Last Will & Testament
What is a Will?
A Will is a legal document that controls a person's property at death. It may be revoked or changed at any time before death, as long as you are legally competent. To be valid in Illinois, it must fulfill the following criteria:
- Created for a person 18 years of age or older
- Be written
- Signed by the creator and witnessed by two people
Not only does the language in the document need to be precise, but also the signing process as well. For example, the two witnesses can not be beneficiaries. This reduces claims of undue influence during a Will Contest. Also, to limit mental incapacity challenges, notarizing is always good practice.
Why write a Will?
Put simply, a person with no Will has no voice after their death. Your property is transferred pursuant to the Illinois statute at the time of your death. Since no further wishes were stated, someone must petition the court for Guardianship of your minor children.
In addition, you can save expenses during Probate. It may expedite the sale of property, avoid Guardianship battles, and overall provide a clear direction for your family. Ultimately, you give yourself the power of distributing your assets, the way you want.
What are important considerations for a Will?
Firstly, a Will only controls assets held in your name alone. It can not speak for property jointly held or assets with assigned beneficiaries such as 401ks and life insurance. Some questions to ask yourself while creating a Will are as follows:
Who should get my property when I die? Who should I nominate as guardians of my minor children? How do I give assets to a minor? Who should be the executor of my estate? Do I need a Trust for my spouse or children? How should life insurance benefits be paid? Can taxes be saved? What if a beneficiary is no longer living? Has my re-marriage affected the distribution of my assets?
As you may notice, some of these questions are similar to creating a thorough Estate Plan. A Will can only accomplish so much, but what it does achieve must be precise and non-conflicting with the rest of your estate plan.
Why use an Estate Planner?
Getting form documents online and filling in the blanks may seem easy now, but what happens when the document is actually needed? Does it actually hold up in court? As you made amendments to your self written Will, did you follow the legal signing procedure? What if a potential heir files a Will Contest? Finally, do you even know what the language in those form documents mean?
The point of Estate Planning is to provide peace of mind to you and your family when things are in chaos. Convincing yourself you are protected, and actually being protected are two very different things. A Will is one part of safeguarding you and your family. As you begin to add other documents, the likelihood of conflicting language increases dramatically, which weakens your document's authority.
As estate planning attorneys, we are legal counsel. Using a variety of cooperative documents and techniques, we design your estate plan with the total picture in mind. We can answer questions about the meaning of certain clauses, but more importantly, we can create documents to accomplish your precise wishes.