Illinois estate law can be complicated. It takes an experienced estate attorney to examine an individual’s affairs and make recommendations for what to expect in matters like asset division, estate tax, and debt repayment. These complicated legal matters become a concern for anyone considering the creation of an estate plan or attempting to navigate the legal intricacies that accompany a loved one’s death.

While it’s best to consult a skilled estate lawyer before you do anything with long-term legal and financial implications, it can help to have general knowledge of the most basic elements of Illinois’s inheritance laws.

Asset Division With a Will

When an Illinois resident dies with a will in place, it is much easier for assets to pass into the possession of the designated heirs. When you create a will, you identify your assets and which beneficiaries they’ll pass to. You also designate an executor. Legally, when someone passes away with a will in place, this is referred to as dying “testate”.

The executor is responsible for overseeing the execution of the will and attending to any legal responsibilities that must be fulfilled before assets are distributed. This process usually includes tasks such as paying outstanding debts and filing a final tax return on behalf of the deceased.

Asset Division Without a Will

Illinois inheritance laws become much more complicated when the deceased doesn’t leave a will. Legally, this is referred to as dying “intestate”.

Illinois’s intestacy laws set guidelines for how the estate is distributed among heirs. In cases like this, eligible heirs receive “intestate shares” of the estate. Instead of assets being distributed according to the deceased’s wishes, they are distributed based on Illinois laws for dividing assets.

Exactly how assets are divided in this situation depends heavily on the existing family structure. Illinois’ “per stirpes” law dictates that half of the estate passes to the surviving spouse while the other half is divided among children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

If there is no surviving spouse, the entire estate passes to the deceased’s children. Similarly, if there are no surviving descendants, the entire estate passes to the surviving spouse.

Illinois’ intestacy laws can quickly become complicated. When there is no surviving spouse or direct descendant, the deceased’s parents, siblings, and nieces or nephews may stand to inherit assets.

Inheritance and Estate Taxes in Illinois

Illinois doesn’t have an inheritance tax, meaning the beneficiaries don’t have to pay taxes on the assets they inherit. However, Illinois does have an estate tax. Estates with a total value of over $4 million are subject to an estate tax before assets are disbursed to beneficiaries.

Depending on the size of the estate, up to 16% of the estate’s value can be taxed. Estates valued at $13.61 million or higher are also subject to a federal estate tax.

The Illinois Probate Process

Whether an Illinois resident dies with a will in place or not, most estates pass through probate. Probate is the legal process of ensuring that all legal necessities are taken care of before an estate is disbursed. But proper estate planning usually helps avoid probate being necessary.

When there is a will, probate is may be a simpler process than cases involving no will, as there is less for the court to decide.

With no will in place, probate is a more involved process. The probate court will identify beneficiaries and determine how much of the estate should pass to each. Probate also involves handling other legal and financial matters, such as liquidating part of the estate to pay off any outstanding debts owed by the deceased.

When there are will contests — when beneficiaries argue about the terms of a will or how assets should be distributed — these legal proceedings are also heard by the probate court.

Probate can be a drawn-out process. Unfortunately, this often results in estate assets being eaten up by legal fees and debt repayment. An experienced Illinois estate planning attorney can make recommendations for how an estate can be arranged to bypass the probate process entirely, helping ensure that assets are protected and made more immediately available to the heirs they are intended for.

Our Illinois Estate Law Attorneys Can Help

Navigating Illinois inheritance laws can be a challenge. Whether you’re hoping to save your heirs from unnecessary trouble and expense, or you are a beneficiary attempting to take control of inherited assets, the central Illinois estate law attorneys at the Law Offices of Glenn & West, LLC, can help. We have offices located in Nokomis, IL, and Litchfield, IL, and we handle estates in multiple counties

Contact the Law Offices of Glenn & West, LLC, today to schedule your one-on-one consultation with an experienced Illinois estate lawyer.