Estate Planning

People sometimes have a hard time pinning down exactly what estate planning is and what it does.  We take a fairly broad view.

Our goal is to help you find your dream life.  For you…and your family.

An estate plan forms the legal foundation supporting the three most important things in life:  your health, your family, and your assets.  The right planning gives you the confidence that you will be able to deal with whatever happens along the way.

What An Estate Plan Can Do For You

Before coming to our office, many of our clients knew they needed an estate plan.  But they didn’t knew precisely why it was important or what it would do for them and their families. So let’s start there.  Why is an estate plan important?  What can it do to help you and your family?

The first thing you should know is that you already have an estate plan.  Illinois has a law that gives an estate plan to everyone who hasn’t created their own plan.  It’s called the Illinois Probate Act, and you can read it on the Illinois General Assembly website (click the link to read it).

Of course, you don’t have to accept the Illinois government plan.  You can opt out.  It’s the choice between a plan by design or a plan by accident.

When you design your own estate plan, you can:

  • Choose the people who you want to help you in various roles (we call them “helpers”).  Your estate plan helpers include:
    1. Property agents can manage your property and affairs if you become incapacitated
    2. Health care agents can make your health care decisions if you become incapacitated
    3. Guardians will care for  your minor children if you’re not able to
    4. Executors manage the administration of your estate in Probate Court
    5. Trustees manage the administration of your living trust when you pass away
  • Decide who will receive your money and assets when you die and how they will receive it
  • Keep your estate out of probate — a very public, inflexible, and often expensive court process
  • Protect the inheritance you leave to your spouse or children from divorce, creditors, and lawsuits
  • Leave money or assets to a special needs relative without ruining their eligibility for benefits programs
  • Make sure that the inheritance you leave your spouse or children stays within your bloodline and won’t be lost by a later remarriage
  • Maximize the amount you can pass on to your children without paying estate taxes

While this list only scratches the surface, it gives you an idea of the impact that an estate plan can have on your family.

Legal Documents in the Estate Planning Toolbox

An estate plan shouldn’t begin and end with legal documents.  But the importance of solid legal documents to the success of your plan can’t be understated. We find it helpful to discuss how the right legal tools can help your the three parts of your life — your health, your family, and your assets.

Documents for Your Health Care

One of the most difficult times a family can face is when a loved-one is suffering from a serious medical condition.  With the health care documents in your estate plan, your family and friends will have the legal tools they need to help you get the best care.

  • A Power of Attorney for Health Care names your health care agent — the person who you want to make your health care decisions if you are incapacitated — and the successor agents, in case your agent is unavailable.
  • A HIPAA Authorization authorizes doctors, hospital staff, and medical providers to discuss your health and treatment information.  This document became necessary because of (and is named after) the 2003 Privacy Rules enacted as part of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (aka HIPAA).
  • A Living Will allows you to tell your family in advance the kind of care you do, or do not, want to receive if you ever face a terminal or incurable condition.  In many states, these are also called Advance Health Care Directives.

Documents for Your Family

Most people rely on their Will to name guardians for their children.  But a Will is only effective at death and after a lengthy court process, making it next to useless in many emergency situations.  Illinois law allows parents to name guardians using two other documents:

  • A Nomination of Short-term Guardian allows Illinois parents to name a temporary guardian who has authority to care for their children immediately when an emergency happens.
  • Nomination of Standby Guardian allows Illinois parents to name permanent guardians for their children.

Documents for Your Assets

The documents dealing with assets are what most people think of as “estate planning”.

  • A Power of Attorney for Property names your property agent — the person who will be able to manage your property and financial accounts if you become incapacitated  — and the successor agents, in case your agent is unavailable.
  • A Will (aka Last Will and Testament) names your executor and the beneficiares of your estate.
  • A Revocable Living Trust is a powerful and flexible tool to manage your assets during your lifetime and after your death.  it is commonly used as the cornerstone of an estate plan along with a Power of Attorney for Property and Will.
  • There are many other types of trusts that can serve special purposes in your plan, including Irrevocable Life Insurance Trusts and Retirement Plan Trusts.

Getting Started on Your Estate Plan

If you would like to learn more about the difference an estate plan can make for your family, stop by our Estate Planning practice areas page to read more.