You have undoubtedly been urged by well-meaning family and friends to take the time to get started on your estate plan. The first step in estate planning, for most people, is to execute a Last Will and Testament, which you have yet to do. Part of the reason you don’t have a Will is because you don’t really see the need for one. Like many people, you are under the impression that in the absence of a large and/or valuable estate, there is no real need for a Will. This is a common misconception in estate planning. The truth, however, is that everyone should have at least a basic Will in place for several reasons. One of those reasons is to avoid leaving behind an intestate estate. To help you better understand why that is a problem, the Vernon Hills probate attorneys at Hedeker Law Ltd. explain the Illinois intestate succession laws and the drawbacks of leaving behind an intestate estate.
Probate is the term given to the legal process that follows an individual’s death. During the probate process, several things are accomplished, including:
- Making sure that all assets of the decedent are identified, located, and valued.
- Creditors are notified and given an opportunity to file claims against the estate.
- Taxes are paid.
- Assets are distributed to the intended beneficiaries and/or heirs of the estate.
Testate vs. Intestate Estates
If you leave behind a valid Last Will and Testament at the time of your death, the estate you leave behind will be referred to as a “testate” estate. If you fail to execute a Will prior to your death, your estate will be referred to as an “intestate” estate. The individuals, organizations, entities, or even pets named in a Will as receiving gifts from the Testator (person who created the Will) are “beneficiaries” whereas the individuals who inherit from an intestate estate are known as the legal “heirs” of the estate. In a testate estate, the terms of the Will are used to determine how the decedent’s estate assets are distributed. In addition, the individual chosen by the Testator as the Executor in the Will is the person who oversees the probate of the estate. In an intestate estate, the Illinois intestate succession laws dictate what happens to the decedent’s assets and any competent adult can volunteer to oversee the probate of the estate.
Illinois Intestate Succession Laws
If you fail to execute a Last Will and Testament prior to your death, you effectively allow the State of Illinois to dictate what happens to everything you own. Although you may not have a large estate, the odds are good that you own things that have sentimental or historical value to you as well as things you worked hard to acquire. Everything in your estate will be divided according to the Illinois intestate succession laws as follows:
- If you are survived by a spouse and descendants – the surviving spouse will inherit one-half of the estate and the children will inherit the remaining one-half.
- If you are survived by a spouse and no descendants – the surviving spouse will inherit your entire estate.
- If you are survived by descendants and no spouse – your descendants will inherit the entire estate.
- If you are survived by parents, siblings and/or descendants of a deceased sibling, but no spouse and no descendants – parents and siblings will inherit equally but if one parent is deceased then the surviving parent will inherit a double share and if a predeceased sibling is survived by descendants, then the descendants will inherit the predeceased sibling’s share.
If your estate is distributed using the intestate succession laws, friends, charities, and more distant relatives will not receive anything from your estate, even if you promised them something prior to your death. Often, it is the list of potential beneficiaries that will not receive anything from an intestate estate that finally prompts people to take the time to execute a Will.
Contact Vernon Hills Probate Attorneys
For more information, please download out FREE estate planning worksheet. If you have additional questions or concerns regarding the Illinois intestate succession laws, or you wish to get started on your Last Will and Testament, contact the experienced Vernon Hills estate planning attorneys at Hedeker Law, Ltd. by calling (847) 913-5415 to schedule an appointment.