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What is a will?

A will is a testamentary asset transfer instrument that becomes effective upon death and establishes how your personal and real property will be distributed. A will also allows parents to nominate guardians for minor children.

What are some basic differences between a will and a trust?


  • Requires probate; distribution terms are public. See Whitney Houston’s Will.
  • Assets are frozen during probate.
  • Allows testator to nominate guardianship of minor children.
  • 6-month creditor claim period.


  • Probate is not required; distribution terms are private.
  • Terms are more legally binding so court battles are less likely.
  • Assets are not frozen.
  • May protect children or beneficiaries’ financial interests.
  • 2-year creditor claim period.
  • Wealth preservation is possible.

Does a will need to be notarized?

Not in Illinois. However, a valid will is entered into probate upon the decedent’s death and the probate property is then administered to the appropriate heirs and/or legatees. A valid will in Illinois requires, at the very least, your signature and 2 credible witnesses. If a person dies without a valid will, the probate property passes through to relatives, the County, or the State as dictated by Illinois law.

I don't have any real estate or a lot of personal property; do I need a will?

Generally, if you have a small estate – less than $100,000 in personal property and no real estate- you don’t need a will. Also, even if you have a will but have less than $100,000 in personal property, your beneficiaries are not required to go through probate. However, even under these circumstances, you may need other important documents, in case you have children.

What is the difference between a legatee, an heir, and a beneficiary?

A legatee is one who benefits under a will; heirs are blood relatives determined by state law who may benefit under testamentary documents; and beneficiaries are those who benefit under trusts.