WGN-TV Show Notes – January 20, 2005

Nearly 60 percent of Americans don’t have a will, which is fine if you don’t mind having the state decide who gets your money. But the stakes get higher if you have children.

If you die without a will, some judge you’ve never met will decide who gets your money and your possessions. But that same judge will also decide who gets custody of your children… And it could be the last person you would have chosen.

“We had been married for 17 ½ years and we did not have a baby nor did we have any sort of will or estate plan. We had life insurance and jobs and a house but it was just the two of us and we figured everything would take care of itself,” said Rick Brandstatter.

After a long day at the office, the last thing you want to do is talk about who’s going to get the goods after you’re gone.

“Then, Alexis came along and we got a little worried,” noted Rick Brandstatter.

And figuring out who’s going to get what — and who would raise Alexis — moved to the top of the priority list. Since both Rick and Therese come from a large family …

“It wasn’t just one couple we had to lean on. We probably had 3 to 4 people in the running as far as who we would have felt comfortable with taking care of her if something had happened to us,” observed Therese Brandstatter.

But you need to review guardianship on a regular basis.

“If you named your parents they may get older and not be able to handle raising young children if you and your spouse die together,” noted Wayne Cooper, an estate attorney with Fagel Haber.

In addition to providing for your minor children, a will can be helpful if you have children from a prior marriage, if you have specific wishes for distributing your assets, if you have family-owned property or businesses or if your estate is big enough to be subject to state or federal estate taxes.

In 2009, you can pass down up to $3.5 million without paying federal estate taxes, but the Illinois estate exemption remains at $2 million. Which sounds like a ton of cash, until you start adding up life insurance policies, retirement accounts and your home equity.

“We sat down with an attorney who analyzed all that and laid it out and much to our surprise there was even more there than we thought,” said Rick.

Which is why it makes sense to put together an estate plan that includes a will, powers of attorney for health care and financial matters and possibly a trust.

Added Therese: “It’s just one of those things you keep putting off and you don’t really think it’s that critical because nothing is ever going to happen to you. But in this day and age, we know anything can happen.”

Mention the words “estate attorney” and everyone immediately thinks you’ll spend thousands of dollars getting everything together. But a simple will can cost as little as $400 or $500 and putting together a full-blown estate plan starts at a couple of thousand dollars. But the relief you’ll feel knowing everything is signed, sealed and legal is worth it.


Wayne Cooper, Estate Attorney
Fagel Haber
55 E. Monroe
Chicago, IL

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Jan. 20, 2005.