The probate process occurs when someone passes away and leaves property to be transferred to heirs. A legal court proceeding, probate begins when a survivor files a petition with the Clerk of Court, which will prompt a hearing before a judge.

As a Lake County probate lawyer knows, not every estate will need to go through probate. Understanding Illinois laws will help people through their estate planning and give them an idea of what to expect.

Probate requirements

Under the Illinois Probate Act of 1975, estates that are valued at $100,000 or more typically need to go through probate court. The process can take at least six months, as creditors have that much time to file a claim against the decedent’s estate.

Determining the value of an estate starts with establishing how much the probate assets were worth on the date of death. Those assets will include bank accounts, collections, real estate and real property solely owned by the decedent. Valuing the estate should include the following considerations:

  • Items such as real estate, jewelry or artwork will need to be appraised.
  • Only real estate and real property that is owned solely by the decedent and is located in Illinois is included.
  • Assets that are excluded include those held in a trust, those with a payable or transfer on death contingency, retirement accounts and life insurance policies with a listed beneficiary.

Whether an estate needs to go through the probate process depends on the type and value of assets that the decedent owned and how those assets were titled.

When probate is unnecessary

If the value of the decedent’s estate is less than $100,000 and does not contain any real estate, probate in Illinois is not necessary. Instead, heirs can use a simple affidavit to claim the inheritance. The person or institution that holds the asset, such as a bank where a decedent had an account, can release the asset once the affidavit and death certificate are obtained.

There is also a simplified probate process in Illinois for which estates valued at less than $100,000 will qualify. In order to take advantage of this opportunity, every heir and beneficiary to the estate will have to consent in writing. Upon consent, the executor of the will files a written request with the court. Once authorized, the executor will have to settle debts or claims against the estate and then distribute any remaining assets according to the will.

There are some important considerations for people exploring probate. For example, avoiding the process through some methods, such as joint ownership, does not always protect those assets from creditors. Anyone with questions regarding probate in Illinois should contact a Lake County probate lawyer.