Useful information to help guide
your probate process

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.

There are all sorts of parties who may be interested in discovering how long the probate process can take in the Chicago area. Executors, for instance, may be keen to figure out how much time they’ll have to successfully settle the estate’s financial and personal matters. Beneficiaries and heirs may wonder how long they’ll have to wait before receiving access to their legacies. And even the decedent may have factored in the length of the probate process as he or she prepared an estate plan once upon a time.

So, then, “how long does probate take in Illinois” is a common question – with a fairly tricky answer.

Simply defined, probate is the legal process by which the assets of a deceased person are properly distributed, in line with the decedent’s wishes and in accordance with all state, local, and federal laws.

While there are always certain required steps to the probate process, and the same laws dictate all people and estates in Illinois, the reality is that the finer details of the probate process can and will vary from person to person, based on a wide variety of factors.

One rule of thumb? All estates subject to probate in Illinois are required to be open for at least six months; this is the amount of time that creditors have available to assert their claims from the time they are properly notified.

Beyond that, the probate process will be guided and affected by a number of forces, including family relationships, the quality of the decedent’s estate planning, and the size and complexity of the estate itself. Here are a few questions to ask that may help determine how lengthy the probate process may be for your specific circumstances:

Was the Deceased Person Organized and Thorough About Estate Planning?

If the deceased person was particularly well-organized and thoughtful about their estate prior to their death, then that could simplify the process for their friends and family members down the line.

In Illinois, the death of an individual triggers a process known as probate. Put simply, probate might be thought of as the legal process by which the assets of a deceased person are distributed, in line with the decedent’s wishes and in accordance with all state and local laws.

While virtually all estates will need to go through probate to some degree or another, there are ways to simplify and shorten this process ahead of time.

For example, by taking steps to help certain assets avoid probate altogether, you may be able to help ensure your family’s privacy, financial stability, and peace of mind in a difficult time.

One mechanism that one might use to help certain assets – including real estate, vehicles, and bank accounts or securities – avoid probate is to designate them to a beneficiary in the event of your death. There are two terms that come up when talking about this procedure, sometimes even used interchangeably – payable-on-death (POD) and transfer-on-death (TOD).

Let’s explore these concepts, and how they might be used to help certain estates of an estate bypass probate in different situations:

Thinking about the probate process? Or taking steps to avoid its hurdles, through conscientious estate planning?

If you answered “yes” to either of those questions, then you’re probably up to your neck in frustrating legalese, right?

It’s exasperating, but it’s true: Estate planning and administration are often confusing processes wrapped up in red tape and loaded with language you’ve never seen before. It even happens to the pros sometimes!

In particular, there are three simple terms that often become confusing for executors or anyone wading into the estate planning or probate processes for the first time – heir, legatee, and beneficiary.

Broadly speaking, these terms all refer to someone who is entitle to receive assets when a person dies. Sometimes, you’ll even see them used interchangeably. But, strictly speaking, these terms all have slightly different meanings in the eyes of the law, and apply to different situations that may crop up after someone passes away.

Let’s break down the distinctions a little bit:

When someone passes away, they tend to leave behind documentation and paperwork offering guidance on how to handle their personal, financial, and legal affairs. One of the most important such documents is a last will and testament.

This is considered to be such a vital legal document, in fact, that destroying or knowingly withholding a will from the public record for more than 30 days is a felony in Illinois.

Once a deceased person’s last will and testament is filed with the local county clerk, the probate process begins in earnest. This is the legal process by which the assets of a deceased person are distributed, in accordance with the decedent’s stated wishes and in line with all state and local laws.

Even under the best of circumstances, probate can be a lengthy and, oftentimes, frustrating process. While there are steps you can take ahead of time to help make probate smoother for your loved ones – including ensuring that certain assets bypass the probate process altogether – there are also certain factors that can drag out the probate process even longer, making it an even more trying time for those you leave behind.

While most people think the “birds and bees” talk is the trickiest one to have with their family, we can think of one that seems even more daunting – the estate planning conversation.

After all, this is a talk that involves some of the most delicate subjects you can possibly navigate with your loved ones.

Death, money, illness, and personal relationships – they’re all necessarily involved in the “end of life” conversation, and they can be tricky topics for even the most well-adjusted family.

So, how can you bring up these touchy subjects if you’re looking to have a serious conversation with your older relatives about the details of their estate plan – or even trying to convince them to put a plan together for the first time?

Here are a few things worth keeping in mind as you prepare to have this important talk with your aging loved ones:

Find the Right Time

Probate. It’s a word that describes the legal process by which the assets of a deceased person are distributed, as overseen by a court. It’s also a word which conjures fear in the hearts of many people.

These people – a group that may even include hardened attorneys and the wonkiest accountants – are often quick to say that probate can become an expensive, complex, or tedious nightmare, and that you should take care to avoid it at all costs.

But is the probate process really that bad? Should helping your loved ones avoid probate in the future be high on your list of priorities in the here and now?

Ultimately, a lot of the answer to that question will come down to your unique circumstances, including the size and complexity of your estate and the special dynamics of your family. With that said, there are certainly plenty of reasons why an individual and their family may want to take steps to make sure that an estate avoids probate.

As you prepare to leave your assets to your family as part of your estate plan, one mechanism that you may see discussed is known as a trust.

There are numerous reasons why you may wish to set up a trust with the help of an attorney – though it’s important to realize that there are different types of trusts available, and that setting one up may not necessarily be beneficial for your specific needs.

There are any number of reasons why an individual may wish to set up a trust, including:

- Tax planning

- Asset protection

- Privacy

- Creating useful provisions for minors or special needs family members

Again, as you sit down with a professional to discuss the many facets of a successful estate plan, it’s important to realize that there are different types of trusts available. It’s vital to understand your options, what benefits they offer to you and your loved ones, and how each different type of trust is managed.

In general, trusts fall into two camps: revocable and irrevocable.

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