Articles Posted in Estate Planning

The ability to make a will involves the issue of mental capacity.

In Illinois, there is a presumption that every adult is sane until the contrary is proven and the burden is upon him who asserts the lack of testamentary capacity. In other words, everyone is presumed to have the mental capacity to make a valid will. It is up to the person challenging the validity of the will to prove otherwise.

Illinois courts also recognize that someone who suffers from some mental impairment can still have testamentary capacity. There is a case where a 74 year old woman executed a will after she was diagnosed with senile dementia and had the intelligence level of a 12 year old child. Despite these short comings, she read newspapers, was aware of and interested in current events, knew her relatives and asked about their well-being and could transact business. The court ruled that she had the capacity to execute a valid will.

In summary, Illinois law requires three things for someone to have the mental capacity to make a valid will:

He must know who his spouse, children, grandchildren and other relatives are;

he must generally understand what assets he owns; and

he must be able to form a plan in his head regarding how he wants his property distributed.

Continue reading

A personal representative is the individual who handles the matters of an estate as it makes its way through the probate process. If there is a will, the personal representative is the executor. If there is no will, the personal representative is the administrator.

The personal representative has specific powers even before the Probate Court issues his Letters of Office. He can carry out any gift the decedent has made of his body, arrange the burial of the decedent, make payment of funeral charges and take acts necessary to preserve the estate’s assets.

After his Letters of Office are issued, the representative can exercise all powers given to him in the will. In addition, the representative can lease, sell or mortgage the estate’s property, borrow money with or without security, continue the decedent’s unincorporated business, perform any contract of the decedent and take possession, administer and grant possession of the decedent’s real estate.

For a complete list of powers of a representative, check out 775 ILCS 5/, which is the Illinois Probate Act.

Continue reading

Like all other unique forms of real estate ownership, Co-Op Housing presents some interesting difficulties for those in the real estate market.

The end of World War II marked the beginning of an acute housing shortage in the United States. Returning servicemen and woman, many of whom had lived with their parents before the war, returned home looking to live independently and to begin raising families. Unfortunately, major cities like Chicago, had little to offer.

The Federal Government recognized the need and opportunity to provide service members with affordable housing while stimulating the building trades. As part of the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act, federally approved builders were given the green light to construct 4-unit apartment style buildings to house veterans and their families. The veterans would obtain a mortgage subsidized by the Veteran’s Administration and enter into an agreement to manage the property.

One of the most important, but most often overlooked estate planning documents, are the Powers of Attorney. Powers of Attorney fall into one of two categories: (1) Powers of Attorney for Property and (2) Powers of Attorney for Health Care. Essentially a Power of Attorney legally authorizes a trusted family member or friend to make decisions on your behalf in the event that you become incapacitated or are unable to make decisions on your own. Powers of Attorney are powerful documents that can protect you and your family from the need for expensive guardianship proceedings.

Although Powers of Attorney for Health Care are regularly accepted by hospitals and doctors, many banks and financial institutions are making it harder and harder to use a legally valid Power of Attorney Document. If a manager at your financial institution believes, in good faith, that your Power of Attorney is no longer valid you may be left with no choice but to petition a court for guardianship.

To avoid this from happening we advise that you review your Powers of Attorney to ensure (1) the your Power of Attorney documents are up to date and include the most recent statutory language; (2) that your Powers of Attorney are no more than 5 years old; and (3) that your Power of Attorney allow sufficient authority for your agent to amend trust documents, make gifts, and designate or change beneficiaries.

In a time when advances in medicine are providing longer, more fulfilling lives for our family members with special needs, it is more important than ever to take advantage of all the financial planning tools available for their specific needs.

The Illinois ABLE Act provides for a new tax-advantaged investment program that allows a blind or disabled person (or their family) to save for disability related expenses without jeopardizing the disabled individuals means tested federal benefits. Unlike the assets of a traditional Special Needs Trust, ABLE account assets can and should be spent on expenses related to the family member’s disability. These expenses include education, housing, transportation, employment training, assistive technology, personal support services, health, prevention and wellness, financial management, legal fees, and funeral/burial expenses.

A properly established ABLE account will allow a disabled individual to save up to $100,000 in their own name. The disabled person or their family may contribute up to $14,000 per year into the ABLE account without effecting eligibility for SSI or other federal means tested programs. Although the Illinois State Treasurer’s Office is responsible for administering the ABLE program, the funds are privately held assets that are totally controlled by the account holder.

The Reverse Mortgage has gotten a bad reputation in the time since it was first created by the Federal Housing Administration in 1988. The mere mention of the Reverse Mortgage usually brings to mind foreclosed homes and declining financial health. In fact a Reverse Mortgage is simply an equity loan secured by someone’s home with a deferred payment plan. Unlike a traditional home equity line of credit, no reverse mortgage interest or principal is due until the loan reaches maturity. As long as the homeowner resides in the property and stays current on property tax and insurance payments, they can reside in the home without making any payments on the money they have borrowed.

In order to qualify for a reverse mortgage, a homeowner must be age 62 or older with substantial equity in their home. There are no income or credit score requirements. Typically, the older the homeowner, the more they can borrow. A homeowner has the option of taking out a lump sum amount or establishing a line of credit that grows over time if money is not withdrawn.

A homeowner does have the option to pay down the balance of a reverse mortgage over time. Interest paid on the loan can be taken as a tax deduction. If no payments are made, the reverse mortgage is still not due until the last surviving borrower passes away or fails to occupy the home as their primary residence. Reverse mortgage lenders will give the heirs of an estate up to 12 months to complete the sale of the home or refinance the balance of the reverse mortgage. It is VERY important that the heirs of a deceased home owner contact the mortgage lender as soon as possible to inform them of the passing and the heirs’ plans for the property.

In the past, creditor protection was afforded to your IRA and to the beneficiaries that would inherit your IRA, such as your children.  However, in June of 2014, the United States Supreme Court ruled that an “Inherited IRA” is not protected from creditors of the beneficiaries.

This major change in the exempt status of the Inherited IRA, motivated estate planners  to examine new ways to protect these retirement assets from creditors.

The need to restore creditor protection while maintaining the favorable tax treatment of IRAs has led many clients to consider adding a stand alone Retirement Trust to their estate plan.  If drafted properly, this type of trust can protect Inherited IRA accounts from creditors, including a beneficiary’s divorcing spouse.

When a guardian has been appointed for a person with a disability (the “ward”) there are sometimes disagreements as to that person’s care.  These disagreements are usually between the guardian and the other relatives of the ward.  Sometimes a guardian may attempt to push the limits of their power by blocking visitation by the ward’s adult children.  In this circumstance, the adult children may feel like they have no options but to obey the commands of the guardian.  However, under Illinois law there is a remedy available for those children.

The Illinois Probate Act provides that an adult child of a ward may petition the court if it is believed that the guardian is unreasonably preventing visitation.  755 ILCS 5/11a-17(g)(2).  If the court finds visitation to be in the best interests of the ward, the court may order the guardian to allow visitation.  When determining whether visitation is in the ward’s best interests, the primary question the court will ask is whether the ward, if competent, would have wanted to engage in visitation with the adult child.

If the wishes of the ward cannot be determined, the court will then review the following factors to determine his/her best interests:

When a guardian is appointed for a person with a disability (the “ward”), the guardian is required to follow certain guidelines.  There are two types of guardianships in Illinois, and they each have different rules to follow.

The first is “guardianship of the person.”  The guardian of the person is responsible for securing the support, care, comfort, education, and professional services for the ward.  Pursuant to the Illinois Probate Act, the guardian of the person is also expected to assist the ward in the development of maximum self-reliance and independence.  Despite the fact that guardians seemingly have a substantial amount of authority, they are not given carte blanche permission to make every decision associated with the ward.  A guardian is still expected to listen to the wishes of the ward and make an effort to carry out those wishes.  Furthermore, a guardian cannot change the residential placement of the ward without explicit authorization from the court.  This prevents a guardian from being able to place a ward in a nursing home without a thorough investigation by the court to determine if that home is in the ward’s best interests.

The second type of guardianship is called the “guardianship of the estate.”  The estate guardian is responsible for handling the finances and assets of the ward.  He/she is expected to manage the estate frugally and apply the income and principal of the estate so far as necessary for the comfort and suitable support and education of the ward (755 ILCS 5/11a-18).  The guardian may make payments directly to the ward, or to a third party to pay for things like rent, food, clothing, entertainment, etc.  Once again, this is a significant amount of power, but it is not without its limits.  A guardian of the estate can only spend the ward’s assets on things that directly benefit the ward or the ward’s minor or adult dependent children.  If the guardian is not following these guidelines, it may be grounds for the guardian to be removed.

Many times clients will call our firm and state that they need a Power of Attorney for their elderly relative because he/she has dementia or some other condition which causes diminished capacity.  Unfortunately, depending on the current mental capacity of the relative, it may be too late for them to sign a Power of Attorney.  The person signing the Power of Attorney has to completely understand the document to which they are executing.  It is not simply enough to be able to physically sign one’s name.  They need to comprehend the nature of the document and who they are appointing as their agent under the POA.

Powers of Attorney are important legal tools that allow a person to name an agent to handle their financial or medical decision making.  These are crucial documents which must be executed according to the standards set forth in the law.  If the documents are not executed properly, it could invalidate the Power of Attorney.  One common problem is where people attempt to have their relative sign the Power of Attorney when they lack the proper mental capacity.

However, even if someone does not have the proper mental capacity, there are other routes which are available to the family members.  Often times the only choice for the family in this situation is to pursue a guardianship.  When this happens, one or more of the family members will petition a court to become the court-appointed guardian of their relative (known as the “Respondent”).  If the judge approves the petition, the family member(s) will have the ability to handle the personal and financial affairs of the Respondent, in the same manner that an agent under a Power of Attorney would act.

badges