Frequently Asked Questions
What happens if I do not have an Estate Plan?
Many people we speak to believe that when they have not created an Illinois Estate Plan, then an Estate Plan does not exist for them. This belief, however, could not be farther from the truth. When an Estate Plan is not created by you, the state of Illinois has laws and rules specifically relating to what happens to your estate at your death. Without an Estate Plan in place, you are deemed “intestate” or “without planning” when you pass away. A person who dies intestate has no will, no trust agreement or other document detailing how his or her property should be left to his or her heirs. The state decides who will inherit from you and what percentage of your estate these individuals will inherit through the Probate process. Our goal is to help all of our clients, friends and neighbors, understand that even without a Last Will and Testament or Trust in place, everyone in Illinois has an Estate Plan although it may not truly reflect their wishes.
What is Probate?
When you die in Illinois with either no Estate Plan or only a Last Will and Testament, your estate may need to proceed through the Probate process. The simplest way to explain the Probate process is to say that this is the process where the court transfers and retitles your assets to your heirs at your death. Probate can be expensive and lengthy, which are two of the main reasons most people wish to avoid it. Further, it is a public process. This means that your ultimate wishes will not be kept private when you pass away as they would if you created a trust agreement and funded it in your Estate Plan. Many people we work with do not want their estates to go through Probate and choose alternative planning to ensure their estate will avoid it at their death.
Should I plan for my Long-Term Care needs now?
We encourage everyone to plan for their Long-Term Care needs as soon as possible. Today, the majority of Americans who are 55 years or older will require some form of Long-Term Care in the future. The cost of Long-Term Care can be substantial. This year, in Illinois, the Genworth Long-Term Care Study reports that the median cost of an in-home companion caregiver is over $4,000 per month. The average median monthly cost of Long-Term Care in an assisted living facility is over $3,600 and the average cost of skilled nursing home for a semi-private room is over $5,600. Most people do not have the ability to pay for their normal living expenses plus the cost of Long-Term Care. This is why it is important to work with an Elder Law attorney as soon as possible to discuss ways to pay for Long-Term Care. Although you can work with an Elder Law attorney at any time, including in a crisis, the earlier you plan the more solutions will be available.
What is Long-Term Care?
Long-Term Care takes many forms. It can be a companion helping you at home, or you taking up residence in an assisted or supportive living facility, or a long-term care facility such as a nursing home. In the latter two instances, you would choose to move to this facility. The type of facility you choose would depend on the type of care that you need. Your Elder Law attorney can look at what your needs are right now and help you create a plan for your potential Long-Term Care future.
What is the difference between an assisted living facility and a skilled nursing facility?
The basic difference is the level of support provided by each facility. In an assisted living facility you might be able to live independently and only need a little assistance such as help with medication management or food preparation. In a skilled nursing facility, however, most residents have more serious health care issues. This means the residents need help with activities of daily living which can include bathing, dressing, walking and preparing meals.
What does a comprehensive Estate Plan involve?
A comprehensive Estate Plan means different things to different people. The key to a comprehensive Estate Plan is to think about your needs not just at your death, but during your life as well. A comprehensive estate plan looks at who will ultimately inherit from you, and also who will be your decision maker, ensuring you are provided for under any circumstance. You need someone who can advocate for you should you become incapacitated during your lifetime. This person may make decisions for you under a power of attorney or health care surrogate document, and you may choose two separate advocates depending on your needs. For example, you could have one agent who makes your financial, business, and investment decisions, should you be unable to act, while another decision maker would make your healthcare decisions.
How do I choose the right decision maker?
The key to choosing the right decision maker is to select someone who would act as you would in a crisis. Should you become incapacitated, this will be an intensely emotional and stressful time for your family. You need to appoint a decision maker who, even in light of a very difficult situation, will be able to make the right decision for you when it comes to your health care needs and finances. You also need to select someone who can be available when you need him or her to be. While it is not critical that he or she live in the state of Illinois, this person will need to be immediately available for you in the event of a crisis. Additionally, we often encourage our clients to select a secondary and tertiary decision maker, in case your primary decision maker is unable to act for any reason.
How do I know the right lawyer for me and my planning?
You need to find an attorney who will be able to advocate for you, now and in the future, within your local community, by helping you to create a comprehensive Estate Plan that will protect you and your family now and at the time of your death, or in the event of a crisis in dealing with how to pay for the high cost of Long-Term Care.
Get to know your attorney to ensure that you have confidence in his or her ability to provide the assistance you need.