A will is a legal document in which the signor states how his estate is to be distributed upon his death. After the signor's death, in most instances, a will must be submitted to a probate court. A probate court ensures the will is valid and the assets are distributed according to the signor's stated wishes. In Illinois, each county has a circuit court, which in turn has a probate division.
For a will to be valid in Illinois, it must be executed by a person 18 years of age or older who is competent at the time of execution. The will must be in writing and signed by the person exercising the will or by the person's representative who is in his presence and signing under his direction. Two witnesses, each of which must be at least 18-years-old, must be present at the time of signing and attest to such.
A will executed overseas, but which is deemed to be an international will as defined under the Uniform International Wills Act, may be submitted to an Illinois probate court and considered valid under Illinois law.
An Illinois will may bequeath personal and real property. The gift may be made in present time or at a future date (e.g., upon the signor's death. Any person who is named by the signor as being responsible for distribution of bequeaths (i.e., a trustee) will not be liable for distributing the estate so long as that person is acting in good faith and relying on the will's instructions.
An Illinois will may be revoked at the leisure of the signor. The document must be burned, canceled, torn or destroyed in some manner or revoked by the execution of another will or document declaring the previous will null and void. In Illinois, a divorce or an annulment will revoke any gift or appointment made to the signor's ex-spouse so long as the will was executed before the divorce or annulment. A separation, even if legal, will not revoke a spouse's interests under an existing will.
When a person dies without a valid will in effect, a state's intestate (or default) rules apply to distributing the decedent's assets in the absence of his instructions. In Illinois, if a person dies intestate (i.e., without a will), one-half of the estate will go the surviving spouse and the other half will go to any surviving children. If the decedent is not married, but has children, the entire estate will go to her heirs. If the decedent is married, but has no children, the entire estate will go to her surviving spouse. If the decedent has neither a spouse nor children, the entire estate will go to her immediate family--parents, siblings--in equal amounts.