Whether you are aware of it or not, there is a fairly good chance that you will find yourself in an Illinois probate court, if you are an Illinois resident, at some point in your life. If you are unfamiliar with the concept of probate and/or with the types of legal matters typically handled in a probate court it would be a good idea to educate yourself now before you find yourself in the middle of a probate matter. With that in mind, the following provides a basic guide for what you might expect in an Illinois probate court.
The Illinois Court System
First, it helps to gain a basic understanding of the Illinois court system in general. The Illinois court system is broadly divided into the civil and the criminal justice systems. Cases initiate at the Circuit court level, also known as the “trial courts,” for both civil and criminal cases. If a party does not agree with the outcome at the trial level, that party may have the right to appeal to the next level in the system, that being the appellate court. The last stop in the Illinois court system is the Illinois Supreme Court. At the trial level, there are also a few “specialty” courts, including probate court.
What Kind of Cases Does the Illinois Probate Court Handle?
The Illinois probate courts handle two basic types of cases – probating an estate and petitioning for guardianship over a minor child or incapacitated adult. Probating an estate occurs after a death. Everyone who dies leaves behind an estate. The estate consists of all the assets the decedent owned, or had an ownership interest in, at the time of death. Probate court is where that estate is administered. During the probate process, several things occur, including:
- The decedent’s assets are identified, located, and valued.
- Creditors of the decedent are given the opportunity to file claims against the estate.
- Taxes owed by the decedent and/or the estate of the decedent are paid
- Assets are transferred to the intended beneficiaries and/or heirs of the estate.
If you are involved in the probate of an estate, you might spend time in an Illinois probate court. If you are appointed as the Executor of the estate in the decedent’s Last Will and Testament, for example, you will need to file the Decedent’s Will with the probate court and officially open the probate of the estate. Everything you do during the administration of the estate will then go through the probate court. If someone challenges the decedent’s Will by filing a Will contest, that will also be litigated in the probate court. All aspects of the estate administration will be supervised by the probate court up to the final accounting and distribution of the remaining estate assets.
Guardianship proceedings also fall under the purview of the Illinois probate court. If you wish to petition to have guardianship over a minor child, for example, you must do so in probate court. Likewise, if you have a parent, or other adult, who is disabled or otherwise determined to be incapacitated as a result of Alzheimer’s or another old age related dementia condition, you would petition for guardianship of the individual through the Illinois probate court. In that case, you would need to file a petition for guardianship and serve the petition to all interested parties. The court might then order an evaluation of the proposed ward, in the case of an allegedly incapacitated adult. Ultimately, the court would set the matter for a hearing at which time you would need to appear in the probate court and convince the court through testimony and evidence that the proposed ward was in need of a guardian and that you are an appropriate person to be appointed as the guardian.
If you find yourself involved in the Illinois probate court, it is always best to consult with an experienced Illinois probate attorney to ensure that you understand the proceedings as well as how to navigate the judicial system.
If you have additional questions or concerns regarding the Illinois probate court, contact the experienced Illinois probate attorneys at Hedecker Law, Ltd. by calling (847) 913-5415 to schedule an appointment.