IL Estate Planning Blog

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Cook County Senior Citizen Exemption

Pass this along to any Cook County senior citizen residents you know:

Taken from Southtown Star, Tuesday, February 8, 2011:

Starting this year, Cook County senior citizens again will have to renew their property tax exemption every year, and that's likely to cause confusion, county Assessor Joe Berrios said Monday.

Berrios said he's sending out exemption applications this week to about 300,000 seniors and is trying to get the word out to homeowners 65 and older that the applications must be filled out and returned by March 3.  Berrios said he's worried the mailers might be overlooked or tossed out, mistaken for junk mail.

"They're going to receive these things in the mail, and they're going to throw them in the garbage," Berrios said.  "And then they're going to get a tax bill in November and say: 'What happened?'"

Berrios said he plans to press Springfield lawmakers to eliminate the annual application requirement, calling it "just an additional cost government doesn't need," which he pegged at $250,000.

The annual filing is a provision of a new property tax relief law that kicked in this year.  It affects more than 284,000 homeowners 65 and older and applies exclusively to Cook County.

The amount of savings the tax provides varies.  For a senior homeowner in Chicago, the exemption is worth a median savings of about $200 year, Berrios said.

Before 2008, seniors had to reapply every year.  The "senior freeze" exemption, which gives senior homeowners a break if their income is below $55,000 also requires an annual application.


To qualify for the "senior citizen exemption," you have to have been born before 1945, own your home or have a lease or contract making you responsible for the real estate taxes and the home must be your principal residence.  Cook County residents needing help with the application can call the county assessor's office at (312) 603-2961.  Chicago residents also can reach the city's tax assistance center by calling 311.  Those who just turned 65 and would like to start taking advantage of the senior exemption can download the form online at

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010 (the "Act")

On December 17, 2010 President Obama signed the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization and Job Creation Act of 2010 (the "Act"). The Act significantly changes the federal estate tax, which impacts estate planning for many of our clients, and presents significant estate planning opportunities.

To summarize, the Act makes significant estate and gift tax changes.  The key points discussed above include the following:

·      The estate tax exclusion amount increases to $5 million per person for 2010 through 2012.

·      The maximum estate and gift tax rate is reduced from the 55 percent maximum rate under prior law to a maximum estate and gift tax rate of 35 percent for 2011 and 2012.

·      A "portability" provision is included, which allows surviving spouses to use any applicable exclusion amount that is not used by the first spouse to pass away. 

·      The GST exemption amount is increased to $5 million for 2010 through 2012.

·      The Act sunsets at the end of 2012, thus making the foregoing changes temporary in nature.

As always, we recommend that clients review their estate plans periodically and/or whenever a significant life event occurs (e.g., birth of a child, death of a spouse, purchase of new home, etc.).

For clients with substantial amounts of wealth and with closely held businesses, we highly recommend that such clients consider using lifetime gifts to take advantage of the current $5 million lifetime gift tax applicable exclusion amount, which will expire, absent further Congressional action, at the end of 2012.

Illinois (Illinois Taxpayer Accountability and Budget Stabilization Act) has provided the following:

(b) For persons dying after December 31, 2005 and on or before December 31, 2009, and for persons dying after December 31, 2010, an amount equal to the full credit calculable under  Section 2011 or 2604 of the Internal Revenue Code as the credit  would have been computed and allowed under the Internal Revenue Code as in effect on December 31, 2001, without the reduction in the State Death Tax Credit as provided in Section 2011(b)(2) or the termination of the State Death Tax Credit as provided in  Section 2011(f) as enacted by the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001, but recognizing the exclusion amount of only $2,000,000, and with reduction to the  adjusted taxable estate for any qualified terminable interest property election as defined in subsection (b-1) of this Section. 

Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions that you might have or if you would like to discuss your estate plan in light of the Act.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Safe Holiday Dinners

Hints for a safe holiday dinner taken from the November 18, 2010 Southtownstar:

With pots boiling, ovens baking and skillets sizzling, holidays can be a hazardous day in the kitchen.

Advice for a safe holiday dinner:

  • Turn pot handles in, toward the stove:  Pot handles can get bumped when several people are bustling around a busy kitchen.  Turning them inward can keep them from being snagged.
  • Take a pot holder with you when you leave the kitchen:  This serves as a reminder when you leave the room to answer the door or greet relatives that there are dishes that need monitoring.  Always try to stay in the kitchen while food is cooking.
  • Don't hold your child while cooking:  Fussy children can get too close to hot pans and plates, causing them to get injured or fall out of your arms.
  • Don't wear loose-fitting clothing when cooking:  For women, holiday time can mean frilly blouses, which could easily catch fire over a stove.
  • Keep your cooking area clutter free:  Items on cluttered counters can get knocked into open flames, causing a fire.  And when it's time to take a finished dish off the stove, you won't be able to find a place to set it down.
  • Safety first:  Families should have working smoke alarms and fire extinguishers while cooking and discuss an escape plan if there is a fire.  Underwriters Laboratories also recommends keeping a flame-resistant oven mitt, pot holder or lid nearby to smother any flames.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Chicago Magazine 2010 FIVE STAR Wealth Managers

The Law Offices of Stephen Sutera are proud to announce we were selected by Chicago Magazine (November 2010 Issue) as a 2010 FIVE STAR Wealth Manager in the Estate Planning Category.

The selection process was a survey, by mail and phone, to approximately 1 in 4 high-net-worth households and all identified financial services professionals within the Chicagoland area. 

On the surveys, recipients were asked to evaluate only wealth managers whom they know through personal experience and to evaluate them based upon nine criteria:  customer service, integrity, knowledge/expertise, communication, value for fee charged, meeting of financial objectives, post-sales service, quality of recommendations and overall satisfaction.

Both positive and negative evaluations were included in the scoring, and only wealth managers with more than five years of experience in the financial services industry were considered.

Next, each wealth manager was reviewed for regulatory actions, civil judicial action and customer complaints.  Then, before finalizing the list, wealth managers were reviewd by a blue ribbon panel comprised of individuals from within the financial services industry.

The resulting list of 2010 FIVE STAR Wealth Managers represents less than 2 percent of the wealth managers in the Chicagoland area.

Thursday, June 24, 2010




According to an AARP Magazine article written by Sid Kircheimer, there have been some timeshare frauds occurring.  Because of the number of timeshares on the market, this has brought out people who are attempting to deceive owners of timeshares by alleging to assist them to sell the timeshare.  Many hopeful sellers have lost up-front fees and await non-existent buyers.  The author suggests the following tips for any sellers of timeshares:


  • Never pay up-front fees.
  • Any unsolicited contract from a timeshare reseller – particularly with the promise of a big payoff – is a red flag.
  • Check with your resort about any resale programs it offers, newsletters with “for sale” listings, or partnerships with local real estate agents.  Expect to pay a 10 to 30 percent commission to a legitimate agent for a resale.
  • When listing online, stick with established websites, such as or
  • Before doing business with any reseller, check its reputation at and check with your resort.  Confirm licensing claims with your state’s real estate commission.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Mortgage Refinancing Hints



     My office has regularly assisted with necessary documents when clients are refinancing their property that is in a trust.  In the past, the mortgage carriers have allowed the refinancing with an attorney opinion letter.  However, as a result of the mortgage debacle over the last year, my office is experiencing a lot of multiple requests from mortgage companies which has caused a lot of frustration to our clients.  In order to avoid the frustration which we have observed, we are suggesting that as soon as you know that you are going to refinance, tell the mortgage company that your property is in a living trust.  We have observed that after the mortgage company has been provided with a full copy of the trust and an attorney opinion letter, the underwriters then ask that the property be taken out of trust.  In order to avoid all of this paperwork, if the mortgage company will allow you to close in trust, ask them to provide instructions in writing to allow the closing in trust.  If they are not willing to do so, my office can deed the property out of trust and then place the property back into trust after the closing.  Our office charges a deed preparation fee and recording fees from the county.  It doesn’t hurt to ask the mortgage company to pay the fee.   These items should be clarified within the first week of your decision to refinance in order to avoid your frustration when attempting to complete these items the day before your closing.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Suggestions for Caregivers to avoid conflicts with aging loved ones

Suggestions for Caregivers to avoid conflicts with aging loved ones:

1.)  Pick your battles.  If the situation is not going to harm your loved one, is it worth the battle?  When your loved one's safety is at risk, you must take the necessary steps to protect them.

2.)  Start early.  Determining proper living arrangements, having medical health directives, executing documents to assist with asset management, and completing documents to dispose of assets at death - these discussions should begin early.

3.)  Enlist the help of professionals.  Consider using the trusted professional as the bearer of bad news to your loved one.  For example, if it is not safe for your loved one to drive, possibly having their trusted doctor inform them would be easier for them to accept. 

4.)  Let your loved ones live in their own world.  It's OK to let them repeat their stories. 

5.)  Don't make assumptions.  If your loved one is cognitively able to participate in their own decisions regarding their care, ask for their input. 

6.)  Consider your loved one's feelings.  It's better to let go of past grudges that might lead to conflict and have a more peaceful life by forgiving. 

7.)  Use positive reinforcement.  Encourage your loved one to do the things that they physically and mentally are capable of doing. 

8.)  Prevent caregiver burnout

  • Establish your priorities
  • Reach out to others for support
  • Seek the help of professionals
  • Consider adult day care
  • Keep your medical appointments
  • Maintain a healthy diet
  • Take time to exercise
  • Take a break from caregiving
  • Consider the use of private case managers who can assess your loved one's current needs

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With two offices in Oak Lawn and Oak Brook, Stephen M. Sutera assists clients throughout Cook County, DuPage County and Will County IL including Chicago, Hometown, Barrington, Burbank, Burr Ridge, Chicago Ridge, Darien, Downers Grove, Evergreen Park, Geneva, Worth, Bridgeview, Palos Park, Palos Hills, Palos Heights, Hickory Hills, Midlothian, Willow Springs, Oak Forest, Orland Park, La Grange, Brookfield, Berwyn, Tinley Park, Hinsdale, Villa Park, Clarendon Hills, Westchester, Westmont, Lombard, Elmhurst, Western Springs, Berkeley, Downers Grove, Fox Valley, Glen Ellyn, Willowbrook, Aurora, Addison, Lisle, Forest Park, Bensenville, Wheaton, River Forest, Itasca, Shorewood, Frankfort, Mokena, Naperville, Crest Hill, Homer Glen, New Lenox, Bollingbrook, Schaumburg, Channahon and Woodridge.

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| Phone: 708-857-7255
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| Phone: 630-396-6800 | 708-857-7255
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| Phone: 616-717-5752 | 708-857-7255

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