Probate in Illinois: How to get started

4 min read

Initiating the probate process in Illinois

  • The deadline for filing the will in Circuit Court is within 30 days of your loved one’s death.

  • Before you begin: Illinois requires that you hire a lawyer if the estate worth more than $100,000 or includes real estate.

  • Once you have filed the will and other documents, the court will issue a document called letters of office (also called letters testamentary), which empowers the executor to act on behalf of the estate.

  • If your loved one did not leave a will, you will still petition the court to begin probate, and the judge will appoint an administrator (also called a personal representative) to lead the estate through probate.

Like every state, Illinois has its laws governing probate, the legal process whereby an estate’s assets are transferred to their intended heirs or beneficiaries. In Illinois, the probate process is relatively straightforward, but can still feel overwhelming for someone who isn’t familiar with all the legal terminology involved, not to mention the time investment. (You can expect full probate to take at least a year, often longer.)

In Illinois, hiring an attorney for the probate process is required for everyone except those who are eligible to go through a simplified probate process—usually available to estates worth less than $100,000. Either way, an experienced attorney can help you navigate the process smoothly, avoiding delays and costly fines.

If you are the executor of your loved one’s estate in Illinois, the prospect of initiating probate in court may feel incredibly daunting. Going over these first steps and the initial paperwork with your lawyer will make sure that you’re on the right track. 

Getting started

The first thing to know is that you have 30 days from the date of your loved one’s death to file their will with the Clerk of Court the county in which they resided. Filing the will in Circuit Court is the step that initiates the probate process.

In the first month after your loved one’s death, paperwork and practical tasks may feel like more than you can handle as you deal with intense pain and grief.

Meeting this initial deadline is important. Reach out to other family members for help if necessary.

However, it is important that this initial filing deadline is met. Reach out to other family members for help if necessary to make sure the will is filed in court.

While it’s technically possible to file the will after 30 days, it’s best to be safe and get it in as soon as possible. If the court finds any evidence that you have willingly hidden the will from the court for more than 30 days, you can be subject to criminal prosecution on a charge of theft.

Filing the will in Circuit Court

Once you locate the Circuit Court in your loved one’s county, make an appointment to file the will along with the petition for your letters of office. Known in other states as letters testamentary, letters of office is a legal document that gives the executor named in the will the legal and financial power to settle your loved one’s affairs.

If your loved one did not leave a will, you will still file a petition, without including a will. The judge will issue a similar document, called letters of administration instead of letters of office. And they will appoint someone to be responsible for leading the estate through probate, known in these cases as an administrator or personal representative instead of an executor.

For your appointment in court, you should bring the will (if there is one) along with these documents:

  • Your government ID

  • The death certificate

  • An estimate of the value of your loved one’s estate

  • The names and contact information of all of the heirs named in the will

In Illinois, the will must meet some requirements to be accepted by the court as valid. It must be in writing and signed by your loved one, as well as by two adult witnesses, who both signed, together, in the presence of your loved one. 

It is advisable to meet with your attorney before your court appointment so that you can make sure all of your documents are in order and come up with a plan for the next steps. Any error in the petition could further delay the process, so it is crucial to ensure that your application is complete and accurate before filing.

Next steps in Illinois probate

Once you submit your petition, the court will review your materials. When everything is approved, they will issue you the letters of office or letters of administration, and officially appoint the executor or administrator. At this point, probate officially opens. 

This is just the beginning of a long process, but things will become easier as you get more acquainted with the terminology and bureaucracy involved in Illinois probate. While it may feel like there’s no end in sight, trust that you will be supported in this process, and you will soon be on your way to facilitating the transfer of your loved one’s assets to their beneficiaries—a bittersweet, but ultimately loving, duty to fulfill.

You may be eligible for free bereavement support. Empathy can help with everything from funeral planning to estate administration, with step-by-step guidance and real-time expert support. Many people get free premium access to Empathy as a benefit with their life insurance claim. We partner with New York Life, Guardian Life Insurance Company, Bestow, Lemonade, and other leading carriers. When you make your life insurance claim, talk to your representative about whether Empathy is a benefit they offer.