A group of friends decided to meet up after work the other day. The conversation turned to their families and how much their kids had grown in such a short time.
Joe commented that he and his wife had just done some estate planning. Tom shrugged. “My wife will get everything anyway, so why bother?”
But Tom was both incorrect and shortsighted.
As a father, his wife would only be entitled to half of his estate. Without an estate plan that specifically articulates his intentions, his estate would be governed by the Illinois Probate Act. The default provision under the Act would provide half of his estate to his children, not the whole of the estate to his wife.
Would that arrangement provide enough for her? What would happen to the house? Are the children over 18 and able to care for themselves, or are they still minors? What other problems will manifest themselves?
In addition to those potential problems, what if Tom’s wife were to pass away before Tom? If something were to happen to him too, his lack of action would expose his heirs to the time and costs of a probate court proceeding to settle Tom’s estate, and to potentially avoidable costs and delays.
If his kids are not yet 18, their fate becomes uncertain. Who becomes their guardian, and who will ensure their welfare?
Tom can address these and other potential problems by following Joe’s path and creating an estate plan. And if he does not, Tom’s kids may wish that he had.
Ultimately, estate planning is an investment in stability and continuity. It can be tailored to the needs of the individual and his family, and can be updated over time as goals change. But it remains a foundation that supports the needs of the family, even when the person who first created it is no longer around.