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safe deposit box, headaches in estate planning, Illinois estate planning attorneyCouples who have been married for a long time often fall into a routine regarding how the marital responsibilities are divided. This routine may also apply to financial responsibilities. One spouse may handle all of the investment responsibilities and the other may handle the household financial responsibilities such as monthly bill paying and checkbook balancing. Quite often, however, when one spouse dies unexpectedly and there is no written documentation and record-keeping, it can turn into a nightmare for the surviving spouse.

When a spouse passes, and he or she handled all investments, the surviving spouse may suddenly find him or herself unsure of what or where those investments, as well as other bank accounts, are located. He or she may also have issues gaining access to those accounts.

If a spouse passes, and he or she handled the day-to-day household bills, the surviving spouse may not have any idea what those bills are or even how to access their checking account information. In fact, with more people utilizing online account and bill-paying options, many surviving spouses cannot gain access to those accounts because they do not know the the required passwords.

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Birthdays. Christmas. Showers. What do all three have in common? The ability for the giver to enjoy seeing the receiver's reaction and joy to the gift given to them and knowing what they just gave made someone else happy. What a feeling. It is true that it is better to give than to receive in that regard.

If your love language is gift-giving, look into giving your financial contributions and gifts NOW instead of after your death. Wills are great and so is making sure people and organizations get what you worked a lifetime for, but, there are opportunities for you to see your hard earned money bless others today.

There are two very easy ways to go about this. First, is to pay either medical or educational bills - unlimited expenses! Just make sure you give directly to the institution on behalf of the person you wish to help. That means college, doctors, hospitals, medication - expenses anyone would appreciate the help with! Second, is to give no more than $13,000 per person per year. Yes! That means you can select as many people you would like to give each $13,000 a year to! Just remember that you do have a lifetime to give $1 million without paying taxes.

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Estate planning isn't easy, no matter what level of assets you have. It's important for every family to have a plan of what to do with assets upon death, no matter what level of income or the closeness of family relationships. A trustee is a person (or a member of a board) who is given control of powers of administration of property. This is usually a trusted family member or child. Hiring a competent estate-planning attorney is the most important step to planning your estate, but there are many factors to consider when appointing a trustee.  The first, according to Probate & Property, a publication of the American Bar Association, is to consider the legal capacity of whomever you'd be interested in appointing as your trustee. It should go without saying that only competent adults can be appointed as trustee—a child cannot be appointed until he or she is of legal age. Laws vary slightly from state to state, especially if the trustee you're interested in appointing is a charitable organization or other financial institution. This is something to discuss with an Illinois estate-planning attorney.

On a more personal level, according to Probate & Property, is to consider the specific personalities and skills of the individual who you're interested in appointing. These characteristics include "judgment, experience, impartiality, investment sophistication and track record, availability, accounting and record-keeping ability, and potential conflicts of interest." Appointing a trustee who understands capital gains is important, considering the recent Uniform Principal and Income Act, which "gives the trustee the ability to allocate some or all capital gains in a particular year to trust income." Family drama and relationships need to be taken into consideration as well—will one child create conflict for the other if he or she is named trustee (or not).

If you or someone you know has not yet begun the estate planning process, it's a great New Year's resolution and one to not be taken lightly. Contact an Illinois estate-planning attorney today. Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Posted on in Estate Execution

According to the American Association of Retired People (AARP), "Congress hasn't made estate planning any easier with its ping-pong approach to the estate tax," and the federal estate tax rates are slated to change again in 2013. Finding a qualified and competent attorney is the most important step to begin estate planning. Not only can a professional help you to ensure that your inheritors get the most of your estate, but also help you to wade through the necessary and complicated paperwork and legalese. In 2010, the federal estate tax rate was zero—and has moved upward since. The New Year marks a new rate, unless Congress decides otherwise. Now's a better time than ever to begin the process.

Consider it a holiday gift to yourself and your family. According to the AARP, "until January 1, 2013, the amount of your estate exempted from federal tax is $5 million for individuals, $10 million for couples." These numbers don't include gifts of up to $5 million that are exempt before paying a gift tax ($10 million for a couple).

The changing of this isn't just for the very wealthy—an oft-overlooked subset of the population regarding estate tax are the solidly middle-class farmers, whose land is counted as part of an estate. As property values have risen dramatically (especially for large swaths of farmland located near large cities, like Chicago), farmers have been hit especially hard by rising estate tax rates.

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A will is a guideline for your loved ones and, sometimes, the state where you live to fulfill your last wishes on earth.  It is up to you to maintain those wishes in a legal document otherwise they could be decided for you by the state that you live in.  The states desire to come as close as possible to the deceased last requests, yet their generalized approach often leaves something to be desired.  In order to regain control over these last plans, it is integral to draft a will.

But what is the scope of a will?  What does it do and what is outside of its grasp?  The main goal of a will is to distribute property to family, friends, and other beneficiaries.  There are certain restrictions that vary from state to state, which is why it is essential to review these documents with an experienced estate planning professional.  For example, there are certain restrictions on property that falls of a probate estate, like joint property.

There are also opportunities in wills to protect the beneficiaries of your estate.  A trust can be set up to assist a surviving family member with things like college tuition with the knowledge that these assets will be managed by a third party, protected from creditors, and also be subjected to minimal amount of taxes.  There are other benefits that can be had from setting up a will.

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