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Most people have no experience with wills or the probate process. As a result, if you've been named the executor of a will, you're likely wondering what you have to do, what is the process like and whether there is any way to simplify things. There may be, but it depends on a few different factors.

What is the small estate option?

Illinois understands that going through probate can be a complex and time-consuming process. In light of this, a streamlined process was created for instances where the estate is small enough – to alleviate some of the burden on surviving family members. When an estate qualifies, an executor can file a small estate affidavit and avoid probate entirely.

What are the requirements for a small estate affidavit?

At the outset, the value of the deceased's assets must be less than $100,000. This is not always obvious at first glance – what may appear to be an asset could legally pass to another person or entity without ever going through probate. For instance, if the deceased owned property jointly with someone else, it may pass automatically to the other owner and not be considered an asset for the purpose of probate.

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The passage of time occurs more quickly than anticipated and unexpected events can arise anytime. Regardless of your level of wealth, you should start an estate plan and have these documents prepared.

Power of attorney

A durable power of attorney is one of these essential estate documents. It authorizes an agent to make legal and financial decisions on your behalf if you ever become incapacitated.

A durable power of attorney allows the agent to assume these tasks immediately.

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It is a wise and responsible decision for Illinois residents to have an estate plan. Even if it is a barebones will that details how the person's property will be distributed at the time of death, it is a key document to have. This is true for people of any age. For some, however, there are life changes that arise after they have completed a will. That might include getting married, divorced and having children. For those who have completed a will and have a child after it has been executed, there are certain legal facts to know.

Understanding how having a child impacts a completed will

For the testator, the contents will not be relevant for the child except in certain circumstances. If, for example, the child is left out of the will because it was not updated to reflect the birth, he or she will still be entitled to get the portion of the estate upon the testator's death. It will be the same amount as if the testator had died intestate (without having completed a will). The share the child will receive depends on the rest of the family. For example, there might be a spouse and other children who will be entitled to portions of the estate. A different issue is if the testator intended to leave the child out of the will. Disinheriting the child would need to be addressed in the will.

Unusual factors can impact an estate plan

Most people will think about their will in its most fundamental terms to ensure their heirs get the property as they see fit. This is true for people of any age and all financial positions. Even though the law addresses a case in which the testator had a child after the will was executed, it is still wise to think about how that can impact the estate plan. Updating a will and considering alternatives can be useful.

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The old adage of the only things guaranteed in life are death and taxes continue to be as true today as it ever was before. And, the realities of death have never been more acute than they have been in recent memory. This is why we often get questions from business owners about the best timing for estate planning.

When is the best time to estate plan for business owners?

Now! We never know how many days we have left on Earth. That is simply a fac of life. But, think about the effect the sudden loss of an owner or even a key employee, who knows all the ins and outs of a business. Think about the chaos that loss will invite. And, think about the family that is left behind to fight over that business. Would it survive? Would those family relationships survive? This is why estate planning, or more accurately, transition planning, is so important for business owners.

Transition planning

Business transition planning is part of the estate planning process for business owners. It is the process whereby the drafter is setting out how they want their business to transfer to the next generation. The goal is simple: ensure that the business survives after one's death by empowering the next generation to take over. This process can actually help one's current business too because it really forces business owners to think about how and why their business is growing and how to keep that momentum.

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You may have executed what you believe is a comprehensive estate plan including a will, living trust, power of attorney, advance medical directive and other important documents. But just having an estate plan is not the end of the story. There are additional steps to take to ensure your final wishes are carried out.

Communicate your intentions to your loved ones

If your loved ones do not know of your estate plan it can cause delays when it comes to carrying it out or it can lead to the mismanagement of assets. It is important to educate your loved ones about the contents of your estate plan as well as your intentions. This can avoid unwanted surprises upon your passing. Sudden wealth can lead to bad decisions, so if your heirs know well in advance what they are to inherit they can make plans to handle this windfall wisely.

Anticipate drama

Many times, families have hidden conflicts with one another that simmer below the surface while you are still alive. Your death can bring these conflicts to light, especially if one family member believes your will should not be enforced because it was made under coercion, undue influence or if they believe you were not of sound mind when the estate plan was executed. Assuming the kids will figure it out may not be the best choice. Again, education is key.

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