As Benjamin Franklin once observed, death and taxes are two of the only certainties in life. They come together in the world of estates.

Each state runs estates and inheritance differently through laws directing what happens to an individual’s property when they die. Illinois’ inheritance laws are no exception.

Navigating the probate process in Illinois can pose difficulties. Vantage Group Legal Services can connect you with a lawyer whose practice focuses on estate and inheritance law to help guide you through.

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What Happens If You Die with a Will?

If you die with a will, your property is distributed according to the will’s terms. When you create a will, you designate an executor to manage your estate, ensuring your debts are satisfied and your property gets where it should go. If you do not select an executor, the probate court appoints a representative to fill the role.

The representative notifies interested parties like beneficiaries, heirs, and creditors about the action. Those parties can challenge the will’s validity in court. If the court finds the will is valid, the representative satisfies legitimate claims made by creditors, pays taxes and fees, and distributes the property under the will.

What Happens If You Die Without a Will?

If you die without a will, your estate passes to your legal heirs through Illinois’ intestate succession laws. When you die, someone, usually a relative, begins the probate process by notifying the probate court of your death. The court then appoints an administrator to serve as the estate’s representative.

The administrator is responsible for inventorying your assets and liabilities and notifying your potential heirs and creditors of the probate action. Creditors can make claims on your estate, which the administrator allows or rejects. Then, the administrator distributes your estate according to Illinois law.

Who Inherits Under Illinois’ Intestacy Laws?

Intestate succession laws approximate what the average person would have wanted if they had left a will. These laws set preference levels for who should receive your estate property. If no one survives at a particular preference level, you move on to the next.

An intestate estate should be distributed per stirpes as follows:

  • Surviving spouse and surviving descendants—one-half to spouse and one-half to descendants;
  • No surviving spouse, surviving descendants—entire estate to descendants;
  • Surviving spouse, no surviving descendants—entire estate to spouse;
  • No surviving spouse or descendants, yes surviving parent or siblings—estate divided between surviving parents and siblings, siblings’ descendants can take in their place;
  • No surviving spouse, descendants, parents, siblings, or sibling’s descendants, yes surviving grandparent or grandparent’s descendants—one-half to maternal grandparent’s side and one-half to paternal grandparent’s side;
  • No surviving spouse, descendants, parents, siblings, sibling’s descendants, or grandparent’s descendants, great-grandparents and their descendants—one-half to maternal great-grandparent’s side and one-half to paternal great-grandparent’s side; and
  • No surviving spouse, descendants, parents, siblings, sibling’s descendants, grandparent’s descendants, or great-grandparent’s descendants—equal parts to the nearest known kin of the same degree.

If you leave no known surviving relatives, your estate becomes Illinois property.

What Is Distribution Per Stirpes?

Per stirpes distribution describes what should happen if an individual entitled to a share of the estate dies before the decedent. Distribution per stirpes is sometimes also called distribution by representation. If one individual in a line dies before the decedent, their descendants take their share in equal parts. The best way to explain per stirpes is typically through examples. 

Example One: No Heirs Predecease the Decedent 

A and B are married and have three children, C, D, and E. C is unmarried and has no children. D has three children, DA, DB, and DC. E has two, EA and EB. C dies intestate before any other member of the immediate family. 

To determine who takes what, we count how many heirs C has. Because they are at the same level, A, B, D, and E would each be equally entitled to a share of C’s estate. A, B, D, and E should each receive one-fourth of C’s estate.

Example Two: Heirs Predecease the Decedent

Consider the same family, but assume A and D predecease C. If C dies intestate, we still begin by dividing C’s estate into four equal shares since A, B, D, and E would be entitled to equal shares of C’s estate were all alive. 

According to Illinois law, if only one parent survives the decedent, the surviving parent takes the deceased parent’s share. So, B would take their one-fourth share and A’s one-fourth share, resulting in B taking one-half of C’s estate. 

E still takes their one-fourth share. However, D’s one-fourth share is distributed between D’s three children since D died before C. We divide one-fourth by three, resulting in DA, DB, and DC each receiving a one-twelfth share of C’s estate. 

Is There an Inheritance Tax in Illinois?

There is no inheritance tax in Illinois, but there is an estate tax. While the two taxes relate to the estate process, the estate tax is paid out of the estate. Heirs pay inheritance taxes out of the amounts they inherit.

How Does Illinois’ Estate Tax Work?

Illinois taxes estates valued at $4,000,000 or more. This $4,000,000 value includes adjusted taxable gifts the decedent made in the year they died. The Illinois Attorney General provides a calculator to help you determine how much an estate may owe.

How Do You Calculate Your Adjusted Taxable Gifts?

In 2024, an individual can gift up to $18,000 without owing taxes. This amount applies per individual recipient, meaning the individual could give $18,000 to two other individuals for $36,000 in gifts without owing taxes. 

To determine an estate’s adjusted taxable gift, identify all gifts the decedent made during the year preceding their death. If any of those gifts had a higher value than the gift tax exclusion, the amount above the limit is added to the estate’s value.

How Do You Pay Illinois Estate Tax?

The estate’s representative will pay Illinois’ estate tax to the attorney general out of estate funds. You should submit Form 700 within nine months of the decedent’s death. The attorney general provides several worksheets to help you calculate the amount the estate owes.

Find a Probate Attorney

If you need help working through the inheritance laws in Illinois, contact Vantage Group Legal Services. We can help you find a lawyer to understand Illinois’ inheritance laws and guide you through the probate process.

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