The death of someone close to you is never easy to accept. On the contrary, it typically triggers a period of denial, grief, and other strong emotions. If you recently lost someone close to you, the last thing you likely want to think about is the legal process that is required to settle your loved one’s estate. You may, however, need to think about the legalities involved in your loved one’s death if you were named as the Executor of the estate in the decedent’s Last Will and Testament. As the Executor, your loved one has put you in charge of the administration of his/her estate. If your loved ones died without a Will, you might still find yourself in charge of administering the estate if you volunteer to be the Personal Representative (PR). Consulting with an experienced Illinois estate planning attorney is advisable if you find yourself in charge of probating the estate. To help get you started though, the estate planning attorneys at Hedeker Law, Ltd. have compiled some commonly used probate resources for the Lake Forest, Illinois area.
An Overview of the Probate Process
If you are new to the probate process, it helps to learn a few basics before you get started with your duties and responsibilities as Executor or Personal Representative 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. The individual who oversees the probate of an estate is referred to as the Executor and is appointed by the decedent if a Last Will and Testament was executed prior to death. 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 the most part, the duties and responsibilities of an Executor and a PR are the same. For convenience sake, the generic term “Personal Representative (PR)” is frequently used to refer to either an Executor appointed in a Will or a PR who has volunteered for the position. 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. The Lake County Probate Court also offers an overview entitled “Decedent’s Estate” and a booklet entitled “Probate Court” that provide a wealth of helpful information on the probate process.
The probate of an estate occurs in the county in which the decedent was a resident at the time of death. If the decedent lived in Lake Forest, Illinois, the estate will likely be probated in the 19th Judicial Circuit Court of Lake County, Illinois. 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 Local Court Rules as well as all state and federal laws applicable to the probate of the estate. The “Center for Self-Representation” page on the Lake County Court’s website is an excellent resource for anyone thinking of proceeding pro se. The Lake County Court’s “Court Forms” section may also have some of the forms you will need to probate the estate.
Finding the Right Attorney
The probate process can be a lengthy and complex process that is difficult to navigate under the best of circumstances. If you recently lost someone close to you, it can be even more difficult to focus on what needs to be done. Retaining an experienced Illinois probate attorney to assist you allows you to focus on the grief process and dramatically decreases the possibility of making a costly mistake. 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 Lake County Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral Service may also be of assistance in your search for an attorney.
Executor/Personal Representative Resources
The PR has a seemingly endless number of duties and responsibilities. At the top of the list is filing the appropriate petition with the 19th Judicial Circuit Court for Lake County, Illinois. 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. The Lake County Assessor’s Office allows you to conduct a search by name for property owned in the county. 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 make notification via publication. The Lake County Journal, for example, publishes legal notices for the Lake Forest area.
Paying Federal Gift and Estate Taxes
As the Personal Representative of the estate you must prepare an estate tax return and determine if the estate owes any federal 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 find yourself appointed, by the decedent or a court, to administer the estate of a recently deceased love one, you do not have to go it alone. An experienced Illinois estate planning attorney can help you through the process, allowing you to focus on your loss while simultaneously decreasing the likelihood of making costly mistakes. Contact the Lake Forest, Illinois estate planning attorneys at Hedeker Law, Ltd. by calling (847) 913-5415 to schedule your consultation and find out how they can help you.