Useful information to help guide
your probate process

Probate - A Working Definition for Chicago Residents

Maybe you’ve heard the word “probate” – but you’re not sure what, exactly, it refers to.

Maybe you know that probate is an important process, and one that will have a major impact on your friends and family after you’ve passed away – but you’re not entirely clear on the specifics.

Don’t be embarrassed! You’re not alone.

Probate is an important topic to know about. However, as with so many things connected to estate planning and end-of-life issues, plenty of Americans prefer to kick the can down the road – until it may be too late to get educated and take action.

Whether you’re looking into estate planning, or have been tasked with representing an estate as an executor or administrator, it’s important to understand what probate means, and how it will affect you, your assets, and the people you care about.

Probate, Put Simply

Probate is a broad term, and can refer to a few different matters.  

Most generally, though, when you hear someone talk about “probate” in a legal context, they’re referring to the process by which the court system proves the validity of a will, and administers a decedent’s estate.

During probate, the court presides over the management of a deceased person’s property and assets, whether or not there is a valid will.

The goal of the probate process is to ensure that all of the deceased’s debts are paid, and that all of his or her assets are transferred to the appropriate parties, in line with the individual’s wishes and/or all state and local laws. During probate, other matters might also need to be addressed, including gathering and accounting for certain assets, transferring the guardianship of minors, and settling any disputes over inheritance or distribution that might arise.

The probate process typically begins when a representative for the deceased person files a will, which opens a probate estate in the local court. When this occurs, the deceased’s will, and many other aspects of their estate plan, become a matter of public record. Once the estate has been properly and fully administered, in line with the deceased’s estate planning documents or state intestacy laws, the court will order the estate closed.

Is There a Problem With Probate?

If you’ve heard of the probate process at all, then you might have heard that it’s something you’ll want to avoid. Probate has a reputation for being a frustrating, costly, and time-intensive process. In some ways, this reputation is earned; in others, it’s a little overblown.

The reality is that, in Illinois, most probate matters are fairly routine, and can be handled with a relative degree of ease and efficiency. With that said, though, it’s important to recognize that every probate process will be different. There are a number of different factors that could influence how long or complicated probate might be for a certain estate, including:

  • Number of beneficiaries
  • Size of the estate
  • Questions about the ownership of certain assets
  • Unclear directives in will or other estate planning documents
  • Family disputes or disagreements

There are also certain steps an individual can take ahead of time to ensure that the probate process is more streamlined. For one thing, having a thorough and well-documented estate plan in place could go a long way towards simplifying things for an estate representative later on. This is an important step that many overlook – particularly when you consider that roughly half of all American adults don’t even have a will!

In other cases, there are options available that may help certain assets stay out of probate altogether, including:

  • Putting assets in a revocable living trust
  • Owning property jointly, with rights of survivorship
  • Naming TOD and POD beneficiaries for certain financial accounts, assets, or securities

Again, though, it’s key to realize that everyone’s circumstances will be different, depending on a variety of different factors. In some cases, for instance, administering a trust can require a significant investment of time and cost in and of itself. Bottom line, there are pros and cons to all of these mechanisms for avoiding probate – just as there are to the probate process itself!

Have any further questions about any aspect of the probate process in Chicagoland? Curious about what sets Cook County and Illinois probate proceedings apart from other states? Want to talk with an experienced professional about matters of estate planning, power of attorney, probate administration, or more? Don’t hesitate to drop us a line today to continue the conversation!

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