Who Needs Estate Planning?
“Estate planning” is an umbrella term that covers multiple legal arrangements, whether you’re managing your assets, your property or how your affairs should be handled after your death. In practice, estate planning can include wills, trusts, powers of attorney, tax planning, business planning, pet custody, charitable giving and more.
While it sounds morbid to talk about, estate planning is a vital way to protect your interests after your death, or if you become unable to make decisions due to incapacitation.. For example, if a Chicago resident passes away before establishing an estate plan, the State of Illinois will distribute their assets according to state law rather than the individual’s preferences. Making an estate plan protects your assets and guarantees that your wishes will be carried out.
Estate planning also relieves your family and loved ones of the burden of managing your assets in the immediate aftermath of your death. For Chicago residents who die without any prior legal planning in place, their estate will go through the Illinois Probate Court, which can be a long, stressful and complicated process in the absence of a roadmap you provide.
There are myriad legal processes available to Chicagoans seeking to protect, distribute and organize their property and assets when they are gone, but together, three core documents—a will, a living will and a power of attorney—provide complementary protections. Here’s what you need to know to navigate them.
Creating a Will
Your will is the main framework that determines what happens to your property. In Chicago, and across the state of Illinois, there a three preliminary requirements to file a will: you must be 18 years old, the will must be in writing, and it must be signed. The testator (the person who writes and signs a will) also needs two witnesses who are not beneficiaries to verify his or her fitness at the time of signing. In the event of your death, the will is presented in court and then carried out by your executor. In Chicago, a testator can change his or her will at any time, as long as they are deemed competent.
Creating a Living Will
If you are unable to communicate your own medical choices due to a debilitating illness or injury, a Living Will can help ensure your wishes are still carried out. In Chicago, Living wills contain instructions for medical decisions, including organ donation and whether life support should be initiated, sustained or terminated. A Living will should be created while you’re healthy, so that if you’re unable to communicate your choices for your own life or healthcare, they will still be followed.
Establishing Powers of Attorney
Chicago estate plans should include Powers of Attorney, which designate a specific person to make decisions on your behalf in the case of illness, injury, or other circumstances that render you unable to advocate for yourself. You can nominate someone to be your Power of Attorney for health care, finance and business decisions.
If you plan to compile estate planning materials in Chicago, it’s essential that you consult an attorney familiar with the city’s laws. A lawyer who specializes in Chicago and Illinois law can help you navigate the specific legal hurdles you may encounter while ensuring you have an estate plan that keeps your interests in mind — no matter what.