The Basics of Illinois Wills
This guide covers basic concepts of wills in Illinois
Will BasicsWills are arguably the most familiar estate planning vehicle. Most people know wills say "who gets what" and name an executor to carry out the instructions. Beyond these basics, however, wills can also contain trusts within them ("testamentary trusts"), leave instructions for the guardianship of minors, describe burial instructions, and express many other important wishes. A properly drafted and executed will should describe who has each important role, contain clear instructions and some minimum statutory language, and be signed by a minimum of two impartial witnesses who are not also beneficiaries of the will. "Do it yourself" wills abound online, but I STRONGLY recommend having a qualified attorney at least review your estate planning documents, if not draft them from scratch. I've had several DIY wills fail to clear a judge or come very close, so I don't consider this small savings to be worth the risk.
When someone dies with a valid will, it is called dying "testate" ("intestate" means dying without a will). By law, the executor should file the will at the courthouse within 30 days of the testator's death. In this context, "filing" has its everyday meaning of putting a document in a file, unlike "filing for divorce" or "filing a lawsuit," which indicate the start of litigation. The will should be filed whether or not the executor anticipates putting the will through probate court, which is called "probating a will."
If probated, a judge will review the will to see if it is properly signed and witnessed. If so, and the other court documents are in order, a judge will "open the estate" and give the qualifying executor the authority needed to access the decedent's assets, pay valid debts, and distribute assets as the will directs. Contrary to popular belief, court does not automatically mean bitter conflict and great expense. A well-planned and well-managed probate estate can be opened and closed with as little as two brief court visits attended only by the attorney, and at reasonable cost.