effort.

If individuals have particularly wealthy estates, having an estate plan can be useful when it comes to avoiding or at least minimizing the taxes owed by the estate. Creating a trust can help because assets from the estate can be put into the trust, which means that those assets are no longer owned by the estate. As a result, assets in the trust are not subjected to estate taxes when the time comes to address that matter.

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