The Illinois Will Probate Process: Settling an Estate

Web Admin - Friday, September 21, 2018
Arlington Heights estate planning probate lawyerThe passing of assets from one generation to the next is a long-standing tradition, typically governed by a written will. When a person with a large estate dies, a legal process called probate ensures that the terms of the will are properly carried out. The process of probating a will in Illinois is controlled by the Illinois Probate Act and the rules of the circuit court in the decedent’s county of residence.

When an Illinois Will Must Go Through Probate

An Illinois estate must be probated when its total value exceeds $100,000 (excluding jointly-held properties and accounts with named beneficiaries, which transfer automatically upon death).

The Process to Probate a Will in Illinois

1. Petition for Probate - The first step is to file a Petition for Probate with the circuit court. This petition includes the will itself, the current estimated value of the estate, the names and addresses of heirs, and other information necessary to begin settling the estate. The executor named in the will or their appointed attorney must file this petition within 30 days of the decedent’s death and send copies to all heirs.

2. Hearing to Open Probate - The court will conduct a short hearing to officially validate the will and admit the will to probate. At the hearing, heirs may enter their objections to any part of the petition, such as the validity of the will itself, the person(s) designated to administer the estate, or the person(s) designated to act as personal fiduciaries for any underage or disabled heirs. The court will approve the executor and issue letters testamentary that authorize the executor to act on behalf of the estate.

3. Inventory of Assets - The executor has the responsibility to locate and secure all assets of the estate. A written inventory must be made, listing all bank and investment accounts, real estate, and personal property of significant value. Appraisals may be necessary to establish date of death” values for each piece of real and personal property.

4. Payment of Debts and Taxes - The executor must notify all creditors of the decedent and pay outstanding bills, including property taxes and any other expenses necessary to protect the assets of the estate. The estate must remain open for at least six months to ensure that all creditors are identified and paid. The executor must also file final state and federal tax returns for the decedent.

5. Petition for Distribution of the Estate - Upon conclusion of the prior steps, the executor must provide an accounting of their work on the estate, including all receipts and disbursements. The executor will then ask the court for permission to distribute the remainder of the estate according to the terms of the will. (When there is no question that the estate contains more than sufficient funds to pay off all debts, some distribution of assets may occur before the final accounting.) 

Consult a Palatine Estate Planning Lawyer

Ensure that your hard-earned assets are distributed to your heirs according to your wishes. An experienced Barrington estate planning attorney at Drost, Gilbert, Andrew & Apicella, LLC can help you develop an estate plan that will meet your specific goals and, after your death, ensure that your will is probated efficiently. Contact us at 847-934-6000.

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.


Two Important Benefits Provided By a Living Trust

Web Admin - Tuesday, August 07, 2018
Arlington Heights trust lawyerThe thought of planning for what should happen after one’s death is often too morbid for many people to want to consider. However, doing so is incredibly important, since you want to be sure that your wishes will be followed correctly and that your heirs will be able to receive the assets you plan to pass on to them with minimal complications. While you may think that the estate planning process begins and ends with the creation of a last will and testament, another tool that can be very powerful is a living trust. 

Trusts allow you to protect certain assets, placing them in the control of a trustee and passing them to your beneficiaries once certain requirements are met. With a living trust, you can serve as the trustee while you are still living and mentally competent, giving you control over your assets and allowing you to revoke or change the terms of the trust to meet your and your family’s needs. There are a number of benefits to using a living trust, but two of the primary advantages are:

1. Avoiding Probate

When a person dies, the executor of their estate will enter their will into probate court, which is a process that can be lengthy and expensive as the court reviews the will and approves the paying of debts and taxes and the passing of assets to beneficiaries. The will is entered into public court records, meaning that the family’s personal business is available to be viewed by anyone who wants to examine the court documents. 

A trust, on the other hand, does not have to go through the probate process. This will allow assets to be passed to beneficiaries much more quickly and with fewer complications, and it will also ensure that the details about the estate are kept private.

2. Planning for Illness or Incapacitation

In many cases, when a person becomes ill or incapacitated or is no longer able to manage their own affairs, a friend or family member is named as their legal guardian. Guardianship will often not only give a guardian control of a person’s health and personal care, but also their financial affairs. This type of situation is not ideal, but a living trust can help you avoid losing control of your finances by addressing how things should be handled if you are incapacitated. 

Your trust can specify what conditions should exist for you to be declared incapacitated or mentally incompetent, and it can name a successor trustee who will manage the trust in this situation. The trustee can ensure that you have the financial resources you need to provide for your own care, while preserving your assets to pass on to your beneficiaries after your death.

Contact a Palatine Estate Planning Attorney

If you want to know more about how to use a living trust to protect your assets and pass them to your heirs, the attorneys of Drost, Gilbert, Andrew & Apicella, LLC can answer your questions and work with you to create a comprehensive estate plan. Contact a Schaumburg living trust lawyer today at 847-934-6000 to schedule a personalized consultation.

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.


Are Holiday Gifts Subject to Federal Gift Tax?

Web Admin - Thursday, December 21, 2017
Barrington estate planning and tax lawyerThe holiday season is a time of giving, but as you celebrate this time with your family and friends, you may need to be aware of a certain omnipresent aspect of American life: taxes. While it will likely only apply to people who earn a high income or have large financial assets, it is still a good idea to understand the Federal gift tax and the impact it may have on the gifts you give and your estate.

What Is the Gift Tax?

When a person transfers property to someone else without receiving something of equal value in return, this is considered a gift by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and it may be subject to gift taxes. The person who gives the gift to someone else (known as the donor) is responsible for filing tax forms for the gift and paying the gift tax.

Gift Tax Exclusions

Certain types of gifts are excluded from taxes, including gifts given to one’s spouse, gifts given to a political organization, and tuition or medical expenses paid on someone’s behalf. For other gifts, an annual exclusion threshold applies. That threshold is $14,000 for 2017, and the threshold for 2018 will be $15,000.

The annual exclusion applies to gifts given to an individual person, so if a donor gives multiple people gifts of less than $14,000 each, they will not owe any gift taxes. For spouses, the exclusion is doubled, so a married couple can give a gift of up to $28,000 without owing gift taxes.

In addition to the annual exclusion, everyone is entitled to a lifetime exemption known as the basic tax exemption. For people who die in 2017, that exemption is $5,490,000, and in 2018, the exemption will increase to $5,600,000. The taxable amount of gifts greater than the annual gift tax exclusion threshold can be applied toward this lifetime exemption, and taxes will not be owed on these gifts. However, any amount of the basic exemption used during one’s lifetime will be deducted from the amount of their estate that is exempt from estate taxes upon their death.

Contact a Schaumburg Estate Planning Attorney

Determining how gift taxes will affect your finances and your estate can be a complex undertaking. If you want to make sure you are protecting yourself and providing for your family’s financial security, the skilled attorneys at Drost, Gilbert, Andrew & Apicella, LLC can work with you to ensure you have met your legal requirements and have the financial resources in place that your family needs. Contact our Rolling Meadows estate planning attorneys today at 847-934-6000 to schedule a personalized consultation.

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.


Duties of Trustees to Beneficiaries

Web Admin - Wednesday, July 30, 2014

long grove wills and trusts lawyerOne common legal instrument that people use to plan their estates is a trust. A trust is a legal entity involving at least three roles: a settlor, a trustee, and a beneficiary. The idea of the trust is that each of these three roles work together. The settlor creates the rules of the trust and provides it with property, and they designate the beneficiary. The beneficiary, like the name suggests, is the person for whom the trust is managed. They derive the benefit of any income or other gains from the trust.

However, between the settlor and the beneficiary lies the trustee. The trustee manages the assets of the trust and uses them in the best interests of the beneficiary as directed by the rules of the trust that the settlor created. This means that the trustee has a variety of duties that they need to fulfill. These trustee duties can be thought of as either substantive or procedural duties. This is not an official classification, and the lines can blur, but it is at least a helpful way to catalog the duties.

Substantive Duties

Substantive duties are those that require the trustee to behave in a certain way. The central example is the duty to administer the trust by the rules the settlor laid out. The trust document will contain a variety of provisions, and it is the trustee's duty to follow them. Another example of these substantive duties is the duty of skill and care. This means that the trustee must manage the trust's assets with reasonable skill and caution. Similarly, Illinois law also imposes a “prudent investor” duty on trustees.

This means that the trustee has the duty to act as a prudent investor of the trust's assets including things like developing a diversified portfolio and actively managing investments as necessary. Trustees working with multiple beneficiaries also have a further duty: that of loyalty and impartiality. The trustee may not favor one beneficiary over the other unless the trust instrument provides some reason for it.

Procedural and Ministerial Duties

Trustees also owe beneficiaries a variety of more procedural duties, which involve the proper formalities of managing the trust. For instance, the law governing trusts in Illinois requires trustees to give annual accountings of the trust's receipts, disbursements, and an inventory of the estate. Trustees also often have duties to provide notice of certain actions such as changes in the trusteeship. This may also include a requirement that the trustee provide the beneficiaries with a copy of the trust instrument for their records.

These are just some of the many duties that trustees owe the beneficiaries of their trust. If you would like more information on the legal ramifications of managing a trust, contact an experienced Illinois estate planning attorney today. Our firm advises clients in many northwest suburban towns like Long Grove, Kenilworth, 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.

Estate Planning in the Digital Age

Web Admin - Wednesday, May 21, 2014

digital assets estate planningFrom bankbooks to Facebook, more and more activities, both business and pleasure, are being conducted over the internet every day. A study from McAfee reports that in 2011 the average American had almost $55,000 in digital assets. These assets can present unique challenges during the estate planning process. They need to be passed on or wound up just like physical assets, but each online service has its own rules on handling accounts after death.  

What Digital Assets Are

Digital assets can be many different things, and it is important to have a clear understanding of the different types since they can require very different treatment after death. Digital assets include:

  • - Files on your home computer like pictures, word documents, and spreadsheets;
  • - Digital books and music like iTunes and Kindle books;
  • - Social networking accounts like Facebook and Twitter;
  • - Online gaming accounts and valuable in-game assets;
  • - Websites or domain names you own; and
  • - eCommerce information like bank accounts, Paypal, and eBay.

Choosing how to handle each of these assets can require some careful thought because they will each likely need a different form of treatment. For instance, Paypal accounts can probably simply be closed out after withdrawing the funds, but some people would prefer to see their Facebook page memorialized rather than simply closed.

Handling Digital Assets

From a legal standpoint, handling digital assets may be a challenge because the problem is somewhat new. This means that the law has yet to catch up to the technology in many ways. Instead, much of the legal landscape is determined by the individual service itself based on the “Terms of Service” that they have each user agree to. However, there are still precautions that you can take in order to better empower your loved ones to carry out your wishes.

The first thing to do is to create a digital inventory. This is a list of all your digital assets, where to find them, and the usernames and passwords necessary to access them. This inventory should also include instructions to the executor of your estate detailing what you would like them to do with each of the assets.

Then you should make sure that your legal documents include provisions for the management of your digital assets. This means designating an executor to handle your digital estate. This can be the same person as the executor for the rest of your will, but it does not have to be. If the executor for most of your estate lacks computer skills it could be prudent to name someone else to deal with digital assets. While this executor may still have trouble carrying out all your wishes if the website’s Terms of Service will not allow it, arming them with a digital inventory and a legal document can certainly improve their chances.

If you would like to make an estate plan or if you want to update your plan to account for digital assets, contact an Illinois estate planning attorney today. Our skilled team assists clients across the northwest suburbs, including in Inverness, Kenilworth, and Riverwoods.

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.

5 Benefits to Using an Institutional Trustee

Web Admin - Tuesday, April 08, 2014

illinois trusts and estate planning attorneyTrusts are versatile, useful legal instruments that allow the grantor (the person who sets up the trust) to set aside certain money or other assets for the use of another person (the beneficiary). However, the beneficiary does not have direct access to the assets. Instead, the trust is managed by a trustee whose job it is to control the assets and use them in the beneficiary’s best interest. This makes choosing the trustee one of the most important parts of setting up a trust.

Although most individuals can serve as a trustee, Illinois law also allows for the use of an “institutional trustee.” Institutional trustees are companies, often banks, who professionally manage the trust’s assets. These companies usually do charge a fee for the services, but the companies come with several benefits:

  • - They are skilled at managing trusts;
  • - They have the ability to handle complex paperwork and recordkeeping;
  • - They provide continuity to the management of the trust;
  • - They operate free of bias; and
  • - They are regulated to prevent fraud.

Reasons to Use an Institutional Trustee

  1. 1. Experienced Administrators: Institutional trustees have experience managing trusts. This allows them to easily navigate the legal requirements for trustees. Furthermore, many trustees are responsible for investing the trust’s assets. Banks and other institutional trustees are often professional investors who will be able to handle the task better than friends or family.

  1. 2. Strong Recordkeeping: Trusts also have fairly extensive recordkeeping requirements to prevent fraud on the part of the trustee. Institutional trustees have the infrastructure in place to make sure that important documents, like tax returns, are filed on time and do not get misplaced. Furthermore, the use of an institutional trustee prevents this complex work from being pushed onto a friend or family member.

  1. 3. Management Continuity: The corporate nature of institutional trustees also allows for continuity in the trust’s management. Trusts can last for decades and decades. An individual trustee may not be physically or mentally capable of managing a trust for its entire duration. Conversely, institutional trustees have the ability to smoothly transfer trust administration from one employee to the next, allowing for steady management of the assets.

  1. 4. Unbiased Distribution: Additionally, institutional trustees can eliminate the possibility of bias that might exist with trustees who are friends or family. The company would not have any prior history with particular beneficiaries that might interfere with the fair and evenhanded use of the trust’s assets.

  1. 5. Fraud Protection: Finally, institutional trustees have fraud prevention mechanisms in place. Although everyone would like to think that their friends or family members are above reproach, cases of theft on the part of the trustee do happen. Many institutional trustees are subject to government regulation and auditing requirements that can reduce the risk of fraud on their parts.

If you are interested in setting up a trust, consult with an Illinois estate planning lawyer to tailor one to your specific situation. Our attorneys lend their experience to clients across the northwest suburban area, including in Long Grove, Riverwoods, and Kenilworth.

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.

Who Takes Care of the Children after the Death of a Parent

Web Admin - Thursday, November 28, 2013

By: Jay A. Andrew


Determining who becomes guardian of a child in the unfortunate event that their parents pass away is an important decision. While parents have the right to make such decisions during their estate planning process, not everyone makes these preparations, and that leaves the decision of who raises the children up to the court. Illinois law guides the court as well as it can, providing general provisions for who qualifies to become a guardian in the Probate Act of 1975.

How the Judge Chooses a Guardian

Illinois law provides considerable freedom to judges in choosing who assumes guardianship of a minor, although the law does place some general restrictions on the court. The guardian chosen must be over 18, a resident of the United States, not convicted of a felony and of sound mind.

For most judges the question is decided by what is in the minor’s best interests of the minor child. The act often repeats that phrase, “the minor’s best interests,” stating that it should guide the judge’s decisions as to who assumes the role of guardian.

The procedure for the choice of guardian starts with the notification of interested persons, usually close family members, that the court will appoint a guardian. People may then petition the court to act as guardian for the minor, and the court will weigh the evidence and use its judgment to try to determine who can best raise the child. Minors over the age of 14 also have the option to nominate their own guardian, subject to review by the court. While these proceedings can often go smoothly and amicably, they can also be more acrimonious, depending on the family relationships involved.

If you are a parent and haven’t made provisions for guardianship of your children you should consider whether or not you want a judge that has never met you and barely met your child to make the determination of what is in their best interests.

Other complicating factors that an estate planning attorney can help you work through are disabled children, learning disabled children, how to keep all of the children together and how to manage combined families along with many other issues that are part of the modern family.

How to Avoid the Guardianship Proceedings

In order to avoid a drawn-out court battle, parents can take control of the situation. Illinois law gives parents the opportunity to name a guardian during their lifetime either in their will, or in a separate document. While the court still reviews this choice, the parents get much more control over their child’s future if they appoint a guardian. Rather than making the court guess at who would best raise the child, it can take the parents’ preferences into account, only overruling them if it finds “good cause” that the parents’ appointment would not be in the minor’s best interest.

If you are thinking about preparing a Will, or want to ensure the future security of your children, contact a Chicago estate planning lawyer today. We serve many northwest suburban areas including Arlington Heights, Schaumburg, Buffalo Grove, Palatine, Rolling Meadows, and other nearby communities.

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