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.

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.

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.

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.

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