If you recently lost a loved one, you may find yourself directly involved with the probate of the decedent’s estate if you were named as the Executor in the decedent’s Last Will and Testament. You might also volunteer to be the Personal Representative of the estate if the decedent dies intestate, or without leaving behind a valid Will. To keep things simple, the term “Personal Representative” is frequently used to refer to either someone appointed as the Executor in a Will or someone who volunteers to oversee the administration of an intestate estate. If you have never served as a Personal Representative before, you probably do not know where to begin the process of probating the estate. Retaining the services of an experienced Illinois estate planning attorney is always wise; however, to help get you started, the estate planning attorneys at Hedeker Law, Ltd. have compiled some commonly used probate resources for the Vernon Hills, Illinois area.
An Overview of the Probate Process
Probate is the legal process that is typically required after someone dies. Probate serves several important functions, including providing a legal framework within which the decedent’s assets are transferred to the new owners as well as ensuring that all creditors of the estate, including tax authorities, are paid. 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 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, the Lake County Probate Court offers an overview entitled “Decedent’s Estate” and they have published a booklet entitled “Probate Court” that is full of useful information.
Probate is typically opened in the county in which the decedent was a resident at the time of death. If the decedent lived in Waukegan that will likely mean probate will take place in the Nineteenth Judicial Circuit of the Lake 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 local court rules as well as the Illinois and federal laws applicable to the probate of the estate. There are some resources available to you that may be helpful. The Lake County Court system has a Center for Self-Represented Litigants that you will find useful. The Southern Illinois School of Law also has a Self Help Legal Center that may be of use to you. The Lake County Forms Center will have most of the forms you will need; however, it is important to note that the court staff cannot help you fill out the forms nor can they answer legal questions.
Finding the Right Attorney
If your loved one’s estate requires formal probate, or you are unsure how to proceed with the probate process, retaining the services of an experienced estate planning attorney is your best option. Not only can an attorney guide you through the process, allowing you to focus on grieving, but having an attorney on your side also dramatically decreases the possibility of making a costly mistake. 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 help finding the right attorney.
Personal Representative Resources
As the Personal Representative of the estate you will have numerous duties and responsibilities throughout the probate process. To get the probate process started you will need to file the appropriate petition with the 19th Judicial Circuit Court, Probate 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 Lake County Recorder of Deeds website where you can conduct a search of the county property records. As the PR you will also be responsible for notifying all creditors of the estate that probate is underway. Know creditors may be notified individually; however, for unknown creditors you must publish a notice in a local newspaper. To accomplish that requirement, you may wish to contact the Lake County Journal to arrange for publication.
Paying Federal Gift and Estate Taxes
Because every estate is potentially subject to federal gift and estate taxes, you will need to be familiar with how to calculate the tax and how to prepare the tax return. 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 it turn out that 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. Along with paying any federal gift and estate tax due, the estate may also owe Illinois estate taxes. 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 Vernon Hills, Illinois estate planning attorneys at Hedeker Law, Ltd. by calling (847) 913-5415 to schedule your consultation.