Illinois estate planning is one of the most personal aspects of the practice of law.  In order for our Chicago estate planning attorneys to develop an excellent estate plan, it is import for clients to feel at ease and be willing to share their personal or family objectives and frustrations concerning their spouse, their children, other family members, and the location and value of their wealth.  Often when we inquire why our clients would like to establish an estate plan, they often respond in a variety of ways:

  • Some want to quickly complete an estate plan because they are about to go on a trip and they procrastinated putting a plan in place for years and years;
  • Some have just moved to Illinois and want their existing estate plan reviewed and revised according to Illinois law and changes in the domicile and assets;
  • Some want an estate plan because they believe it is very important to make certain that a particular child receives a certain inheritance or does not receive an inheritance outright;
  • Some want to prevent or reduce estate taxes;
  • Some want a revocable living trust because they want to avoid probate and publicity;
  • Some have received an inheritance or were just hired as a professional or executive and now they have built a large enough estate to warrant estate planning; and
  • Some have heard of situation in which second spouses inherited and children were left out and they want to assure that this does not happen.

Estate Planning Client Objectives

As Chicago estate planning attorneys, we understand that the basic objective of estate planning for Illinois families, individuals and business owners is to plan for the orderly disposition of assets in accordance with their specific intent and desires.  Further, often the principal goal of a client is to provide for the surviving spouse comfortably, and then transfer the remaining assets to the children.  In second marriages, the aforementioned goal may well be reversed, although the surviving spouse’s support may be provided for, the ultimate enjoyment of the property by the children of the first marriage is assured.  If business interests are involved, it’s often necessary for a client to determine whether the business will continue or be liquidated.  If the business is to continue, the client will need to determine who should control and manage the business and how its equity is to be allocated among the beneficiaries .

As such, we work closely with our clients to determine their basic desires regarding disposition of their assets, property, what family members are to benefit and how, and any particular special problems or needs of the family or peculiarities involving their business.  Taxes are also an important part of estate planning for many clients, but, generally, it is no longer their principal objective (see Tax Planning).

The estate planning process involves several specific steps.  First, our attorneys must gather all relevant information that may have a bearing upon development of the estate plan.  This includes not only financial information, but information regarding the family or other beneficiaries and the client’s inclinations toward gifting and protecting the beneficiaries.  Second, the information must be analyzed and an estate plan developed.  This will involve our attorneys sitting down with each client to explain the proposed estate plan so that the client understands it and can confirm that it reflects their intentions and desires.

Because the available estate planning techniques are so diverse, often the development of the estate plan will involve our attorneys explaining a number of alternatives,. strategies to the client, who can then choose the most appropriate, beneficial technique before an overall, comprehensive estate plan is developed.

Once the estate plan is developed, the third step is its implementation.  This involves the preparation  and execution of any needed documents, as well as the transfer of ownership of any property, such as the client’s home or land, that may be required under the estate plan.  Finally, after the estate plan has been implemented, our attorneys emphasize to each client that estate planning is a continuing process, requiring updating as the facts and circumstances of the client change, or as new laws are enacted that may have a bearing on the clients existing estate plan.

Dangers of Not Establishing An Estate Plan

What are some of the dangers that may confront persons with inadequate or nonexistent estate plans? A will is generally the cornerstone of an estate plan.  If an individual dies without a will or revocable trust plan, that is, “intestate,” his property is distributed according to Illinois state laws on distribution and descent rather than according to his intentions and desires. If he does have a will, but it is out-of-date, it may not reflect his current intentions regarding the disposition of his property. Also, the kinds of property that make up the estate and the way in which they are owned (e.g., jointly, beneficially in trust) may not have been taken into account when the will was drawn. In addition, property may be left to a beneficiary who has predeceased the testator. Or property may be left outright to a beneficiary who is incapable of taking care of it. Or, the property may not go to those beneficiaries whom the he or she would like to see inherit. Children or grandchildren born after the will was executed may be left out.

An inadequate or inappropriate estate plan may cause too much money to go to the children and not enough to the surviving spouse. Liquidity may be a problem. The estate needs cash to pay taxes, debts, etc. To raise cash, the estate may have to sell assets at less than their full value.

In contrast, a well thought-out estate plan avoids numerous problems, including taxes. An estate is a dynamic, living thing that develops and changes as the needs and status of its owner grow and change. Therefore, in most cases, our  Chicago estate planning attorneys highly suggest that a revocable  trust should be planned for a client. Unless the client becomes incompetent, it can always be revoked or revised.