Why is it important to have a Will?

June 3, 2020 — People have been using wills for hundreds of years as a way to provide for dependents and also to document one’s property-related objectives after death.


A properly drafted will can also help avoid disputes among family regarding your real and personal property. For example, the inclusion of a no-contest clause may deter an individual from attempting to dispute your will in court if the clause states that anyone who contests the will is not eligible to receive any distributions from the estate.


Another issue to consider is that the estate of someone who dies without a will is subject to Illinois intestacy laws, which outline distribution priorities in the absence of your legally recognized directions. Intestacy leaves the choice of who inherits your property to the default rules under state law rather than your preferences.


The purpose of a will is not only to provide a “how-to” manual for distributing your property. For a parent of a minor child, it is also an instruction as to who should care for the child or children in the event of an unexpected tragedy or premature death. In the absence of a will and a surviving parent or legal guardian, your child or children could be the subject of a legal battle among family and/or friends. 


With the evolution of technology, many people opt to use self-preparation software to draw up a will. You may think to yourself, “I don’t have much, so why should I pay a lawyer when I can fill in these blanks myself for such a small cost?” But the truth is, no software is intuitive or personal enough to advise you on what is best for your individual situation. It is also important to remember that some self-preparation programs or templates that you find online do not take into consideration the state in which the preparer resides. Estate and probate laws are different in each state. And as complex as the statutes might be, your plan may also be subject to interpretation by the courts. Templates cannot advise you on how judges would likely decide potential disputes. A clause in a will that is acceptable in one state may not be legally binding in another. Specific facts and circumstances might also change the outcome. Setting up a will on your own without the help of a lawyer can result in unnecessary challenges and costs to your family. These do-it-yourself versions might also overlook opportunities available to you and those who will inherit that you could use if only the generic software “knew” more or better.


We urge you to meet with an attorney who practices estate planning service for Clients to determine what type of estate plan is best for your needs. An effective estate plan will lighten the burden on your family and loved ones after you are gone and may also achieve efficiencies and other benefits. Call us today at 309/828-7600 or send an email to ekaloupek@lawbloomington.com to set up your 30-minute initial courtesy consultation and learn more about the estate planning process.


What are the benefits of having a Trust?

May 4, 2020 — You might know that probate is the court process by which a deceased person’s estate is settled. What you may not know is how time-consuming and expensive this process can be. There are ways to avoid putting your loved ones through the hassle of probate and reduce the time and costs involved.


Trusts are one of the components of estate planning that we help our Clients focus on here at Leighton Legal Group. A trust is a great way to protect your assets from probate. By putting your assets into your trust, your designated trustee will have prompt access to your financial accounts and other property upon your death, rather than having to open an estate and wait to be appointed as executor by a judge through probate. Trusts can lighten the financial burden and they are often faster to administer than a probate estate. Probate typically costs three to ten percent of the total value of the estate and can take anywhere from six months to two years before the estate is closed.


A trust is a private instrument that usually remains private and is not required to be filed with the court. Pursuant to Illinois law, a will must be filed with the court shortly after death. When you put your entire distribution plan in a will without a trust, this choice can make the details of what you own and owe available to the public through court records. With a trust, the trustee can pay expenses and make distributions to beneficiaries privately instead of having to account to the court which then becomes a part of public record. You usually reduce the burdens on those who implement your last wishes through use of a trust and other important planning techniques.


Trusts are not exclusive to the wealthy. Even with modest net worth, your assets could still be subject to probate and your estate would likely need to go through the same process as any person who did not plan thoughtfully through probate alternatives such as trusts.


There are times and circumstances when alternatives to trusts are important to consider. Consult with an attorney experienced with estate planning to determine how to proceed in your specific situation.


We would be happy to provide you with more details about trusts, probate avoidance and more. Call us today at 309/828-7600 or send us an email to ekaloupek@lawbloomington.com to set up your 30-minute initial courtesy consultation.

Why do I need a Property Power of Attorney?

April 8, 2020 — Do you ever wonder how your finances would be handled in the event that you become incapacitated or disabled?  If you haven’t, you are not alone. While most people understand that having a will is important for financial reasons, many do not think about who would take care of paying bills and managing other financial obligations when they are still alive yet unable to do so.  Often times this does not occur to people until a family member realizes he or she has no authority to access bank accounts or any type of financial information for a loved one whose mental capacity has already deteriorated to the point where the person can no longer execute legal documents. When we create an estate plan for a Client, we typically advise the Client to have us prepare a Durable Power of Attorney for Property (“POA Property”) to manage those issues.


A POA Property authorizes the person of your choice (and at least one alternate) to carry out property-related transactions on your behalf if you are physically or mentally incapacitated.  Examples of property-related transactions covered in the POA Property include financial institution transactions, real estate transactions, insurance, and tax matters. It is imperative that you have total confidence in the person named as the attorney-in-fact, also known as the “agent”, since that person will have the authority to act on your behalf regarding all activities described in the POA Property. The law does set standards for the agent, who must act in your best interests.


We can answer questions you have related to a POA Property and other elements of an estate plan.  Remember, it is important to have a complete estate plan in place while you are able to execute legal documents.  Please contact us today to schedule your 30-minute courtesy initial consultation by leaving a message at 309/828-7600 or by sending an email to ekaloupek@lawbloomington.com.


Note for those who already have a POA Property: Check your current POA Property to see when you executed the document. Illinois changed the power of attorney laws effective July 2011. It probably makes sense to execute a new POA Property if your document is dated before then. We also suggest that you review whom you designated as your agent and alternate(s) to make sure those choices reflect your current wishes.

Why do I need a Healthcare Power of Attorney?

March 26, 2020 — With the spread of COVID-19 (“Coronavirus”), we are reminded of the importance of having an up-to-date estate plan in place.  One key element of an estate plan is a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care (“Healthcare POA”).


With a Healthcare POA, you appoint one or more agents to implement and make key health care decisions for you, consistent with your own priorities, if your health prevents you from being able to specify your own wishes at a particular point in time.  Examples of these choices include the power to require, consent to, or withdraw treatment, including end-of-life decisions.  This legal instrument is important after an accident or illness leaves you unconscious, disabled or incapacitated.


If you already have a Healthcare POA, we encourage you to review it now to ensure that it reflects your current wishes and desired agent(s).  This review is especially important if you executed your Healthcare POA before July 2011, since the State of Illinois amended the power of attorney laws effective July 2011.


Keep in mind that when you designate an agent, it is usually important to appoint at least one back-up agent. You may create as deep a bench of successors as you wish. And you may change your mind by executing a new Healthcare POA.


We also encourage you to talk to the young people in your life about creating their Healthcare POA once they have turned eighteen, especially because parents will generally no longer have access to their medical records and/or lack legal authority to act after they attain legal adult status.


Attorney Leighton and our staff at Leighton Legal Group would be happy to help you create a new or updated Healthcare POA.  Please contact us today to schedule your 30-minute courtesy initial consultation by leaving a message at 309/828-7600 or by sending an email to ekaloupek@lawbloomington.com.