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Although many people assume that a last will and testament is the only estate planning tool that they need, a will is not always the best way to accomplish all of your estate planning goals. Other estate tools such as living trusts are often overlooked due to confusion or misunderstandings about the purpose of these tools. A trust is a legally binding agreement involving an individual or entity called a trustee who holds property for the benefit of a beneficiary. A living trust is an advantageous tool for managing your assets during your lifetime and then passing those assets to beneficiaries upon your death. If you are interested in using a living trust to manage your assets, you may question whether you should use a revocable living trust or an irrevocable living trust.

Revocable Trusts

 

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power of attorney, Wheaton estate planning lawyerHave you ever thought about who should handle your affairs if you became physically or mentally capacitated? Sadly, unexpected accidents and illnesses can affect even individuals who are otherwise young and healthy. A power of attorney is a type of advance directive that allows a person to designate a representative or “agent” to speak on his or her behalf in the event of a catastrophic illness or injury. The term “power of attorney” is used to refer to the estate planning tool as well as the individual who is chosen to act as the agent. This is a heavy responsibility, so it is important to choose someone who is capable of handling the role.

Financial Power of Attorney and Power of Attorney for Healthcare

A power of attorney for healthcare, also called a medical power of attorney, allows you to choose a representative to make medical decisions on your behalf should you become unable to express your own medical wishes. For example, if complications arise during surgery and you are under anesthesia, your power of attorney for healthcare may need to make decisions on your behalf about how to proceed.

A financial power of attorney allows you to choose a representative to make financial decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated. Your agent will be responsible for paying your bills and handling other monetary or real estate matters.  Some individuals choose to assign both medical and financial responsibilities to the same person, while others choose to assign these roles to two different people.

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living will, Wheaton estate planning lawyerYou may have already considered how you want your assets distributed to heirs after you pass away, but this is not the only issue that estate plans can address. Have you ever wondered what types of medical treatment you would want if you became incapacitated through a serious illness or injury? For example, if you were involved in a car accident and left comatose, would you want doctors to do everything possible to extend your life? Would you want a feeding tube, mechanical ventilation, or other death-delaying procedures? Would you want to let nature take its course?

Through a living will, you can make these types of decisions in advance. This saves your loved ones from being forced to make these decisions for you and also gives you the peace of mind knowing that your medical wishes will be followed.

The Terri Schiavo Case Emphasized the Need for a Living Will

Although it was over 20 years ago, many people still remember the media frenzy surrounding Terri Schiavo. The young woman fell into an irreversible persistent vegetative state after suffering a cardiac arrest at age 26. Her husband believed that Terri would not want to be kept alive via long-term life support and elected to have her feeding tube removed. The woman’s parents strongly disagreed and wanted their daughter to continue receiving artificial hydration and nutrition. The case resulted in a seven-year legal battle.

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no-contest, Wheaton estate planning attorneysThere are a number of reasons that a will or other estate planning document may be invalid. If the testator was not of sound mind due to dementia or another health condition when he or she created the will, for example, the will may not represent the testator’s true wishes. If a testator was coerced or tricked into the provisions contained in his or her will, it is also invalid. If a loved one has reason to believe that the directions contained in a deceased person’s will should not be followed, they may contest the will in court. Unfortunately, some beneficiaries may contest a will simply because they do not like the instructions contained within the will. If you are concerned that someone may challenge the validity of your will after you pass away, you may want to consider adding a “no-contest” clause.

Basics of No-Contest Clauses

There is no way to completely prevent your will from being challenged after your death. However, you can discourage beneficiaries from challenging it. A no-contest clause is a provision in a will or trust that establishes certain “penalties” if a beneficiary challenges the validity of the will or trust. For example, perhaps you are worried that one of your children will be unhappy with his or her share of your estate. You worry that he or she will contest the validity of your will in an attempt to have the will thrown out. You could include a no-contest clause that states that if a beneficiary disputes the validity of your will and loses, he or she will lose part or all of the inheritance assigned to him or her. The possibility of losing a significant inheritance can make a beneficiary think twice before challenging your will.

Limitations of an Illinois No-Contest Clause

It is important to note that a no-contest clause cannot guarantee that your will may not be contested. A beneficiary may still choose to challenge the will even at the risk of losing his or her inheritance. If the will is found to be invalid, the directions contained within the will may be disregarded and your estate may instead be distributed according to intestate law. A no-contest clause also does not discourage people who are not named as beneficiaries from challenging the will. The best way to prevent your will from being successfully challenged is to work with an experienced estate planning attorney who can ensure the validity of your will.

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executor, DuPage County estate planning attorneysCreating an estate plan is a vital responsibility regardless of your wealth or property. Surprisingly, approximately 60 percent of American adults have not even created a will, let alone any other type of estate planning document. Everyone deserves to decide how their possessions are passed down to heirs, but these decisions are left to state law when a person passes away without any estate planning instruments in place. If you are ready to start making your estate plan, you may be wondering who you should choose as the executor of your will. The executor has many key obligations, so it is important to choose someone who can fulfill these duties.

Completing Your Final Affairs

An executor is the person responsible for finalizing a deceased person’s worldly affairs. Executors, also called personal representatives, have a legal duty to act in good faith and with integrity on behalf of a deceased person. Executors have many responsibilities, including but not limited to:

  • Managing the deceased person's property and belongings until they are distributed to heirs
  • Supervising the distribution of the deceased person’s property as per the directions contained in the will, or if there is no will, according to intestate succession law
  • Filing the will in the local probate court
  • Representing the estate in court
  • Terminating credit cards and notifying the deceased person’s bank of his or her death
  • Contacting the Social Security Administration and other governmental agencies regarding the death
  • Establishing a bank account for incoming funds and bill payment
  • Paying the deceased person’s bills such as mortgage payments, utility bills, and homeowner's insurance premiums using estate funds and
  • Paying the deceased person’s debts and taxes

The person you name as the executor of your estate has a large responsibility, so it is important to choose someone who you think can sufficiently handle executor duties. Many people choose a spouse, sibling, or adult child to be the executor of their will but the executor does not have to be a blood relative.

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