Frequently Asked Questions
How are a lawyer’s fees computed?
Our fees are generally based on the amount of time we spend handling a particular matter. At our initial conference, we can give you a reasonable estimate of the amount of time we might spend assisting you. Other matters — for example, wills, powers of attorney and some adoptions — are handled on a flat-fee basis. We can give you an estimate based on the facts and circumstances of your situation.
Why do I need a will?
When you make a valid will or trust, you exercise your privilege to specify who will receive your estate after your death, in what shares or amounts, and the restrictions you choose to impose. When you die “intestate” (meaning without a will), the laws of the State of Illinois specify who will receive your estate. For example, in the absence of a will, your children are entitled to their share of your estate without restriction at age 18 (rather than at some later age that you might have specified in your will). Illinois law will also determine who handles the administration of your estate if you die without a will, and that person, known as an “administrator,” will be required to post a bond with the court with sureties approved by the court, all of which can add a significant expense to the process. Under a will, not only can you name the executor of your choice to administer your estate, but you may also waive the requirement of sureties on the executor’s bond.
Why do I need a Power of Attorney?
The Illinois Power of Attorney Act gives you the privilege to name the person who will be in charge of your business and financial matters, and who will have the authority to make decisions and to give directions on your behalf concerning health care and medical matters (including decisions as to when life-sustaining treatment should be withheld or withdrawn if you become disabled). In the absence of Powers of Attorney, a costly court-supervised legal guardianship is often required. Disabilities often occur suddenly, and persons of all ages can be the victim of a sudden disability; once a serious disability strikes, it is usually too late to sign Powers of Attorney. A thoughtful estate plan for persons of all ages should include planning for disability, and the Illinois Power of Attorney for Property and for Healthcare provide an excellent means to accomplish disability planning.
What is a Living Will?
A living will is actually known as a “Declaration” under the Illinois Living Will Act. Unlike a Power of Attorney for Healthcare, a Living Will does not involve the appointment of a person to make health-care decisions for you. Rather, a Living Will simply declares that, under certain narrow and specific circumstances (death must be imminent, and you must be suffering from an incurable illness or injury), you do not wish to employ or administer procedures that would only delay death.
We are buying a house – do we need a lawyer?
The purchase of a home is the single-biggest investment that most individuals will ever make. It is, therefore, prudent to have your own lawyer advise you when you purchase a home. The terms of the real estate contract control the entire transaction and should be reviewed by your lawyer prior to signing. Only a licensed lawyer is legally qualified to advise you on legal issues pertaining to the contract. The advice of a licensed lawyer is also required in reviewing your title insurance commitment to ensure that your home will not be subject to liens or other adverse matters. Your lawyer can also explain to you what a title-insurance policy does and does not cover. Your lawyer can also assist you with the additional matters involved in the home-buying process, including financing contingencies, inspections, monitoring deadlines and real estate tax prorations. Ask us for a cost estimate for assisting you with the purchase of your home.
How do we go about adopting a child from another country?
There are a number of reputable agencies that specialize in facilitating the placement of foreign-born children into the United States for adoption. Such agencies will also help the adoptive parents comply with all applicable requirements related to matters of immigration and citizenship for the child. Many times (although not always), the adoptive parents are required to travel to the child’s country of origin and to participate in a proceeding in which the adoption is granted specifically to them by the foreign jurisdiction. When the Illinois Inter-Country Adoption Coordinator has given appropriate permission, the adoptive parents may then return to the United States with the child. Often, they will then seek the assistance of a local attorney of their choosing to bring a “confirmatory” adoption proceeding in the county of their residence, and they will then obtain an Illinois birth certificate (called a “Record of a Foreign Birth”) for the child. Whether an Illinois confirmatory adoption proceeding will be required in a given case depends on various factors.
I am recently remarried and wish to adopt my spouse’s child(ren) from a prior marriage; what is required to accomplish this?
The “step-parent adoption” is very common. It involves the same basic procedure as in any other adoption. For example, if a child is being adopted by her step-father (who is married to her biological mother), the couple files a petition in court asking for the adoption to be granted. The biological mother, in this example, manifests her consent to the adoption simply by signing the Petition along with the step-father. In many cases, the other biological parent (the biological father, in this example) is in agreement with the adoption and will sign an appropriate consent. Sometimes, that biological parent is unwilling to give such consent; in those cases, the petitioning couple would have to decide whether they have a reasonable chance of proving that the non-consenting biological parent is “unfit” (for example, by having failed to maintain a reasonable degree of interest, concern or responsibility as to the welfare of the child over a substantial period of time). If they can make a clear and convincing showing of unfitness, the adoption can be granted without the consent of the other biological parent, whose rights are then involuntarily terminated by the court based upon that finding of unfitness.
What assistance does the State of Illinois provide if I adopt a “special needs” child?
A “special needs” child, in this context, most often is one who has been removed from his biological parents because of abuse or neglect, has been placed into foster care under the supervision and guardianship of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, and is at least one year old. Specific physical or mental disabilities of a substantial nature are not necessarily present, although many such children do, in fact have them. Because these children are older, and will likely carry the psychological scars associated with removal from their biological homes (and the abuse or neglect experiences leading up to such removal), it is more difficult to place them for adoption than newborns. Individuals or couples adopting such children almost always enter into an agreement with the State of Illinois called the “Adoption Assistance Agreement,” which provides for the basic non-recurring expenses associated with the adoption proceeding to be paid by the State (for example, attorney fees, court costs) and which also typically provides for a monthly payment to assist the adoptive parents, and a Medicaid card to assist with the child’s medical care. The Adoption Assistance Agreement may also provide coverage for a variety of the child’s needs, conditions or factors known to exist at the time that the Agreement is entered into. Generally, the Agreement will remain in effect until the child reaches the age of 18 years.
What is required to complete a private adoption?
Private adoptions can be very detailed, and care must be taken to accomplish them in accordance with the requirements of the Illinois Adoption Act, which governs procedure in all adoption cases. After the birth of the child, and assuming that both biological parents still wish to carry out the adoptive plan, they will normally appear before a judge to sign their consents, subject to the requirement that neither of them may sign a consent during the first 72 hours after the birth of the child. In the meantime, the adoptive couple will have filed their Petition For Adoption in the appropriate courthouse, and will have made arrangements, in cooperation with the biological parents, to spend time with the child at the hospital nursery pending the child’s release from the hospital. Upon the signing of the biological parents’ consents, the judge will then enter an “Interim Order” granting temporary custody of the child to the adoptive couple, including permission to receive custody of the child from the hospital. The court also appoints a separate attorney (“Guardian Ad Litem”) to represent the interests of the child in the proceeding. The couple then brings the child home, and an appropriate person or agency is appointed by the Court to do the required investigation, or homestudy, on the couple. After the passage of approximately six months, the couple’s attorney will contact the judge and will schedule the final court hearing. At that hearing, based upon the judge’s examination of the homestudy report, the contents of the court file, and the testimony given by the adoptive couple, if the Judge finds that all legal requirements have been complied with and that the adoption will be in the best interest of the child, the judge will grant the adoption and sign the Adoption Decree. The adoptive couple’s attorney will then assist them in working with the State Vital Records Office to process an amended birth certificate for the child.
Top: State Capitol Building, Springfield, Illinois