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Enjoy the Season of Giving Without Tax Implications

Web Admin - Monday, December 17, 2018
Schaumburg gift tax attorneyYou do not have to wait until you die to give a loved one enough money to pursue a big dream, such as starting a business or advancing their education. You can give that gift today without paying any extra federal taxes as long as you follow a few simple rules and have a sound estate plan. During the holiday season, it is important to understand how federal gift tax affects the high-value gifts given.

Why the Gift Tax Exists 


Gift taxes exist because of the federal estate tax. If your estate is large enough that federal estate taxes will be owed upon your death, the IRS wants to make sure it collects those taxes one way or another. The gift tax ensures that people cannot avoid the federal estate tax simply by giving away their assets prior to death.

Who Has to Pay Federal Gift Taxes? 


Gifts are always tax-free to the recipient. Federal gift tax rules only apply to the giver and only come into play if you exceed the annual gift limits. 

What Are the 2018 and 2019 Gift Limits?


The annual gift limit is $15,000 per individual recipient per calendar year for 2018 and 2019. You can give that amount to as many individuals as you wish without being required to pay gift tax. It does not matter if the individual is related to you or not.

In other words, a gift of $15,000 or less that is given to one person will not have any gift tax or estate tax implications. Separately, your spouse may also give $15,000 to anyone they want. 

Non-cash gifts are valued at their current fair market value. For example, if you originally paid $5,000 for a painting or 100 shares of stock, and the item is worth $15,000 at the time you transfer the gift, the IRS considers the value of the gift to be $15,000.

What Happens if I Exceed the Annual Gift Limits?


If the total value of your gifts to any one individual in one calendar year exceeds the annual limit, you must file a federal gift tax return using IRS Form 709. This is separate from your federal income tax return but is due at the same time. 

A separate Form 709 must be filed by each individual who gives an over-the-limit gift; spouses cannot file one joint Form 709 the way they file a joint income tax return.

However, just because you have to file a federal gift tax return does not mean you will actually have to pay any taxes at that time. You can choose to apply over-the-limit gift amounts to your federal estate tax exclusion. In essence, rather than paying the gift tax now, you defer the taxes until your death when the final estate tax return is filed.

If you opt to pay gift taxes at the time you file a gift tax return, the tax rate starts at 18% and goes as high as 40%. These rates are substantially lower than current estate tax rates, but again, the laws can change dramatically from year to year. 

Ultimately, most people will not owe any federal estate taxes upon their death, so it is often preferable to avoid paying gift taxes early.

What Happens at Death When My Estate is Settled?


A federal estate tax return must be filed only if the fair market value of your total assets at the time of your death plus the sum of all pre-death taxable gifts exceeds the IRS “basic exclusion” amount. The IRS basic exclusion amounts are $11.18 million for 2018 and $11.4 million for 2019. 

Of course, it is possible that the estate tax threshold could be reduced in future years. For example, if you had died in 2017, the estate tax exclusion was just $5.49 million. 

These complexities are a good reason to work with a highly skilled tax and estate planning attorney to develop a comprehensive estate plan.

Please note that the information in this article applies only to federal tax law. Consult your financial and legal advisors regarding applicable Illinois estate and gift tax laws.

Consult a Schaumburg Tax and Estate Planning Lawyer


Many people find great pleasure in giving generous gifts to their family members sooner rather than later. However, to avoid creating an unnecessary tax burden, talk to a knowledgeable Arlington Heights gift tax and estate plans attorney at Drost, Gilbert, Andrew & Apicella, LLC. Call 847-934-6000 to schedule an appointment; there is no charge for an initial 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.


Sources:
https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/whats-new-estate-and-gift-tax
https://www.thebalance.com/what-gifts-are-subject-to-the-gift-tax-3505680
https://www.hrblock.com/tax-center/income/other-income/do-i-have-to-pay-taxes-on-a-gift/

Why Top 15% Income Households Need to Start Estate Planning Now

Web Admin - Wednesday, October 24, 2018
Schaumburg estate planning lawyer wealth protectionYou do not have to be Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk to need an estate plan. You do not even need to be earning $1.4 million a year, which is the average annual income of the top 1% of Illinois households. However, if you are fortunate enough to be in the top 15%, you will likely amass enough assets to need an estate plan. For perspective, a 2017 household income over $140,000 per year puts you in the top 15% of U.S. households; over $170K puts you in the top 10%, over $225K in the top 5%, and over $431K in the top 1%. If you fall into these ranges, here are three reasons why you should start an estate plan: 

1. You may think it is too early to be worrying about an estate plan. It is not. 


If you belong to the Baby Boomer generation, you are now age 54 to 72. Gen Xers are age 39 to 53. You may be in great health today, but you cannot predict what will happen tomorrow. You do not want to leave your family in chaos, trying to figure out what to do in the event of a sudden illness or death. Peace of mind is a gift you give yourself and them when you make the time to create an estate plan.

2. You may think your estate is not big enough to require “planning.” It may be bigger than you realize.


Have you totaled up your assets lately? Your home, vehicles, whole life insurance, retirement accounts, other investments, and personal property may add up to more than you realize. You may think that you will use up your entire retirement savings during your lifetime, but many people will not. If you have invested wisely, you may be able to live off the earnings and hardly touch the principal. Also, your primary home, vacation home, or other assets (artwork, jewelry, gold coins) may appreciate in value more than you expect. With an estate plan, you can make sure your assets are distributed according to your wishes.

3. You may think that a simple will that divides your estate equally among your children is enough. But have you allowed for the unexpected?


An experienced estate planner will point out the types of unexpected events that can occur and the important contingencies that you should cover in your plan, such as: 

- What if one of your heirs becomes disabled or cannot be trusted with money due to an addiction? You may want to place your money in a trust with scheduled distributions, with a trustee who has the authority to distribute more or less money if circumstances warrant.

- What if someone does not want the asset you want to give them? For example, you may want to make sure your lake cottage stays in the family, with each child owning an equal share. But what if one of them moves far away or cannot afford the maintenance costs? Also, when it passes to the next generation, what happens if one child has three offspring and another has just one? Is it fair for one grandchild to have a 50% say in future decisions while the other three grandchildren split the remaining 50%? An experienced estate attorney will anticipate and know how to solve for such problems. 

- What if you outlive your presumed heirs? Do you have siblings or other relatives you would like to provide for?

- What if your final estate is likely to be substantially larger than you think your heirs need? Are there any charitable causes you would like to support, perhaps only if your final estate exceeds a certain amount?

Consult a Kenilworth Estate Planning Lawyer


These are just three of the reasons that an income earner who is in the top 15% should be starting their estate plan now. For more information, contact the experienced Inverness estate planning attorneys at Drost, Gilbert, Andrew & Apicella, LLC. We will help you develop a savvy estate plan that will provide emotional and financial security for you and your family. 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.



Sources:
https://dqydj.com/united-states-household-income-brackets-percentiles/
https://money.usnews.com/money/retirement/baby-boomers/articles/2018-07-05/6-common-myths-about-estate-planning
https://www.kiplinger.com/article/retirement/T021-C032-S014-10-surprisingly-common-estate-planning-mistakes.html

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.

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.

What Happens to an Unfunded Trust?

Web Admin - Wednesday, June 11, 2014

illinois unfunded trust lawyerPreparing estate planning documents is a key step in ensuring that a person’s final wishes are respected throughout the probate process, and a recent survey shows that the majority of Americans understand this fact. However, when setting up a trust, preparing the documents does not finish the process. If the person who sets up the trust fails to properly transfer their assets into it, it can become an underfunded or unfunded trust. This lack of proper funding can lead to a failure of a person’s estate plan, and also increases the potential for disputes throughout the process of probating the estate.

What an Unfunded Trust Is

A trust is a legal construction that involves a settlor, a trustee, and a beneficiary. The settlor creates the trust and transfers assets into it. The trustee manages the assets in the trust and they do so with the best interests of the beneficiary in mind. The drafting of the trust instrument is a key part of this process. That document will outline many of the legal rights and responsibilities of the trustee and the beneficiary, and it can provide instructions for the trustee to follow.

Many people think that once they draft the trust document, the process is complete and the trustee will be able to carry out their desires. This is not the case. The person will also need to legally transfer the assets to the trust. Without doing so, the trustee may not actually be able to control the assets and distribute them in accordance with the settlor’s instructions.

The Consequences of Improper Trust Funding

Improper trust funding can lead to disputes between heirs throughout the probate process. This is because if the settlor does not properly fund the trust the trustee has no legal authority to carry out the wishes of the settlor. Instead, the assets would pass through any will that the settlor left behind, or they may pass through right of survivorship, the default way that courts distribute assets. This means that the beneficiaries of the trust may end up in a legal battle with the heirs listed in the will over their rights to the assets.

Additionally, even if the settlor did not leave a will and there are no disputes, the assets will still need to go through the state probate process to be distributed. This can lengthen the amount of time it takes to wind down a person’s affairs and tends to be a less convenient process than if the trust had been properly funded.

If you are thinking about how best to carry out your final wishes, seek out an Illinois estate planning attorney for help. Our skilled team of lawyers helps clients in northwest suburban towns like Mount Prospect, Arlington Heights, and Schaumburg understand their estate planning options and create the best plan for themselves.

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.

Do Not Resuscitate Orders: What You Need to Know

Web Admin - Thursday, May 29, 2014

illinois dnr estate planning attorneyAdvances in medical science and technology have made it possible to revive patients after their heart or lungs have stopped working, often known as heroic measures. One of the most common ways of doing this is via simple mouth to mouth resuscitation or chest compressions. Doctors may also use an electric shock to restart the heart, or they may insert a breathing tube down a person’s throat to open the airway. Additionally, drugs like epinephrine may help restart a person’s heart in the event that it stops. The availability of technologies like these though has led to the proliferation of Do Not Resuscitate orders (“DNR”).

What Is a DNR?

A DNR is a type of “advance healthcare directive.” These are documents that people fill out prior to serious illness or injury that affect the type of care a person will receive. The DNR is a specific advance directive that instructs doctors not to perform heroic measures to resuscitate the person.

DNRs apply only to the narrow issue of resuscitation, so it is important not to confuse it with the two other common types of advance directives: living wills and healthcare powers of attorney. Living wills are a different type of advance directive that have broader applications. Living wills allow a person to record their feelings on a variety of life sustaining treatments like the use of feeding tubes and respirators.

Healthcare powers of attorney transfer the authority to make healthcare decisions to another person in the event that they are unable to make healthcare decisions for themselves. Ordinarily, this document will matter most in situations where a person’s condition is not serious enough to implicate the instructions in a living will, but when they are unable to speak.  

DNR orders are important medical documents that can have profound consequences on a person’s quality of life. Therefore, people should understand the different considerations that can affect whether to institute a DNR.

Elements to Consider

There are two important elements someone should consider when thinking about implementing a DNR: their current quality of life and the effectiveness of resuscitation. With regard to quality of life, resuscitation is often necessary because of ongoing medical problems that may or may not ever improve. These health issues can have a serious effect on a person’s quality of life and may even remove the desire to be resuscitated in the event of death. In fact, a survey of doctors revealed that, knowing the quality of life many resuscitated patients have, 88.3 percent would choose to implement a DNR. Part of that is likely because of the second concern, the effectiveness of resuscitation.

While CPR and other measures can often bring people back to life, it is not a perfect tool. Many CPR attempts result in broken ribs, and often, even though the person survives, the experience leaves them with neurological damage. While many people choose to forego DNRs, it is a very personal decision that should only be made after understanding all of the facts involved.

If you are considering implementing a DNR or another advance directive, seek the advice of an Illinois estate planning lawyer today. Our skilled attorneys help clients make these difficult decisions in towns across the northwest suburbs including Inverness, Long Grove, 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.

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.

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

Web Admin - Thursday, November 28, 2013

By: Jay A. Andrew

http://www.dgaalaw.com/jay-andrew.html 

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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