The loss of a loved one is typically followed by a grieving process that can take weeks, months, or years. It is also often a time of confusion and uncertainty for those left behind. The last thing on your mind if you find yourself grieving a loss may be the legal implications of your love one’s death. Someone, however, must be in charge of probating the decedent’s estate. If your loved one appointed you to be the Executor in his/her Last Will and Testament, that person is you. If your loved one died intestate, or without a Will, you may find yourself volunteering to oversee the administration of the estate as well. If you have never been through the probate process before, it is in your best interest to retain the services of an experienced Illinois estate planning attorney to assist you. To help get you started though, the estate planning attorneys at Hedeker Law, Ltd. have compiled some commonly used probate resources for the Glenview, Illinois area.
An Overview of the Probate Process
If you are new to the concept of probate, it helps to learn a few basics before you get started with your duties and responsibilities as Executor of the estate. Probate is the legal process that is typically required following the death of an individual. Probate is intended to serve several purposes, including providing a method by which estate assets are transferred to the new owners and ensuring that all debts of the decedent, including tax obligations, are paid before those assets are transferred out of the estate. If you are the Executor of the estate, that means that the decedent appointed you to that position in his/her Last Will and Testament. It also means that the decedent had a considerable amount of faith in you and your abilities and is trusting you to efficiently and effectively handle the probate of his/her estate. If the decedent died intestate, or without a Will, any competent adult may volunteer to be the “Personal Representative (PR) and oversee the probate of the estate. For more general information on the probate process, the American Bar Association has a section entitled “The Probate Process” on its website that you may wish to read. In addition, although not from Cook County, the Lake County Probate Court offers an overview entitled “Decedent’s Estate” and they have published a booklet entitled “Probate Court,” both of which you may find helpful as they are from other courts within the State of Illinois.
The first official step in the probate process is to file a petition to probate the estate in the probate court located in the county in which the decedent was a resident at the time of death. If the decedent lived in Glenview, Illinois, the estate will likely be probated in Probate Division of the Cook County courts. Most Personal Representatives (PRs) retain the services of an experienced estate planning attorney to assist during the probate process, particularly if the estate does not qualify for a small estate alternative to formal probate. If, however, you decide to proceed pro se, or without the assistance of an attorney, you will be expected to understand the Rules of the Circuit Court as well as the Illinois and federal laws applicable to the probate of the estate. The Southern Illinois School of Law also has a Self Help Legal Center that may be of use to you. Cook County also has a number of Help Desks located throughout the courthouse on various days and times. Check the website for details. Finally, many of the probate forms you may need can also be downloaded from the court’s “Forms” section of the website.
Finding the Right Attorney
As the Executor/Personal Representative you may ultimately be responsible for overseeing the probate of the estate; however, that does not mean you need to go it alone. On the contrary, most Executors/PRs turn to an experienced estate planning attorney for assistance to ensure that the process moves along expeditiously and efficiently. If you do decide to retain an attorney to provide advice and guidance, a good place to start is with the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys website. The AAEPA is a national organization of attorneys who have chosen to focus their practice on legal issues related to wills, trusts, and estates. Membership in the AAEPA signifies that an attorney has proven experience in the areas of estate planning and/or elder law. In addition, the Illinois State Bar Association’s “Illinois Lawyer Finder” as well as the Cook County Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral Service may also be of help finding the right attorney.
Executor/Personal Representative Resources
The Executor/PR has a wide variety of duties and responsibilities during the probate of an estate, beginning with filing the appropriate petition with the Probate Division of the Cook County Circuit Court. When you file the petition you will need the original copy of the decedent’s Last Will and Testament along with a certified copy of the death certificate. You may obtain certified death certificates from the Illinois Department of Public Health. You will also likely need to conduct a thorough search to make sure you have identified all real property owned by the decedent. A good place to start is the Cook County Assessor’s Office. You are also required to notify creditors of the estate that probate is underway. Known creditors may be notified directly; however, for unknown creditors you must notify via publication. One option for publication can be found by navigating to Cook County Public Notice.
Paying Federal Gift and Estate Taxes
Every estate is potentially subject to federal gift and estate taxation. As the Executor/PR you are responsible for determining if the estate owes federal and/or state taxes. To help you make that determination, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) website offers a general overview of the federal estate tax. They also have a “Frequently Asked Questions about Estate Tax” section that may be helpful. If the estate does owe federal gift and estate taxes, any tax obligation due must be paid before any assets are transferred out of the estate. Some states also impose a state gift and estate tax. Because the State of Illinois is one of these states, you must also determine if the estate owes estate taxes to the state. To find out more, navigate to the Illinois Attorney General’s website where you will also find forms.
If you have additional questions or concerns regarding the probate of an estate, contact the Glenview, Illinois estate planning attorneys at Hedeker Law, Ltd. by calling (847) 913-5415 to schedule your consultation.