Useful information to help guide
your probate process

Think of all the pieces of your life. Your business. Your home. Your financial accounts. Your debts. Your treasured heirlooms.

Thinking about it all at once like that, it can seem somewhat overwhelming, right? Well, now imagine that you’re acting on behalf of someone else, taking care to ensure that their last wishes are respected while also struggling to find important documents, deal with courts, and take care of expenses.

Fortunately, you don’t have to put your friends and family in this position! Creating an estate plan now will help set up your loved ones and beneficiaries for a smoother transition down the line. But what goes into an estate plan? What will need to be considered, and what do you actually have to do?

The passing of a loved one can be a time full of stress and sadness – particularly if matters relating to the decedent’s estate are left up to chance.

When someone dies and leaves lingering questions or disputes about their property, family and friends may have to enter into prolonged legal proceedings, known as probate.

Put most simply, we can think of probate as the legal process by which the assets of a deceased person are properly distributed, in accordance with the decedent’s wishes and in line with all state and local laws. This process can drag on and prove costly, particularly when there’s room for claims and disputes to crop up.

Fortunately, it may be easier to avoid this costly and time-consuming process than many might think. In fact, many Chicago estates never end up going through a probate court!

Crafting your will is one of the most important steps you can take to ensure that your friends and family are provided for and that your estate is protected when you pass away – and naming the right executor is a vital part of the process.

When named and approved by the court, your executor will take on a variety of important responsibilities, including:

  • Distributing assets according to your will
  • Maintaining property
  • Paying bills and taxes for the estate
  • Making court appearances and filing court papers

How will you select the individual or group to take on this load? Here are a few questions to ask as you consider naming your executor…

Can You Trust Them to Make the Right Decisions?

Strictly speaking, in the eyes of the law, it is not necessary for an individual to hire an attorney for matters of wills and trusts.

For one thing, there are more options and resources out there than ever before, promising to help individuals tackle these matters “DIY,” including YouTube videos, personal legal software, articles like this one, and so on.

So, to succinctly answer the question we posed in our headline: no, you do not need to bring on an attorney in order to write a legally binding will or set up a trust.

But what if we reframe the question. Not must you bring on an attorney to assist with your will – but should you? That’s a very different question, with a very different answer.

For instance, what if we swapped a few of those words? Sure, you could perform surgery on your own mouth… but should you?

Whether you’re beginning the process of estate planning, or attempting to get a handle on the estate of a decedent as an executor, it is quite common to wonder what assets need to go through probate. It’s easy to see why so many people fret about probate, as the process can, in some cases, be stressful and time consuming.

Put simply, probate is the legal process wherein a court oversees the management of a deceased person’s assets in order to ensure that all debts are paid and that all property is successfully transferred to the appropriate parties. In some cases, this process may be required even if the deceased has left a last will and testament.

Not all assets are required to go through probate, however – meaning that this process is sometimes simpler than some people anticipate. Often, big ticket assets – real estate, motor vehicles, and financial accounts - avoid probate by virtue of being jointly owned.

Broadly speaking, there are two types of joint ownership that tend to crop up. One typically avoids probate, and the other does not, which can make things a bit more complex.

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No one wants to think about passing away – but it is a reality that all of us must face at some point.

For many people, a reluctance to begin the estate planning process can lead to them kicking the can down the road until it’s too late, leaving a costly, time-consuming mess for their family and friends to clean up.

Want to bolster your own peace of mind and provide for your family? Then you’ll want to watch out for these four common estate planning errors:

Procrastinating or Putting Off Estate Planning Altogether

In some ways, the most common estate planning error is simply not having an estate plan in place.

Wills, probate administration, and estate planning are delicate subjects, at best. Certainly, they’re the sort of topic that can stop a dinner party conversation cold (trust us on this one).

Nevertheless, they are incredibly important to get a handle on these matters sooner, rather than later. A probate lawyer can help get you on the right track.

But how can you tell if bringing on a probate lawyer is right for you? Do you really need an attorney to help you with these affairs? Broadly speaking, you might wish to consult with an experienced probate attorney if:

1.) You Need a Will – Or You Have Questions About Your Current One

To act as an executor means no more and no less than to take responsibility for wrapping up the entirety of someone’s earthly affairs. Needless to say, it’s an unbelievably important task, and one that may be quite simple and streamlined, or rather complex and tedious, depending on the situation.

In any case, it’s important to understand exactly what it means to be entrusted with the responsibilities of an executor, so that you can carry out this important task to the best of your ability – or make sure that it ends up in the care of someone who can.

So, what exactly does it mean to be an executor of an estate? Here’s a quick guide to the who, what, when, and how of being an executor. 

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