10 Common Estate Planning Questions

10 Common Estate Planning Questions

Estate planning involves documents such as wills, trusts, and powers of attorney. If you are just getting started or are working with a loved one to get started on their estate plan, this blog provides the answers to ten frequent questions about estate planning.  

1. Why do I need a Will? 

A Will is a basic estate planning tool in which a person, the testator, states how they would like their estate to be distributed and administered upon death. A basic Will sets forth the name of a person to administer the estate, called an executor, and directs the executor as to how and among whom the estate assets should be distributed. If a person dies without a Will, which the law calls “intestate,” Illinois statute sets forth a hierarchy for distribution of one’s estate. The estate is divided among the decedent’s spouse and children, if any. If there are none, the statute sets forth the hierarchy of heirs who would inherit the decedent’s assets. Therefore, the benefit of having a Will is that it allows an individual to specify to whom those assets should be distributed, which may be vastly different than the default provisions under the statute.  

2. What do I do with my Will?  

Keep the original in a safe place, such as a safe deposit box. It is also a good idea to tell a trusted person where it is kept so that they can collect it upon death. Upon the death of the testator, the Will should be filed with the Clerk of the Circuit Court in the county in which the testator resided. The Will should be filed within 30 days of the decedent’s death. The Will is not filed with the Clerk during the lifetime of the testator.  

3. What happens if my named executor dies?  

An executor is the individual chosen to administer the estate assets per the terms of one’s Will. It is advisable to name not only an executor to a Will but at least one successor executor to act in the event of death or disability of the primary executor declines to act. If there is no named executor or successor executor, then the law sets forth a hierarchy allowing the heirs of the decedent to nominate an administrator of the estate.  

4. What happens if my attorney dies?  

An attorney’s death during the lifetime of their client will not likely have an adverse effect on the client. The client will need to find new representation, but the attorney’s death does not affect the validity of any estate planning documents. There is also no requirement that the nominated executor or trustee hire the same attorney that drafted the estate planning documents, although many choose to do so.  

5. Do I have to leave anything to my children/spouse/relatives?  

The simple answer is no. An individual has no obligation to leave their estate to anyone. However, Illinois law does allow the spouse of the decedent to renounce the Will and take their statutory share of the deceased spouse’s estate (the share the surviving spouse would be entitled to if there was no Will). Additionally, there are statutory spousal and children’s awards designed to offer financial support to surviving spouses and the decedent’s minor or adult dependent children immediately following the decedent’s death.  

6. Is my Will still valid?  

Wills do not expire. However, it is always advisable to periodically review one’s estate planning documents with an attorney to make sure they are still applicable to one’s particular situation. Marriage, divorce, birth or death are common events triggering amendments or revision of estate plans.  

7. Why do I need a trust?  

Trusts are widely used both as a general probate avoidance tool and as a disability planning device. In Illinois, if the total assets held by a decedent upon their death total $100,000.00 or more or the decedent had real estate, those assets must be administered through the court system. This court procedure is called “probate”. Those assets subject to probate only include the assets that were held by the decedent in their name alone, without beneficiaries and outside of a trust. Those assets that are held in a trust will be administered by the trustee and are not subject to the probate process. Unlike Wills, trusts are not filed with the court upon one’s death and are not made part of the public record. The trust document itself sets forth the powers and duties of the trustee with respect to those assets held in trust. Often individuals who establish trusts, called grantors, name themselves as the trustee. It is always advisable for the grantor to name a successor trustee in the event of death or disability. If the trustee becomes disabled, the successor trustee can accept the office and manage those trust assets for the benefit of the original grantor without the need for court intervention.  

8. How do I put my property into my trust?  

Many assets may simply be re-titled in the name of the trust, for example, “John Doe, Trustee for the John Doe Trust dated 10/20/2022.” Some financial institutions may require that existing accounts be closed and then opened under a new trust account number. Real estate is transferred into a trust by executing and recording a Deed in Trust. Some assets, such as stocks or securities, must be reregistered in the name of the trust.  

9. If I have a trust, do I need a Will?  

Usually, if an individual has a trust, they will also have a “pour-over” Will. This Will directs the executor to transfer to the trustee any assets held by the decedent upon their death. The assets are then administered pursuant to the terms of the trust. Therefore, the Will provides a safeguard for those assets that never made it into the trust during the decedent’s lifetime. Without a pour over Will, those assets would be distributed per the Illinois law of intestate succession.  

10. Why do I need Powers of Attorney?  

Powers of Attorney (POA) are instruments which allow a principal to delegate decision making authority to another person, called an agent. Durable powers of attorney continue to be valid if the principal becomes disabled. In Illinois, there are Powers of Attorney for Health Care and Powers of Attorney for Property. As the names suggest, the agent under the power of attorney for health care is authorized to make medical and health care related decisions and the agent under the power of attorney for property is authorized to make broad decisions with respect to financial assets, real estate and personal property. Depending on the terms of the power of attorney, the agency may become effective upon the principal’s signing the document, or may become effective at a certain later date, such as upon the principal’s disability. Valid powers of attorney, executed when the principal is competent, avoid the need for a court-appointed guardian to make decisions for the principal if they become incompetent. 

When you have questions related to elder law, estate planning, special needs, long-term care planning, probate, and guardianship, think of the attorneys at Dutton Casey & Mesoloras. With over 165 years of legal experience, you can depend on our team for the knowledge, advice, and support you deserve to resolve your legal needs. 

To set up a consultation with any of our elder law attorneys, please contact us at 312-899-0950 or send us an email at contact@duttonelderlaw.com

Other recommended reading: 

Why You Should Choose an Elder Law Attorney for Your Estate Planning, click here

Why Not Use a Power of Attorney from the Internet, click here

Additional Resources: 

Resources: National Elder Law Foundation — www.nelf.org  

National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys — www.naela.org 

This information is not to be considered legal advice.  

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