Upon the death of an individual in Illinois, his or her property (the “estate”) must be collected and distributed either by will, or in the absence of a valid will, by a process called intestacy. Under either scenario, the distribution process requires the court to formally open an estate and appoint an individual to serve as a representative of the estate. In cases of estate distributions by will, this individual is called the “executor.” Once an appropriate person is chosen to serve, the court will open the estate and issue “letters” of office officially appointing an executor.
In determining which court to go to, you look at the county where the deceased person lived. For example, in Cook County there is one probate court which is in Chicago. So if a deceased person lived in Evanston, Northbrook, Schaumburg or Orland Park of anywhere else in Cook County, you would file your probate claim at the Daley Center in Chicago. Similarly, each county in Illinois has one probate court.
Once appointed by the court, an executor’s basic duties typically include 1) resolving claims against the estate 2) collecting and protecting estate assets (including debts owed to the estate), and 3) carrying out the distribution of remaining assets according to the will, or in the absence of a will completely disposing of the property, then according to Illinois intestacy law. Many, if not all of these duties are typically carried out by a lawyer.
Resolving Claims Against the Estate
Upon issuance of letters of office, an estate representative should publish “notice of probate” in a newspaper in regular circulation in the county in which the deceased person resided. This publication serves as notice to potential creditors and other claimants against the estate. At the same time, a representative should also provide direct written “notice of probate” to all known creditors. If proper notification is achieved, any and all claims against the estate must be brought within 6 months of the opening of the estate.
Collecting and Protecting Estate Assets
Having provided notice to all required parties, the executor must locate, collect, and manage all assets of the deceased person. This process involves the creation of two primary documents that must be submitted to the court, i.e., an estate inventory and accounting. The inventory provides an itemized snapshot of the deceased person’s assets and their respective values at the time of the person’s death. The accounting details changes in asset value (interest earned, expenses paid, etc.) during the administration of the estate (after the deceased person’s death). Depending on the complexity of the estate and the time required to wrap up the estate, several accountings may be necessary. Therefore, in order to prepare an accurate inventory and accountings, an executor must keep detailed financial records of all activity during estate administration.
Distribution of Remaining Assets
After satisfying the court that all assets have been identified and collected, the executor’s final duty is to distribute those assets according to the terms of the will. This process requires the executor to file a final report with the court detailing the distributions to be made. This also requires signed receipts from all beneficiaries and creditors entitled to distributions from the estate.
In carrying out these duties, the executor typically hires an attorney to assist them with the accompanying responsibilities. An effective attorney can help an executor unfamiliar with the probate process navigate the intricacies of the probate court system. Effective legal assistance in this area helps avoid excess costs that could reduce the value of the estate and the property that passes to family members. The entire probate process may take anywhere from six months to several years depending on the size and complexity of the deceased person’s estate.
If you need to find a lawyer to assist you as an executor or if you have any questions that we can help with, please contact us and our staff lawyers will try to point you in the right direction. There is never a charge to speak with us for any Illinois legal matter.