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Illinois Estate Planning FAQ

1. What is Estate Planning?

Estate planning is a lifelong process by which a person makes legal arrangements to most efficiently and effectively manage and transfer property both during life and after death according to your goals. Estate planning also involves the minimization of taxes, providing for personal care and property management during periods of incapacity and providing for the custodial care of any minor or adult dependent children.

2. What happens if I don’t do any estate planning?

Everybody has an estate plan — it is either created by you or it is created for you by the General Assembly legislature in state you live in. Dying without a Will is known as dying “intestate.” You need to create your own estate plan if you care about how your property is handled and disposed of after your death, or during periods of incapacity.

3. Is estate planning mostly just about reducing taxes?

No. In fact, for most people taxes are well down on the list of concerns. Even for those with estates large enough to be subject to estate tax, minimization of tax should be coordinated to fit with your other non-tax goals and should never be the tail that wags the dog.

4. Do I still need an estate plan if my property is owned jointly?

Yes. While joint tenancy can be part of a good estate plan in some situations, it does not provide for all situations and contingencies, including what happens after the death of the surviving joint tenant. Please read Asset Titling for much more on the consequences and limitations of joint tenancy.

5. What are the primary decisions that I need to make?

  • Your beneficiaries. This is not just “who and how much”, but also when, how, in what form and subject to what terms and conditions. These are decisions that your estate planning attorney can help you to arrive at. Consideration should always be given to contingent and successor beneficiaries should any primary beneficiary predecease you.
  • Your fiduciaries. The person(s) or entity that you designate to serve as executor(s), trustee(s), agent(s) and guardian(s). Alternates and successors should be specified whenever possible. Since these are the persons entrusted with carrying out your instructions, these choices are among the most important aspects of an estate plan and should be given ample consideration.

6. What aspects does every good estate plan include?

7. Do I have to leave my property equally among all of my children?

No. Sometimes there are important reasons to treat children, or other beneficiaries differently within your estate plan. Equal shares are not always “equal”. Children may have different financial or special needs that call for different treatment. Your property is yours to dispose of, and with very few exceptions, may be disposed of exactly how you wish.

8. Do I need an attorney to plan my estate?

A qualified estate planning attorney can help ensure that your estate plan is structured and implemented according to your unique wishes and needs in the most efficient and effective manner possible. Do-it-yourself estate planning all too often results in costly and embittered litigation for families, unnecessary delay, ambiguity and tax inefficient property transfer.

9. What information does an estate planning attorney need?

To begin with, an estate planning attorney is going to need basic information and data on you, your family, your beneficiaries, your assets and your desired fiduciaries. We collect this basic information on our confidential estate planning information form.

10. Does every attorney do estate planning?

No. Estate planning has become highly specialized (and complicated) over the years with the ever increasing (and changing) myriad of local, state and federal tax laws and regulations, estate and trust laws and statutes, property, agency and contract laws. Attorneys that concentrate in planning and administering estates and trusts are usually best able to help you and your beneficiaries through this challenging and important process. Please note that the Illinois Supreme Court does not recognize certification of specialties for attorneys, nor is certification a requirement to practice law in Illinois.

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