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Estate Planning Attorney in Lake County, Illinois

There are many legal strategies and instruments involved in estate planning, including wills, revocable living trusts, irrevocable trusts, durable powers of attorney, and health care documents. However, according to surveys, barely 40 percent of Americans even have a will in place. This is not wise for these individuals. If you have no will or estate plan in place, the State of Illinois will take things into its own hands.   

For example, in the absence of legal planning, your estate will be distributed after death according to Illinois’s laws of intestacy. This may not be the plan you would have chosen. A properly drafted estate plan will replace the terms of the state’s estate plan with your own terms. 

For all your estate planning needs—whether you're just starting out or looking to revise what you already have—in Lake County or Cook County, Illinois, contact The Law Offices of Steven H. Peck, Ltd. Steven H. Peck is an estate planning attorney with more than three decades' experience in helping individuals and families plan for the future. Reach out to him with all your questions and concerns regarding the future well-being of you and your loved ones.

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Legal Documents that You May Need in Your Estate Plan

Estate planning encompasses more than just creating a will or living trust and designating who gets what of your assets when you’re gone. Estate plans can also put in place legal instruments to have someone make financial decisions for you when you cannot, whether because of illness or simply because of a desire to travel overseas for an extended period.  

An advance directive can name a health care agent to make medical decisions for you should you become incapacitated and unable to voice your preferences. If you own a business, you will also want to make sure you have a written succession plan in place. Here are those legal instruments spelled out in more detail: 

Your Last Will and Testament

Your last will and testament is just one part of a comprehensive estate plan. If a person dies without a Will they are said to have died “intestate” and state laws will determine how and to whom the person’s assets will be distributed. Some things you should know about wills: 

  • A will has no legal authority until after death. So, a will does not help manage a person’s affairs when they are incapacitated, whether by illness or injury. 

  • A will does not help an estate avoid probate. A will is the legal document submitted to the probate court, so it is essentially an “admission ticket” to probate. 

  • A will is a good place to nominate the guardians (or backup parents) of your minor children if they are orphaned.  All parents of minor children should document their choice of guardians.  If you leave this to chance, your children could end up with the wrong guardians. 

Revocable Living Trusts, Irrevocable Trusts, Testamentary Trusts, Special Needs Trusts, and More

Trusts come in many types: they can be simple or complex, and serve a variety of legal, personal, investment, or tax planning purposes. At the most basic level, a trust is a legal entity with at least three parties involved: the trust-maker, the trustee (trust manager), and the trust beneficiary. Often, all three parties are represented by one person or a married couple. In the case of a revocable living trust, for example, a person may create a trust (the trust-maker) and name themselves the current trustees (trust managers) who manage the trust assets for their own benefit (trust beneficiary). 

Depending on the situation, there may be many advantages to establishing a trust, including avoiding probate court. In most cases, assets owned in a revocable living trust will pass to the trust beneficiaries (or heirs) immediately upon the death of the trust-maker(s) with no probate required.  

Certain trusts also may result in tax advantages both for the trust-maker and the beneficiary. Or they may be used to protect property from creditors, or simply to provide for someone else to manage and invest property for the trust-maker(s) and the named beneficiaries. If well drafted, another advantage of trusts is their continuing effectiveness even if the trust-maker dies or becomes incapacitated. 

Powers of Attorney

A power of attorney is a legal document giving another person (the attorney-in-fact) the legal right (powers) to do certain things for you. What those powers are depends on the terms of the document. A power of attorney may be very broad or very limited and specific. All powers of attorney terminate upon the death of the maker, and may terminate when the maker (principal) becomes incapacitated (unable to make or communicate decisions).  

When the intent is to designate a backup decision-maker in the event of incapacity, then a durable power of attorney should be used. Durable Powers of Attorney should be frequently updated because banks and other financial institutions may hesitate to honor a power of attorney that is more than a year old. 

Health Care Documents (or Advance Directives)

An advance directive is a document that specifies the type of medical and personal care you would want should you lose the ability to make and communicate your own decisions. Anyone over the age of 18 may execute an advance directive, and this document is legally binding in Illinois. Your advance directive can specify who will make and communicate decisions for you, and it can set out the circumstances under which you would not like your life to be prolonged if, for example, you were in a coma with no reasonable chance of recovery. 

A document that goes hand-in-hand with your advance directive is an authorization to your medical providers to allow specified individuals to access your medical information. Without this authorization, your doctor may refuse to communicate with your hand-picked decision-maker. 

Business Succession

If you own or co-own a business, or you are a partner or shareholder (in a corporation that you founded or co-founded), you will need to consider who will assume your role when you’re gone, or alternately, who will be the beneficiary of your business interests after they are sold upon your death.  

Much will depend on the type of business you’re involved in. If it’s a sole proprietorship, then you can address business succession in your will or trust. If you’re in a partnership, a partnership agreement may limit your options. For instance, the agreement may require your heirs to sell to them and not acquire any controlling interest themselves. If you’re a founding shareholder in a corporation, you too might be limited. Business succession issues are best addressed when you enter into the business in your unique role. 

How Your Attorney Can Help 

An estate planning attorney can help you narrow your focus on the matters vital to the future of you and your loved ones. There will typically need to be a will or trust, or both, to clarify how your assets are to be divided when you pass on. An attorney can make sure these documents dot all the necessary legal Is and cross all the legal Ts.  

Your attorney can also help draft focused powers of attorney and advance directives for health care to provide for contingencies that may arise. When you need help with probate and trust administration, your attorney will be by your side. In fact, your attorney can advise the executor you name in your estate plan on how to best navigate the probate system. 

Trusts are largely administered outside of probate, but your successor trustee may also run into challenges or have questions and concerns in carrying out the distribution of your assets. A skilled lawyer can prove vital here, too. 

Estate Planning Attorney in Lake County and Cook County, Illinois

For all your estate planning needs, reach out to The Law Offices of Steven H. Peck, Ltd. Attorney Peck will listen to your needs and concerns, and help you craft a comprehensive estate plan to provide everyone lasting peace of mind. If you already have a will or trust or other legal instrument in place, it’s no doubt a good time to review and update them. Reach out today to Attorney Steven H. Peck.