Important Considerations When Drafting Your Will

Web Admin - Thursday, April 23, 2015

drafting your will in Illinois, Palatine estate planning lawyerThe passing away of Chicago Cubs’ legend Ernie Banks was a sad day for baseball fans everywhere. Unfortunately, his death sparked a controversy within his own family after his longtime caretaker claimed that he had executed a will. Recently, a court upheld the validity of the will. Here, we focus on some of the reasons why this occurred and the steps all individuals should take to best protect their will from a challenge.

Banks’ Will

Following the death of Banks, his widow claimed that he did not have a will. However, his caretaker came forward and claimed that Banks had created and signed a will three months prior to his death. The will gave all of his assets to the caretaker. Banks’ widow argued that he was not of sound mind and that the caretaker coerced him into executing the will. In order to prove the validity of the will, two paralegals testified that they witnessed Banks sign it. Further, the paralegals testified that Banks appeared fine and even mentioned during the notarization that he was not leaving anything to his family. The court ruled that the will was valid, though an appeal is likely.

Executing Valid Wills

A person who executes a will is known as the testator. For a will to be valid under Illinois law, it must be in writing and signed by the testator. Further, the signing of the will must be witnessed by two people and it must be notarized. Additionally, the testator must be of “sound mind and memory” at the time the will is created and signed. At the signing, a testator may want to document that he or she has the mental capacity to execute the will. This may include obtaining the opinion of a doctor that establishes the testator’s capacity.

It is important for the testator to state clearly his or her wishes as to the disposition of the property. The testator may want to include his or her reasoning for the way in which their assets will be distributed. In the case of Banks’ will, he affirmatively stated he was leaving all of his assets with his caretaker. Further, he included a statement that he intentionally was leaving nothing to his family. This was an important provision because it made clear that an omission had not occurred. In other words, it signaled that Banks had not simply forgotten about his family.

Many people find it difficult to discuss end of life situations. However, this can be helpful in ensuring that there will not be any challenges to a testator’s will after the testator dies. Speaking with the people included, and those excluded who may have an expectation to be included, in the will can help make sure there are no surprises when the testator dies. If Banks had disclosed to his widow the existence of his will and they had had a discussion regarding it and the reasons he was not leaving her anything, her challenge would have been even less likely to succeed.

If you would like more information or help creating your will, you should speak with an experienced Illinois estate planning attorney. Drost, Gilbert, Andrew & Apicella, LLC proudly represents clients throughout the northwest suburbs, including Inverness, Palatine, and Long Grove.

About the Author: Attorney Jay Andrew is a founding partner of Drost, Gilbert, Andrew & Apicella, LLC. He is a graduate of the University of Dayton School of Law and has been practicing in estate planning, probate, trust administration, real estate law, residential/ commercial leasing, contracts, and civil litigation. Since 2005, Jay has been a Chair of the Mock Trial Committee for the Annual Northwest Suburban Bar Association High School Mock Trial Invitation which serves over 240 local Illinois students each year.

Changes to the Illinois Health Care Power of Attorney

Web Admin - Friday, January 23, 2015

healthcare power of attorney in Illinois, Palatine estate planning attorneysHealth care powers of attorney are some of the most serious estate planning decisions that people will have to make throughout the course of their lives. Most estate planning decisions relate to structuring assets and ensuring that children and relatives are properly cared for. Health care powers of attorney are different. They are legal documents that allow people to determine how they want their loved ones to make health care decisions on their behalf in the case that they are unable to themselves. These sorts of documents are regulated by the state, and the Illinois legislature recently updated the law that governs health care powers of attorney used in the state, adding new notice requirements and changing the calculus for end of life decision making.

New Notice Requirements

One of the biggest changes that the update made was a complete revision of the notice that precedes the actual health care power of attorney form. The new form breaks the notice provision down into nine headings that have questions beneath them. These headings include:

  • - What Are the Things I Want My Health Care Agent to Know?
  • - What Kind of Decisions Can My Agent Make?
  • - Whom Should I Choose to Be My Health Care Agent?
  • - What If My Agent Is Not Available or Not Willing to Make Health Care Decisions for Me?
  • - Will Happen If I Do Not Choose a Health Care Agent?
  • - What If There Is No One Available Whom I Trust to Be My Agent?
  • - What Do I Do With This Form Once I Complete It?
  • - What If I Change My Mind?
  • - What If I Do Not Want to Use This Form?

Each of these sections include questions and answers that allow the power of attorney form to be filled out in different blocks.

Changes to End of Life Decision-Making

The law also made some important changes in the way that it frames end-of-life decisions. The biggest change in this manner is the fact that the new power of attorney form now distinguishes quality of life from quantity of life. Essentially the new form provides a check box for people to decide whether it is more important for them to have a life they can live fully or whether they would be willing to extend their lives for a hope at making a recovery. The goal of this new distinction is to help people better express what sorts of values their health care should be trying to accomplish.

Estate planning is a complex field that covers everything from health care decisions to future tax liabilities. If you have questions about this new health care power of attorney or some other aspect of estate planning, contact an Illinois estate planning lawyer today. The law firm of Drost, Gilbert, Andrew & Apicella, LLC serves clients in many northwest suburban locations, such as Long Grove, Riverwoods, Palatine, Arlington Heights, and Barrington.

About the Author: Attorney Jay Andrew is a founding partner of Drost, Gilbert, Andrew & Apicella, LLC. He is a graduate of the University of Dayton School of Law and has been practicing in estate planning, probate, trust administration, real estate law, residential/ commercial leasing, contracts, and civil litigation. Since 2005, Jay has been a Chair of the Mock Trial Committee for the Annual Northwest Suburban Bar Association High School Mock Trial Invitation which serves over 240 local Illinois students each year.

'Tis the Season... for Gift Taxes

Web Admin - Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Illinois gift tax, Arlington Heights estate planning attorneyOnce again, it is that time of year, the time when families get together to exchange gifts, and spend quality time together. During this season, people do not ordinarily consider their taxes. After all, the middle of winter is almost as far away from April 15th as someone can get. Nevertheless, the gifts people give during this time of year can have a long-term impact on their tax situation thanks to the gift tax. Gift giving during a person's life is often a good way for someone to avoid estate taxes, so careful planning around this time of year can leave someone's family in a much better financial position.

What Gift Givers Should Know

Gift givers are the ones most on the hook for understanding the tax law when dealing with gifts. The most important thing for gift givers to understand is the fact that they are working under two separate but related gift giving limits. The first limit is known as the annual gift tax exclusion. This is the amount per year that any gift giver may give to any single person. The IRS has set that exclusion at $14,000 for both 2014 and 2015. If a person goes over that limit, then he or she must file a gift tax return. However, this does not necessarily mean that he or she must pay any taxes on the gift.

Filing a gift tax return triggers the second limit that gift givers are working under, the lifetime exemption. The lifetime exemption is the total amount of money that gift givers are allowed to give away over their yearly exemption before they start to owe taxes. The current lifetime exemption is $5.34 million. This means that if a person gives away $20,000 to a single person in a single year, then he or she must subtract $6,000 from his or her lifetime exemption. This is especially important because the lifetime exemption never resets and applies to estate taxes as well. For example, if a person gives away enough during his or her lifetime that he or she has used up $2.34 million of his or her lifetime exemption, then only the first $3 million of his or her estate's distributions are tax free. The rest may be subject to a tax rate of up to 40 percent.

What Receivers Should Know

Gift receivers have a much simpler set of rules to work under. Ordinarily, the gift giver pays the gift tax, and the receiver does not have to worry. If the person giving the gift does not pay the tax, then the IRS may come after the receiver, but usually people giving money in excess of the annual exclusion can also cover the gift tax. Additionally, people receiving five or six figure sums from foreign sources may also have to report that.

Tax day may come but once a year, but tax planning is a year round problem. If you have questions about how best to manage your estate, contact an Arlington Heights estate planning attorney today. The law firm of Drost, Gilbert, Andrew & Apicella, LLC serves clients in many northwest suburbs including Palatine, Schaumburg, Barrington, Inverness, Mount Prospect, Long Grove, Kenilworth, Riverwood, and South Barrington.

About the Author: Attorney Jay Andrew is a founding partner of Drost, Gilbert, Andrew & Apicella, LLC. He is a graduate of the University of Dayton School of Law and has been practicing in estate planning, probate, trust administration, real estate law, residential/ commercial leasing, contracts, and civil litigation. Since 2005, Jay has been a Chair of the Mock Trial Committee for the Annual Northwest Suburban Bar Association High School Mock Trial Invitation which serves over 240 local Illinois students each year.

Homestead Rights in Illinois

Web Admin - Thursday, October 23, 2014

homestead rights in Illinois, Palatine estate planning lawyerWhile there are many well known government programs and policies designed to provide relief during difficult economic times, there are other laws people can take advantage of that are less commonly talked about. One of these laws is known as “homestead rights.” Homestead rights are a protection provided by Illinois law that provide certain immunities from debt collection efforts by creditors. However, these immunities are not absolute, so it is important for people exercising their homestead rights to understand the exact limitations of those rights.

What Homestead Rights Are

Homestead rights are a statutory protection against creditors designed to help people avoid becoming homeless because of changing economic circumstances. The rights allow the debtor to exempt $15,000 worth of real estate from the collection efforts of creditors or their agents. Additionally, if a married couple owns the home, then they can pool their homestead rights together to protect the same house. This gives them an exemption of $30,000. This exemption also survives the death or desertion of a spouse. The exemption can also be passed down to the children of the married couple, at least until the youngest child turns 18.

Illinois' homestead laws are also slightly different than the laws in some other states. Many states choose to restrict the amount of acreage that a person can use the homestead exemption on in addition to capping the total value of the property. Illinois has no such acreage cap. This means that the size of the property is irrelevant to the homestead rights, and that it is purely an issue of how much the land is worth.

What Homestead Rights Do Not Protect

Notably, homestead rights do not provide absolute protection against every type of creditor. For instance, the state legislature wrote an exception into the protection for the purposes of state taxes, so if the creditor is the state of Illinois then the exemption does not apply. Similarly, homestead rights are created by state law, which federal law can supersede, so they provide no protection against the federal government's collecting taxes either. The rights also do not function in many circumstances where the money owed is related to the property itself. A person who uses the house as collateral for a mortgage does not get protection if their home is being foreclosed. Additionally, if the person owes money to contractors for doing work on the home, then the homestead rights do not apply to those debts. Further, the homestead rights can be signed away in writing, which would also remove their protection.

If you have questions about your homestead rights or some other property interest, talk to an experienced Palatine, Illinois estate planning attorney today. Our firm helps clients in many northwest suburban towns including Barrington, Long Grove, and Arlington Heights.

About the Author: Attorney Jay Andrew is a founding partner of Drost, Gilbert, Andrew & Apicella, LLC. He is a graduate of the University of Dayton School of Law and has been practicing in estate planning, probate, trust administration, real estate law, residential/ commercial leasing, contracts, and civil litigation. Since 2005, Jay has been a Chair of the Mock Trial Committee for the Annual Northwest Suburban Bar Association High School Mock Trial Invitation which serves over 240 local Illinois students each year.

The Duties and Responsibilities Associated with a Power of Attorney

Web Admin - Thursday, October 16, 2014

power of attorney rights and responsibilitiesIllness, injury, or age can often render a person unable to take proper care of their finances and their property. As a solution to this issue, Illinois law allows people to set up a power of attorney for property. This is a legal document that lets a person, the principal, designate a trusted agent to handle the principal's property with the principal's best interests in mind. This document gives the agent a variety of legal powers over the principal's money and property, but it also comes with legal duties that the principal must fulfill. Agents need to be aware of both of these things to properly complete their jobs without bringing liability onto themselves.

The Powers Granted

The powers granted to an agent under a power of attorney vary depending on the principal's wishes, but in 2011 Illinois created a general form with 15 default powers that a principal can bestow upon an agent. These powers include:

-The authority to buy or sell real estate on behalf of the principal;

-The authority to deal with banks and safe deposit boxes for the principal;

-The authority to represent the principal in insurance transactions; and

-The authority to buy and sell stocks and bonds for the principal.

The form also includes extra sections to place limitations on these powers or to add extras. For instance, the principal can allow the agent to buy and sell stocks and bonds, but also forbid them from selling a particular stock. Similarly, the power to give gifts on the principal's behalf is not included in the default form, but a principal could add it if they so chose.

The Duties of the Agent

Importantly, by taking on these powers, the agent enters into a “fiduciary” relationship with the principal, meaning that they have a duty to act in the principal's best interests. In addition to that general duty, the law also imposes other, more specific duties on the agent. For instance, the agent is required to act in accordance with any estate plans that the principal has put in place to the extent possible. Agents also have a duty to keep good financial records of any “receipts, disbursements, and significant actions conducted for the principal.” The law also forbids agents from taking certain actions. These forbidden actions include commingling the principal's funds with their own, taking loans from the principal, and exceeding the authority granted by the power of attorney.

Powers of attorney are complex legal documents, and managing them incorrectly can open the agent up to legal liability. If you are considering a power of attorney, contact an Arlington Heights estate planning attorney serving the northwest suburbs to better understand your duties as well as other potential estate planning options. We assist clients throughout Inverness, Palatine, Schaumburg, Long Grove, Kenilworth, Riverwoods, and the rest of the Chicagoland area.

About the Author: Attorney Jay Andrew is a founding partner of Drost, Gilbert, Andrew & Apicella, LLC. He is a graduate of the University of Dayton School of Law and has been practicing in estate planning, probate, trust administration, real estate law, residential/ commercial leasing, contracts, and civil litigation. Since 2005, Jay has been a Chair of the Mock Trial Committee for the Annual Northwest Suburban Bar Association High School Mock Trial Invitation which serves over 240 local Illinois students each year.

The Dynasty Trust: A New Method of Creating an Inheritance

Web Admin - Thursday, March 20, 2014

illinois trusts estate planning attorneyDynasty trusts are a new type of trust that can be used to minimize the burden of certain taxes that the government levies on inheritance by holding the inheritance in a trust for many generations. These trusts have become more popular in recent years as states have begun to relax or abolish a legal doctrine known as the rule against perpetuities. The rule is a complex legal doctrine that limited the length of trusts and other legal instruments to only lasting a certain period of time, usually about two or three generations, depending on a variety of factors. Now that the rule is being relaxed, it has made dynasty trusts a more viable option.

What is a Dynasty Trust?

Simply put, a dynasty trust is a trust that holds assets from which future generations will benefit. This has important tax consequences because assets placed into a dynasty trust are subject to the federal estate/gift tax only once. This means that the assets can flow down to further generations without future estate taxes. For instance, if a person left $10,000,000 to their child without using a trust, this would exceed the gift/estate tax exemption, so it would be subject to the tax. Then, if that inheritance appreciated in value and the child passed it on to a grandchild, it would be subject to another round of taxes. If, instead of simply passing the money down in the first place, the person had placed it into a dynasty trust, then the original $10,000,000 would be taxed at that point, but it the appreciated amount would not be subject to another estate tax when it went to the grandchild.

Another benefit of the dynasty trust is that it can help reduce the effects of the generation skipping transfer tax (GST). The GST exists because people used to leave money directly to their grandchildren in an effort to avoid the double estate tax of the previous example. The GST can take as much as 55 percent of the money passed down to grandchildren in excess of $1,000,000. If the dynasty trust is created using that $1,000,000 dollar exemption, then it can sizably reduce the burden of transfer taxes on future generations.

This means that the dynasty trust can be a very useful estate planning tool for people with large families, or those who have enough assets that the estate tax and GST are serious concerns. Additionally, dynasty trusts are also useful for people who would like to have some say as to how their money is spent after their deaths because dynasty trusts can sometimes be used to control such things.

If you believe that your estate planning could benefit from the use of a dynasty trust, contact a Long Grove estate planning attorney today. Our firm helps handle tax planning issues for clients across the northwest suburbs, including towns like Riverwoods, Barrington, and Kenilworth.

About the Author: Attorney Jay Andrew is founding partner of Drost, Gilbert, Andrew & Apicella, LLC. He is a graduate of the University of Dayton School of Law and has been practicing in estate planning, probate, trust administration, real estate law, residential/commercial leasing, contracts, and civil litigation. Since 2005, Jay has been a Chair of the Mock Trial Committee for the Annual Northwest Suburban Bar Association High School Mock Trial Invitation which serves over 240 local Illinois students each year.

Using Virtual Representation Effectively in Illinois

Web Admin - Wednesday, November 06, 2013

When a trust is created, many different people may have an interest in how it is administered. For example, it is common for the trust documents to allow one person to benefit immediately (i.e. a spouse), with others to receive the assets upon that beneficiary’s death (i.e. the children). Those who are set to inherit later obviously have a stake in how the trust is managed. Mismanagement may affect their interests.

But what happens if those future beneficiaries are children, disabled, or otherwise unable to effectively advocate for their interests? One solution is to go to court and have a judge appoint a guardian to act in their interest. But that process often takes significant time, is costly, and may be ineffective if the future beneficiaries are unknown, like unborn children.

Reaching an Agreement

Is there a way to settle disagreements involving a trust without going to court? Fortunately, there is.

Illinois has a “virtual representation” statute which allows select individuals to represent the interests of others to craft agreements, often dealing with disputes regarding a trust. Essentially, this law allows different parties to create agreements which avoid litigation and are binding on some future beneficiaries.

When used properly, these settlement agreements can solve ambiguities in the trust document, delineate duties of the trustee, and account for many other administrative issues. As a result, these agreements can be incredibly efficient, eliminating the risk of prolonged legal battles down the road.

Many Illinois residents are well served by exploring use of virtual representation to reach a nonjudicial agreement. However, it is important to proceed cautiously, usually with the aid of an attorney. When not created properly, the agreement may not hold up. Under the law, to be valid the primary beneficiaries must all be adults and legally competent. The trustee must also be a party to the agreement. Notably, the agreement cannot change the terms of the trust. In addition, the primary beneficiary must not have a conflict of interest with those who are being bound. To qualify as a primary beneficiary the individual must currently receive income or principal from the trust. Alternatively, the individual must be eligible to receive a distribution of principal at a certain date.

Learn More

Do you want to learn more about using virtual representation effectively? These issues are quite complex, and so it is helpful to contact a Palatine estate planning attorney to make sure you are doing everything in your power to protect your long-term interests. The law office of Drost, Gilbert, Andrew & Apicella, LLC serves clients in Palatine, Arlington Heights, Crystal Lake and other suburban Chicago areas.

Estate Tax Changes: Is it Time to Revisit Your Living Trust?

Web Admin - Friday, October 11, 2013

The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (ATRA) introduced “portability” as a permanent law which has many Illinois residents asking about the need for customary trusts. Portability allows a transfer up to $5.25 million in federal tax exceptions to surviving spouses. Previously, a married couple could only make the best use of both spouses’ exception amounts by dividing asset ownership and establishing a credit shelter trust (or an A/B living trust) that initiates after one spouse is deceased. Accordingly, a married couple can pass on $10.5 million to their heirs free from federal estate taxes.

If you have an existing A/B trust plan drafted prior to the estate tax law changes it is most likely based on the Federal Estate Exemption amount, which when it was $650,000, probably worked for a “mid-sized” estate. Now that the exemption is $5.25 million, people need to revisit the funding/formula clause of their A/B trust plan so that there is money present for a surviving spouse. Using portability rules at the federal level can allow a surviving spouse to live off the estate without necessarily the need for A/B planning depending on the size of the estate.

Additionally, a deceased spouse’s estate will not be taxable if less than $5.25 million. A surviving spouse will be required to fill out an IRS Form 706. The United States Estate (and Generation-Skipping Transfer) Tax Return will allow the surviving spouse to use the deceased spouse’s tax exemption or it will be lost. This exception is not transferable, but an A/B living trust can take advantage of the exemption amounts for potential transfers to grandchildren.

Though portability simplifies federal estate planning, but not Illinois Estate Tax, the need for traditional trusts is still apparent with the use of a credit shelter trust. There is potential to lose a deceased spouse’s unused exceptions if the surviving spouse remarries. A credit shelter trust with a new spouse can be used to protect this exception before remarriage. Prior to a remarriage, a credit shelter trust may provide asset protection and secure inheritances for children of former marriages and save assets from an heir’s creditors.

Inflation can also effect an exception amount because the portability law is fixed, but again a credit shelter trust can offer a safeguard. Finally, a living trust can avoid the costs and delays of probate that can cause family grief after a family death.

Since portability is here to stay, now would be a good time to revisit your living trust to determine how the portability law effects inheritance distribution. Contact an Illinois estate planning attorney to make sure your assets are accurately dispersed as you intend.

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