Law Offices Of Robert J. Varak   773.991.3309    robert@varaklaw.com

General Frequently Asked Questions 

Q. Why do I need a lawyer to do my estate plan?

A. There are plenty of do-it-yourself websites, books and computer programs.Proper estate planning for even the most modest estate must take into account elements of tax law, probate law, banking regulations, ERISA rules and then integrate those considerations with peculiarities of your family situation. Even if a do-it-yourself solution is drafted by a qualified attorney, it takes an attorney who is trained and experienced to make sure that the document fits your family and addresses your needs. Considering the cost of a mistake, the costs of a qualified estate planning attorney is small, as is the cost of the piece of mind you will get from knowing that you have a planning solution which has been tailored for your needs.

Q. What is an estate plan?

​A. Estate planning is the process by which an individual or family conveys its wishes with respect to how certain matters are to be handled after death. An effective estate plan also aims to preserve the maximum amount of wealth possible for the intended beneficiaries and maintain flexibility for the individual prior to death.Estate planning is much more than having a will. Proper estate planning will avoid the chaos and wasted assets of an unplanned estate, enhance your sense of security, and provide a dimension of personal well-being to your loved ones. Wills and trusts are the most common estate planning tools.

Q. Do I need an estate plan?

A. Whether you are younger or older, married or single, a parent or without children, wealthy or indebted, you should invest in an estate plan. There is a lot to be gained by you and your loved ones through estate planning; and more importantly much that can be lost if you don’t plan effectively.The Law Offices of Robert J. Varak provides personalized estate planning and probate services to all clients, regardless of the size of their holdings. Rob Varak is committed to providing the individualized service, timely response and follow-up that are essential to each client's personal needs.

Q. What is a will?

​A. A will is a written statement of your wishes regarding financial affairs and guardianship of minor children. The property left in your name at the time of your death is called your “estate.” Individuals named in your will who will receive your property upon your death are called “legatees.” The individual whom you appoint to deal with your estate’s affairs after your passing is known as your “executor.” The job of the executor is to investigate what you own at the time of your death, make a list of all of your property, collect all of your property, care for your property until it is sold or passed on to the people you have selected to inherit it from you, pay your bills, file your final tax returns, and finish up any other financial business required of your “estate” after your death. This process is known as “probate.” Once everything is done to wrap up your financial business, the remaining money or other property can be distributed to the legatees named in your will. Money and property held in joint tenancy ownership, such as a bank account or house, goes automatically to the surviving co-owners upon the death of one owner. Similarly, property held in trust, or in a payable-on-death account, goes automatically to the named beneficiary upon the death of the owner. Life insurance proceeds go automatically to the named beneficiary on the death of the insured person. These types of property are not affected by your will.


Q. What does a will do?

A. A carefully crafted will is your most reliable guarantee that distribution
 of your assets is conducted according to your wishes. In addition, your will
enables you, if your family includes minor children, to specify who will assume
responsibility for their upbringing as well as the manner in which you wish them
to be raised. It also presents the most dependable way of communicating
any special intentions you have (arrangements for the continuing care of pets,
for example) and provides the best means of indicating who should receive items and "keepsakes" that hold sentimental value 

Q. Do I Need a Will?

A. Every adult needs a will. Failing to execute this essential document will leave uncertainty as to your wishes and invite the participation of third parties or even the courts into the process. 

Q. What happens if I die without having a Will?

A. Failing to execute a will effectively surrenders to the state important decisions affecting the well-being and future security of your heirs. You assume the risk of your estate being disposed of in a manner inconsistent with your wishes. You forego the opportunity to make decisions regarding who will raise your minor children and how they will be raised. And you may miss potentially valuable options regarding reducing the taxes and other expenses that your estate will have to pay. 

Q. What is a trust?

​A. A trust is essentially a contract about property ownership. The person who sets up a trust is called the “grantor” or “settlor.” The trustee is the “legal” owner of the trust property, and the trustee’s name is on any document of title. The beneficiary is the person who receives the benefits of ownership, such as the right to receive the income from the trust’s investments. A “living” or “inter vivos” trust is one that is set up and funded while the grantor is alive. In most cases, the grantor names his or her self as both trustee and beneficiary. In a joint trust scenario, both husband and wife are co-trustees as well as co-beneficiaries while both remain living. In contrast to a living trust, a trust which comes into being under the terms of a will, after the grantor’s death, is called a “testamentary” trust. A living trust can be modified or revoked as long as the settlor (or settlors in the case of a joint trust) are living. Additional information is available in the Living Trust FAQ.

Q. How does a living trust avoid probate?

​A. When an estate is conveyed through a Will, the probate court must validate the Will before its provisions can be executed. The probate process is expensive and slow. It can take as long as two years, and cost as much as 5% of an estate’s value. Assets held in a Living Trust are not subject to probate. These assets will pass according to the terms of the trust, without any need for the cost and delay brought on by the participation of the courts. 

Q. What are the benefits of avoiding probate?

A. Your assets will pass to your beneficiaries faster, more cheaply and privately. Your spouse, for instance, could receive income to provide for living expenses immediately.

Q. I already have an estate plan. When should I have it reviewed?

A. I provide free reviews of all plans, not just those drafted by me. Practically speaking, it’s worthwhile to review an estate plan every 2-3 years. In addition, the following events should trigger an immediate review of your plan:• the birth of a child • change in marital status• change in your state of residence • a significant change in the value or character of your assets • a change in intended beneficiaries • the death of a beneficiary • the death of a guardian, trustee, or personal representative named in your plan• a change in tax laws affecting federal estate tax deductions and calculations.