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Protect yourself from probate by knowing how you own real estate

From the Glenview Herald, "Estates Made Easy," column with Corinne Cantwell Heggie

In mid-March, Boy Scout Troop 156 hosts its Winter Carnival. I make the following observation lovingly: "carnival" is a bit of a misnomer.

Why? The Scouts trek to Wisconsin to cold-weather camp for two nights, outdoors. Friends, this is not a party. This carnival is business. It involves outdoor cooking, sleeping, and activities. It is not for the faint-of-heart, so leave your party pants at home.

Now I can report that all of the Heggie Scouts who participated in the carnival returned, unscathed, and with a new appreciation for sleeping on a mattress under our roof. The boys also had a renewed sense of spirit in their abilities to do hard things.

Last month, the U. S. Census Bureau published its quarterly report for homeownership and vacancies. For the fourth quarter of 2021, it reported that 65.5% of Americans own their homes. Friends, this is a promising statistic. However, do these 65.5% of Americans know how they own their homes? I suspect not.

Do not be a statistic. Find your deed and confirm how you own your home. For married couples, resist the urge to ignore my invitation because you just know you and your spouse own the home jointly. In Illinois, there are many forms of joint ownership and not all forms of joint ownership are created equally.

What is more, real estate that is owned jointly may be open to probate. In probate, generally speaking, there are five tasks to be done:

1. Determine if there is a will 2. Appoint a representative for the estate

3. Identify property the decedent owned

4. Pay taxes and creditors 5. Distribute property in the estate

Once the estate is open, it must stay open under Illinois law for six months and probably will be open longer even if there is a will with a named executor and the decedent left a list of property that he owned.

Another probate fact: once an estate is open, creditors must get notice of the probate. This means that creditors will ask the probate judge to be paid first. When creditors are paid first, that means beneficiaries are paid second. Often, being paid second means there is less money for friends, family, and business partners.

After confirming how you own real estate in Illinois, if you own real estate in another state, find out how you own that property too. Real estate you own outside of Illinois could be subject to probate in that state.

Don't leave friends, family, and business partners out in the cold. Find out how you own your real estate and protect it, because neither the Heggie boys' cold weather camping skills nor your own skills will be able to protect you from probate.

• Corinne Cantwell Heggie is a principal of the Wochner Law Firm LLC in Northbrook. Corinne helps people avoid asset loss, court battles and taxes, with wills, trusts and powers of attorney. Corinne lives in Glenview with her husband and law partner where her family is active in sports, ministries that support women and children in crisis, and Boy Scouts.

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