We have all been told that it is important to make out a will. It’s an iconic trope in literature, film and theater. Wills are not just for rich people who want to leave money and property to relatives. Learning some of the basics can help you create a will to provide for your loved ones and make certain they get whatever items you want them to have. You can also use a will to leave your property to a charity or institution.

It’s important to understand a few terms. An estate is your assets, the money and property you leave when you die. Even if it’s only $50 and some furniture, it is considered an estate. Estate planning is the process of planning how your assets will be distributed. In the expression “last will and testament,” last will concerns the disposition of real property while the testament is for personal property. When you make out a will, you are the testator. Beneficiaries are the people who receive money or property in your will. If you die without leaving a will, you are intestate, and the court will distribute your property to your nearest relatives.

Handling The Estate

The estate includes all of your assets, legal rights and obligations. Besides any stocks and bonds you may have, this includes your home and the equity in it, plus any mortgages to be paid. Your estate also includes your vehicles and anything of value in your home, such as clothing and furniture.

Your first task is to name an executor, who will be your personal representative handling all aspects of your will. The executor makes sure your estate is administered according to your wishes after you are gone. You should also name an alternative executor in case your first choice can’t perform these duties.

Make a list of your assets and decide who should have them. The rules on how to leave real property can become a bit complicated. An estate attorney can help you sort these things out.

Your will must be signed in front of a notary public and two witnesses who also sign, confirming that they witnessed your signature.

What Is Probate?

Illinois law requires most wills to go through probate, which is the validation process your will goes through in court after you pass on. The will is turned over to the Probate Division of the county court. In Illinois, probate is required if you owned real estate or had assets worth more than $100,000. Probate also ensures that your creditors are notified of your death so that they can file claims against your estate.

Some types of property are not considered probate assets. These can go directly to your named beneficiary. For example, if you have CDs or bank accounts, you can mark them “pay on death.” Life insurance is another non-probate asset.

Ask your attorney about including the proper clause to make your will self-proven rather than witness-proven. A witness-proven will requires one of the witnesses to come forward at the time the will goes into probate. With a self-proven will, your heirs will not have to go to the trouble of locating the witnesses.

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