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Helping You Understand Illinois Family Law

        Each profession adopts its own unique language and terms which may not be common knowledge to the general public. Divorce and Family Law are no different. Gwendolyn J. Sterk and the Family Law Group has compiled the following glossary to you to assist you in understanding terms frequently used in our practice. While the glossary is not exhaustive, it is a good reference point if you have a question about language you may find in some of our legal documents. The definitions are simplified in order to provide you a general overview of the term. The terms listed below apply to all of our cases, including those in Cook County, Will County, DuPage County, and Orland Park. Further details, if applicable, will be provided during your case.

Glossary of Estate Planning Terms

Estate Planning

The preparation of documents and planning for events that serve to manage an individual’s assets in the event of their incapacity or death. 

Comprehensive Estate Plan

A plan that attempts to address not only what will happen to your assets when you die, but also protect both you and your assets during times of incapacity. 

Last Will and Testament

Often simply referred to as your Will, is an attestation of who you want to wrap up your affairs (called your Executor) and who you want to receive your property when you die. A Will is governed by the Probate Act within your state, and thus only receives its force and affect through court action. 

Living (Revocable) Trust 

A legal document, or trust, created during an individual’s lifetime where a designated person, the trustee, is given responsibility for managing the trustmaker’s assets for the benefit of the individual and the eventual beneficiaries. A living trust is revocable during the trustmaker’s lifetime, meaning the trust can be changed or revoked by them at any time. The trustmaker generally retains complete control over all trust property while they are alive and able to do so competently. 

Irrevocable Trust 

A trust that cannot be revoked and that takes effect during the life of the trustmaker. Usually made to transfer wealth, protect assets, or reduce taxes. The trustmaker generally does not maintain control over the assets once they are transferred to the Trust as they are no longer considered the owner of the assets. 

Power of Attorney for Property

A legal document that allows you to give someone else the ability to handle your financial affairs on your behalf. Such powers of attorney can be “durable” (beginning when signed and terminating on death or revocation), or “springing” (beginning upon a set event, such as a determination of your incapacity and inability to make your own decisions). Theses powers of attorney can be very broad, or they can be limited in scope.


Power of Attorney for Healthcare

A legal document allows you to designate someone to make healthcare decisions on your behalf. These powers can also be “durable” (beginning when signed and terminating on death or revocation), or “springing” (beginning upon a set event, such as a determination of your incapacity and inability to make your own decisions). They can also be limited or very general in scope.

Living Will 

A living will is an advance directive that’s main purpose is to specify your wishes regarding end of life care. A living will can be intricately drafted, but generally a living will states that you do not want life prolonging action taken if you are terminally ill and will not recover. 

Pay on Death Accounts 

Accounts that allow you to designate a death beneficiary, such as life insurance. 

Transfer on Death Documents 

Legal documents that designate a transfer of ownership to a named individual upon the death of the individual executing the documents. They are generally fully revocable during the lifetime of the grantor, and hold no legal weight until the grantor dies. The grantor generally retains full control over the property. 


The legal process of administering and closing the estate of a deceased person.


The term used when an individual dies and has a valid Last Will and Testament. 


The term used when a person dies and has no valid Will. Their property will be distributed according to state law. 


The term used for the individual specified in a Will to wrap up your affairs after death.


The term used for the individual appointed by a court to administer the estate of a deceased person who left no Will.

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Sterk Family Law Group is a firm of experienced family law attorneys in Orland Park, IL. Contact us to schedule your free family law or estate planning consultation today!