Probate & Estate Administration

Probate Attorney and Estate Administration Lawyer

Serving Clients in Joliet, Tinley Park, Frankfort, Mokena, New Lennox, Matteson, Park Forest, Chicago Heights, and Orland Park, as well as DuPage, Will, Cook, and Kankakee Counties

Navigating the complicated probate and estate administration duties associated with managing an estate can be overwhelming for those unfamiliar with the process.  As an Illinois probate attorney, I offer experienced guidance to executors, administrators, and personal representatives to ensure that estates are settled as efficiently and quickly as possible.

I help clients by explaining the probate and estate administration processes, answering questions, and helping to resolve asset distribution matters among beneficiaries.  I’ll be by your side to ensure that all estate matters are addressed.

I Invite You to Call Me Today at (708) 279-4050 Today for a Free Consultation to Learn How I Can Help You Manage the Distribution of Your Loved One’s Estate!

How I and My Firm Help Executors, Administrators, and Personal Representatives

  • My mom left the house to all three kids – what happens now?
  • How will family heirlooms that have great sentimental value be divided that are not mentioned in a will?
  • My dad didn’t leave a will – how will his assets be divided?
  • What are my legal duties if I’ve been named to serve as an Executor?

If you’re serving as a personal representative (especially for the first time), I know that you will likely have many questions, such as those above.  I’m there to help answer your questions and to make sure that your legal obligations are fulfilled.

I help guide personal representatives (the general term used for executors and administrators of an estate) through matters such as identifying assets, retaining an accountant to prepare and file a final tax return, preparing the notifications that must be given to creditors, helping to guide the payment of the proper debts of the decedent, and helping ensure that assets are properly distributed in accordance with a will or intestate law.

Most importantly, I’m there to help personal representatives with the questions that arise (such as the ones noted above).

What is Probate?

Probate is the legal process through which an individual’s affairs are resolved after his or her death.  This typically involves taking an inventory of property, determining the value of an estate, paying off debts and taxes from estate assets, and distributing the remaining assets to heirs or beneficiaries in accordance with a will or intestate law.

What is the Difference Between an Heir and a Beneficiary?

Under the law, an heir is someone who is related by blood to the decedent, such as a father or daughter.  In Illinois, if there is no will, the heirs inherit the assets of a decedent in accordance with Illinois intestate law.

If there is a will, the people, organizations, or others named in the will are referred to as “beneficiaries.”  Beneficiaries receive assets of the decedent under the terms of the will.

How Long Does the Probate Process Take in Illinois?

Illinois law requires that the probate process be open for at least six months.  Depending on the complexity of a decedent’s estate, probate can range from six months to a number of years (in extreme cases).  Typically, the probate process in Illinois takes between six months and one year.

Are an Estate Administrator and Executor the Same Thing?

While an executor and estate administrator carry out many of the same tasks, the basis for their position is different.  An executor is appointed in a decedent’s will, while an administrator is assigned by a court when an individual dies without a will.  Both executors and administrators are often referred to as personal representatives, and their legal duties are similar.

How Does the Probate Process Work?

Many individuals mistakenly believe that executing a will eliminates the need for probate.  While having a last will and testament can make the probate process less challenging by providing courts with clear instructions regarding how a decedent would like assets distributed, probate is often still necessary.[1]

The executor of the estate (appointed in a deceased person’s will) is typically responsible for probate.  However, if an individual dies without a will, a family member (usually the next of kin) must petition the court to be appointed as the administrator.[2]  The executor or administrator then acts in the general capacity as the personal representative for the estate.

Because most personal representatives are not lawyers, a personal representative usually will work with an experienced probate lawyer who assists in completing the probate process.

What Does a Personal Representative Do in Probate?

Probate typically entails:

  • Accounting for all assets.  For an estate to be settled, all assets must be inventoried and valued.  Assets include not only physical assets (household items, cars, etc.), but also financial assets (stocks, bonds, etc.).  In some cases, assets may even include intangible assets, like the right to potential proceeds in a lawsuit.
  • Preserving Assets.  Once the assets are identified, the personal representative must ensure that assets are not destroyed or neglected.  As such, day-to-day activities and maintenance must be carried out to protect assets.  This can include making mortgage and insurance payments and hiring individuals to maintain real property.  Every expense must be documented so that a full accounting of the estate is maintained.
  • Notifying heirs and creditors. Illinois law requires that notice be given to all potential heirs and creditors.  This legally mandated practice is designed to provide adequate opportunity for individuals to make a claim to estate assets before any distributions are made.  Under Illinois law, creditors have six months to file claims; if the deadline is missed, they will be unable to collect from the estate.[3]  I assist personal representatives in making these legally required creditor notifications.
  • Paying debts.  After the valuation of an estate has been completed, valid creditors must be paid for all outstanding debts.  This occurs before any assets can be distributed to beneficiaries.  If you have questions regarding whether a creditor has a valid claim, I can assist in evaluating if a payment should be made.
  • Filing tax returns.  Final estate and income taxes must be submitted.  At RNH Law, I regularly work with third-party accountants and can refer you to a qualified tax professional who can assist with the submission of all required tax forms.
  • Distribute assets to beneficiaries or heirs.  It can be challenging to determine who is entitled to inherit property, especially in the absence of a will or if a will does not account for specific property.  I help personal representatives determine the proper distribution of assets, and often work with them to create agreements among beneficiaries or heirs agreeing to asset distributions in the absence of clear guidance in a will.
  • File court documents and close probate.  Once all assets are distributed, documents must be filed with the court to close probate. I will prepare all necessary paperwork for the personal representative to conclude estate administration.

Can I Avoid Probate?

Sometimes.

In Illinois, probate can be avoided by submitting an Illinois Small Estate Affidavit.[4]  This Affidavit was designed to allow a decedent’s heirs to process a small estate with minimal court involvement.   To be eligible to bypass probate, the following conditions must be met:

  • The probate assets must be less than $100,000;
  • The probate assets must not include real estate;
  • No letters of office (a document appointing an executor per a decedent’s will) have been issued; and,
  • There is no heirship dispute.[5]

If you are unsure if these qualifications have been satisfied, I can assist in evaluating eligibility and, if possible, submit a Small Estate Affidavit to avoid probate.

What Types of Tax Documents Need to be Filed in Estate Administration?

When a person dies, their assets become part of the estate.[6]  The decedent and their estate are separate taxable entities.[7]  As such, a personal representative must obtain an IRS Tax ID number for the estate and ensure that all necessary federal and state tax returns are filed.[8]  In 2020, estates with a value of more than $4 million must file an Illinois state return.[9]

If I Am an Executor or Personal Representative of an Estate, Can I Be Held Personally Liable for Debts?

No.  A decedent’s estate is responsible for paying all debts, not the executor or administrator.  It is the personal representative’s job to gather, inventory, and safeguard the estate.  If enough cash is not available to satisfy outstanding debts, property and other assets must be sold.  Even if the estate has insufficient funds to cover debts, the representative will never be personally liable for the debts of the decedent.

When there are not sufficient assets to fully pay all debts, I advise personal representatives about which creditors should be paid and how much they should receive based upon their claim and other legal considerations.

How Do I Assign a Value to Sentimental Personal Items?

Illinois intestacy law requires that beneficiaries receive an equivalent share of the property, which is calculated based on fair market value.  While investments, money, and bank accounts can easily be valued, heirlooms and other sentimental items may have little to no market value.

When an estate is comprised of sentimental items, a family settlement agreement can be utilized to distribute assets amicably.  As an experienced probate and estate administration attorney, I can assist in the division of both financial and sentimental assets, as well as prepare a settlement agreement that will protect a personal representative.

Schedule a Free Consultation to Learn How I Can Help!

Probate and estate administration can be complicated and stressful.  At RNH Law, I help executors and administrators settle estates from start to finish.  I would invite you to call my office to learn how I can help.


[1] 755 ILCS 5/6.

[2] 755 ILCS 5/5-1

[3] 755 ILCS 5/18-3

[4] There are other ways to avoid probate, but they are less frequently used.

[5] 755 ILCS 5/25.

[6] Deceased Taxpayers, IRS, https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/deceased-taxpayers-filing-the-estate-income-tax-return-form-1041.

[7] Deceased Taxpayers, IRS, https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/deceased-taxpayers-filing-the-estate-income-tax-return-form-1041.

[8] Deceased Taxpayers, IRS, https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/deceased-taxpayers-filing-the-estate-income-tax-return-form-1041.

[9] 35 ILCS 405/1.

How Can I Help?

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