The Illinois Probate Process
The average person often does not know very much about the legal process of probate until the death of a loved one. Those who do know about probate generally understand that it can be a frustrating and time-consuming process. At SBK Law Group, we realize that the process can take a long time, but probate does not necessarily need to be complicated or stressful. Our attorneys have the experience and knowledge to help you understand the process of probate in Illinois. We also assist executors and representatives of estates in performing their probate-related duties in accordance with Illinois law.
What Is Probate?
In the simplest terms, probate is a legal process through which the estate of a deceased person may need to go through before any property of the estate can be distributed to named heirs and beneficiaries. In most cases, the decedent’s property will be allocated in accordance with his or her last will and testament. If the deceased person did not execute a valid will, the property is distributed to the “intestate” laws of Illinois. The process of probate in Illinois is governed by the Probate Act of 1975 (755 ILCS 5), and it includes many important steps:
1. File The Decedent’s Will And Notify Beneficiaries
The process of probate starts when the deceased person’s will is filed in county probate court. This is usually done by the executor named in the will – sometimes known as the decedent’s personal representative. The filing also includes a petition to initiate probate proceedings and to have the court recognize the executor’s authority. If no will is found, the petition must still be filed to open the proceedings and to have an administrator appointed. A hearing will also be scheduled. All named beneficiaries must be notified of the hearing, and a notice is usually published in at least one newspaper in the county where the proceedings will be held. The purpose of the notice is to give all interested parties the opportunity to dispute the validation of the estate and the will if they wish to do so.
2. Notify Any Creditors
Once an executor has been appointed or approved, he or she is responsible for notifying the decedent’s creditors that the person has died and that the probate petition has been filed. This notice is intended to allow a creditor to file a claim against the estate for any outstanding obligations the deceased person left behind. The creditor notice will include the executor’s name and address, as well as that of the estate’s attorney. Creditor claims must be filed within the period specified by the notice.
3. Make An Inventory List Of Assets
The probate court needs to know what assets fall under the purview of the estate. It is up to the executor to compile a comprehensive inventory of the estate’s assets, including:
- Real estate, such as the deceased person’s home and any investment properties
- Stocks, bonds, and business interests
- Bank accounts, savings, and investments
- Vehicles, including cars, boats and RVs
- Jewelry, artwork and other valuable items
- Any death benefits payable to the estate
If the assets need to have values assigned, the probate court may appoint up to three independent appraisers to make appropriate evaluations.
4. Settle Debts And Expenses
Before the estate’s property can be distributed among the named heirs, all expenses and valid creditor claims must be paid using the estate’s assets. The Probate Act clarifies which expenses must be paid, including but not limited to:
- Funeral, burial and/or cremation costs
- Awards for a surviving spouse or children
- Federal debt, including tax debt
- Obligations owed to the township, city, county, or the state of Illinois
- Debt owed to the decedent’s employees
Creditor claims are also considered at this stage of the proceedings.
5. Distribute Property To Beneficiaries
After all of the debts and expenses are paid, and all claims against the estate are settled, the remaining assets can then be distributed to the beneficiaries of the estate. To do so, the executor will formally petition the court for permission to transfer the remaining assets to the appropriate heirs in accordance with the will, or if the decedent did not have a valid will, in accordance with the law. The executor is also responsible for creating new property deeds, facilitating stock and investment transfers, liquidating assets as needed, and generally tying up any other loose ends.
Call 630-427-4407 For A Free Consultation
The probate process can be intimidating, but it does not need to be. For more information, contact our office. Call 630-427-4407 to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation and case review at SBK Law Group today. We serve clients in Downers Grove, Wheaton, Naperville, DuPage County, Cook County, Will County, and the surrounding areas.