Most people recognize the need to have at least a basic estate plan in place. Despite acknowledging that one is necessary, over half of all Americans have not even executed a basic Last Will and Testament. One reason many people have yet to execute a Will is that they believe that, in their case, it isn’t necessary. A common misconception is that you don’t need a Will unless you have a large, valuable estate that you plan to leave behind. The truth, however, is that almost everyone can benefit from having a Will in place. To help you understand the importance of creating your Last Will and Testament, the attorneys at Nash Bean Ford & Brown, LLP explain what happens if you die without a Will.
What Is a Last Will and Testament?
A Last Will and Testament is a legal document that allows the Testator (the person creating the Will) to communicate his/her final wishes with regard to assets owned by the Testator at the time of death. Although you may not realize it, there are actually several different types of Wills a Testator may choose from when creating a Will. If you have never executed a Will before, you will likely use a Simple Will.
Nominating a Guardian – The True Value of a Will
Most people are aware that a Will can be used to gift assets to loved ones at the time of death. What many people do not realize, however, is that there is something even more important you can do with a Will – nominate a Guardian for a minor child. In fact, your Will is the only official opportunity you will have to tell a judge who you would choose to be the Guardian of your minor child if one is ever needed.
Intestate Succession – Letting the State Make Decisions for You
As you know, your Will is the legal document used to decide how your estate assets are distributed upon your death. If you fail to execute a Will before you die, and you have no other estate planning documents in place that dictate what you want done with your estate assets (such as a trust), you are effectively telling the State of Illinois that you want the state to decide what happens to your estate assets when you are gone. You may not think you have enough of an estate to worry about how it is distributed; however, almost everyone owns some estate assets when they die. Whether your estate is modest or substantial, don’t you want the opportunity to decide what happens to the assets you do own – and worked hard to obtain – when you die? If the Illinois intestate succession laws dictate how your estate is distributed, only very close family members are likely to receive assets from your estate. Specifically, the Illinois intestate succession laws dictate that your estate be distributed as follows:
- Survived by spouse only – spouse receives the entire estate
- Survived by descendants only – descendants split the entire estate, per stirpes
- Survived by spouse and descendants — the surviving spouse will inherit one-half (1/2) of the deceased spouse’s probate estate and the children will inherit the remaining one-half (1/2), per stirpes.
- Survived by parents but no spouse, descendants or siblings – parents inherit the entire estate.
- Survived by siblings but no parent, spouse, or descendants – siblings inherit entire estate.
- Survived by parents and siblings – parents and siblings inherit the estate in equal shares, except that if only one parent survives, he/she receives a double share of the estate.
- Not survived by any family members – the estate escheats to the State of Illinois, meaning the State gets the estate assets.
As you will note, under the Illinois intestate succession laws, more distant family members will inherit nothing from your estate nor will friends or charities that are dear to you. Your favorite niece, to whom you promised your Barbie doll collection, will not receive it if you die without a Will. Your best friend won’t get your autographed World Series baseball and the charity that you donate to on a regular basis will also receive nothing. You don’t let the State of Illinois decide how you can use your assets while you are alive. Why would you let them decide what happens to them when you are gone?
If you have questions or concerns regarding what happens if you die without a Will in the State of Illinois, contact the experienced Illinois estate planning attorneys at Nash Bean Ford & Brown, LLP by calling 309-944-2188 to schedule your appointment today.