1. Is Estate Planning Only for the Wealthy?

No. The truth is that almost everyone needs an estate plan regardless of income or net worth in order to minimize stress, unnecessary confusion, and costs for loved ones after a death. A basic estate plan consists of a Will, Power of Attorney for Property, Power of Attorney for Healthcare, and sometimes a Revocable Living Trust.

2. What is Probate?

Probate is a court process of transferring legal title of property from a person who has died to that person’s heirs. Probate usually takes 9 to 12 months to complete if there are no complications. Probate can be avoided if an estate has little or no “Probate Assets.”

3. What is the Difference Between Probate Assets vs. Non-Probate Assets?

Probate Assets are assets that you own in your name only that DO NOT automatically transfer at your death. If you don’t have any Probate Assets in your estate – then your estate does not have to go through Probate.

4. Does Having a Will Mean My Estate Will Avoid Probate?

No. A Will is a document that is used in the Probate process – it doesn’t help avoid probate. A Will is a document that states what happens to your Probate Assets when you die.

5. What Happens if You Don’t have a Will?

If someone dies without a Will then we look to Illinois Law to see who inherits your Probate Assets. For example, Illinois provides that if someone is married with children when they die – then half of their Probate Assets will go to the surviving spouse and the other half of their Probate Assets are split among their children. Many people prefer to have a Will instead of letting the state decide who inherits their assets.

6. What is a Revocable Living Trust and Do You Need One?

A Revocable Living Trust (“RLT”) is a trust a person funds with their own assets when they are alive. A person that funds a trust is called a “Grantor”. During the Grantor’s lifetime that person has complete control over the assets they transferred into their RLT. All assets in a RLT avoid probate when the Grantor dies. A RLT is a powerful estate planning tool that can be used to avoid probate, reduce estate taxes, and control assets long after the Grantor’s death.

7. How Can I Give Part of my Estate to a Charity or Organization that is Important to Me?

A few ways to help any charity through your estate plan is by naming them in a specific bequest in your Will; giving a percentage of your retirement funds to a charity (saving on income tax); or naming a charity as a beneficiary of a life insurance policy. Many organizations have established foundations to help donors structure gifts through their estate.