Planning for the inevitable transfer of your assets provides peace of mind that your loved ones will be securely provided for. However, even the most comprehensive estate plan can fail if your documentation is not properly set up and executed. 

A comprehensive estate plan in Illinois typically includes wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and advance health care directives. These are vital tools for outlining exactly how you want your estate distributed and can help avoid probate, a public and often lengthy legal process.

Here is a step-by-step guide to help Illinois residents navigate the critical aspects of crafting ironclad wills and trusts and securing their legacy through the proper execution.

Understanding Your Estate

The first step to starting the conversation regarding estate planning, take stock of your assets, including bank accounts, real estate, investments, retirement funds, and personal property. Also, consider your liabilities, such as mortgages, loans, and other debts.

It’s crucial to define your goals and think carefully about what you want to achieve with your plan, such as protecting your family’s future, supporting charitable causes, or ensuring your business continues smoothly.

Before delving into execution, it’s essential to distinguish between wills and trusts

Depending on your family’s situation, you may want to establish a living trust. This legal instrument can be highly effective during your lifetime. It lets you control your assets while you’re able to enjoy them while specifying how they should be managed if you become incapacitated. Living trusts can also spare your loved ones from having to go through the potentially long and expensive probate process. 

The Significance of Proper Execution

According to the Illinois Probate Act, only individuals who have reached the age of 18 and possess testamentary capacity can execute a valid will. 

Testamentary capacity requires the testator to have a sound mind, fully understand the nature and extent of their assets, and comprehend the disposition and consequences of the will.

It’s recommended that you seek professional legal assistance throughout the estate planning process to ensure the will encompasses all necessary details and to minimize the risk of potential errors or challenges.

To be valid in the state of Illinois, a will must be in writing and signed by the testator with their signature or by another person in their presence and at their direction. It must be acknowledged in front of, and signed by, two credible witnesses. 

These witnesses must also be at least 18 years old and cannot be beneficiaries or spouses of beneficiaries under the will. Their role is to affirm the validity of the will by attesting that the testator signed it willingly and appeared to be of sound mind during the process.

Life is dynamic, and circumstances change over time. Illinois law allows testators to make changes to their wills using a codicil, an additional written document that modifies, amends, or revokes. However, it is essential to adhere to the proper requirements to maintain the validity of these changes, as improperly executed wills or those with markups or changes can be contested in probate proceedings.

A Clear and Comprehensive Plan

Creating a will or trust as part of your estate plan should be an essential element of your overall financial strategy. It’s crucial to partner with a knowledgeable and compassionate advocate who can assess your unique circumstances, provide personalized advice, and draft necessary documents tailored to your family’s specific needs.

You must appoint an executor who will be responsible for carrying out the instructions outlined in the will, including paying debts, taxes, and distributing assets. If you don’t have a will, you risk the court appointing an administrator to handle your estate — and this may be someone you would not prefer.

Opting for a trustworthy and responsible executor will enable the efficient administration of the estate and proper execution of the testator’s wishes. This person or entity should possess integrity and good character as well as sound judgment. 

Close friends or family members are a common choice but consider their biases, skills, and location before committing to a decision. You can also designate a financial institution or an attorney that will be more suited to complex estate settlements. 

If your estate plan involves establishing one or more trusts, selecting the trustee(s) takes a thorough and objective process as well. When it comes to building a legacy for your loved ones, due diligence is vital. 

While notarization is not a requirement for validity in Illinois, your attorney may recommend notarizing your will and its witnesses’ signatures to facilitate the proceedings. Additionally, testators may opt for a self-proving affidavit, a supplemental document that simplifies the probate process by affirming the validity of the will without requiring witnesses to testify.

In this massively online world, you should remember to include any digital assets in your estate planning documents. Lacking access to critical online accounts can derail even the most well-designed estate settlements. Give your executor or trustee needed login credentials, but avoid keeping unencrypted lists.

Empower Your Family’s Future

Executing a valid will in Illinois requires meticulous attention to detail, adherence to legal requirements, and thoughtful consideration of various aspects. 

Discussing what will happen to your estate can be unsettling, but this process is fundamental to securing your legacy, providing for your children and loved ones, and clearly communicating the disbursement of your assets.

Partnering with the experienced team at the Law Offices of J. Jeltes will help you identify and address critical considerations in crafting ironclad wills and trusts under Illinois law. Now is the perfect time to ensure your wishes are recorded and communicated effectively — reach out to us today!