CDEL in the News


Cook County Commissioners Pass Ordinance Lowering Transfer on Death Instrument Recording Fee, Reduce Barrier to Estate Planning for Communities Impacted by COVID-19




Media Contact:   Amanda Insalaco, Borchard Fellow, Housing Preservation Project, Center

for Disability & Elder Law -


Cook County Commissioners Pass Ordinance Lowering Transfer on Death Instrument Recording Fee, Reduce Barrier to Estate Planning for Communities Impacted by COVID-19


Chicago, Ill.—On May 21, 2020, the Cook County Board of Commissioners unanimously passed an ordinance temporarily reducing the cost to record Transfer on Death Instruments from $98 to $48. Sponsored by Commissioner Larry Suffredin and co-sponsored by all Commissioners, the ordinance is part of a broader initiative led by the Center for Disability & Elder Law (CDEL), housing and community development organizations, and other advocates to reduce barriers for homeowners seeking the security of an estate plan in the face of the COVID-19 crisis.


A Transfer on Death Instrument (TODI) is an estate planning tool that allows homeowners to name a beneficiary to their home upon their passing, ensuring the house passes without the probate process. The probate process is time consuming, prohibitively expensive, and requires legal resources many cannot afford to access. While there are other means of keeping the house out of probate, such as joint tenancy deeds and land trusts, the TODI is the quickest, most cost-effective means of doing so and is the only method that does not have any effect on the current ownership of the property. However, per the Illinois Residential Real Property Transfer on Death Instrument Act (755 ILCS 27, et seq.), a TODI is only effective upon its recording. For many, especially for communities most impacted by COVID-19, the cost to record this document stands as a major barrier in the way of the security of an estate plan.


“During the pandemic, we must help people get their property in order,” states Commissioner Larry Suffredin. “This fee reduction will help many use a simple tool to protect their homes.”


CDEL frequently encounters heirs who have lost homes that have been in their families for generations, simply because they were not “on title” to the property. If heirs are not on title, they cannot refinance the mortgages to avoid foreclosure, take property tax exemptions to which they are entitled, or draw from the equity to make needed repairs. In other words, properties are often lost due to heirship issues that could have easily been prevented through recording a TODI.


Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation (GAGDC), which has been operating as a COVID-19 Crisis Response Center for southside residents, is committed to preserving housing stock in Auburn Gresham. Protecting homes and protecting communities, GAGDC has pledged to provide grants to residents who would like to record a Transfer on Death Instrument during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Amanda Insalaco, Borchard Fellow and creator of CDEL’s Housing Preservation Project, said of the Ordinance’s passage, “I commend the Cook County Recorder and Board of Commissioners for taking steps to increase access to recording of Transfer on Death Instruments, which—now more than ever—are crucial to ensuring stability in homeownership and the transfer of intergenerational wealth in our communities. However, it is apparent that additional steps must be taken to ensure that completed TODIs are promptly accepted and recorded by the Cook County Recorder of Deeds.”


Despite passage of this important ordinance, concerns linger about the amount of time it currently takes to process documents for recording. After closure of the Cook County Recorder of Deeds physical offices due to COVID-19, the only way to record documents was through e-recording platforms, accessible to law firms and title companies exclusively. Fortunately, in response to the advocacy of CDEL and other agencies, the Recorder began accepting documents by U.S. mail or commercial carrier as of May 4, 2020. However, items submitted by e-recording are processed in an estimated 6-7 days while there is an estimated lead time of anywhere from 2-7 weeks for documents submitted by mail and commercial carrier, and if a TODI is not recorded prior to the homeowner’s death, it is not effective.


According to Jerrod Williams, President of the Cook County Bar Association, “The Recorder can and should help to remove barriers senior members of the Black community face in obtaining county services and utilizing a valuable estate planning tool. The CCBA asks the Recorder to take the opportunity to begin to correct this systemically discriminatory policy by making the filing of TODIs more accessible to more citizens.”


The reduction in fees will remain in effect until September 30, 2020. Acknowledging the above-mentioned lead time, CDEL encourages homeowners to mail their TODIs to the Recorder well in advance of this date.



Center for Disability & Elder Law—In its 36-year history, more than 30,000 people with disabilities and senior citizens have received free legal services from CDEL. CDEL provides the majority of its services in the communities where its clients live, and engages the Chicagoland pro bono community in all of its programming.


List of Signatories that Joined in Letter Advocating for changes to Cook County Recorder of Deeds processes:


Alan H. Klein

Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Clifford Helm

Cook County Bar Association

Damon Ritenhouse, EV Has, LLC

Edward Grossman, Grossman and Grossman, Inc.

Farmworker and Landscaper Advocacy Project, Alexandra Sossa

Far South Community Development Corporation, Eric Williams

Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation, Linda Johnson

Greater Chatham Initiative, Nedra Sims Fear

Illinois Legal Aid Online, Matt Newstead

Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing, Mark Swartz

Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Susan Yanun

Lucy Park, Perkins Coie LLP / Center for Disability & Elder Law Board of Directors

Mark Hellner, Center for Disability & Elder Law Executive Director Emeritus

Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago, Donna Clarke, Tiffany Smith

Nicole Wheatly, Steps Inc. Consulting

Phil DeVon, Law Office of Philip J. DeVon

Professor David Rodriguez

Resistance Legal Clinic, Professor Kelli Dudley

Robert A. Michalak, Center for Disability & Elder Law Board of Directors

Shriver Center on Poverty Law, Kate Walz

Thomas A. Demetrio, Corboy & Demetrio, P.C.

Illinois Supreme Court Enters Order Providing Crucial Relief to Low-Income Residents with Frozen Bank Accounts




Contact: Caroline Manley, Center for Disability & Elder Law


Chicago, Ill. April 27, 2020 – On April 24, 2020, the Illinois Supreme Court entered an Emergency Order allowing Illinoisans access to critically needed funds in bank accounts that have been frozen while courts throughout the State are closed due to COVID-19.  Issued in response to a proposal jointly submitted by the Center for Disability & Elder Law (CDEL), other consumer advocates, and creditors’ attorneys, the Emergency Order automatically applies a $4,000 exemption to funds held in a bank account from which a creditor is seeking to collect a judgment entered against a consumer.


“We are grateful that the Illinois Supreme Court addressed the needs of Illinois residents to access their money and their stimulus payments,” said Caroline Manley, Executive Director at CDEL.  “We know that low-income and working class people are disproportionally impacted by COVID-19, and this Order will help them with their most basic needs.” 


After a judgment is entered, the plaintiff can issue a garnishment summons or citation to a bank that freezes all funds in the consumer’s bank account until a hearing can take place at which the consumer is able to assert exemptions and other defenses to the proceeding.  Thousands of Illinoisans have been left in limbo since courts closed, and hearings have been postponed, due to COVID-19.  Bank accounts holding funds needed to pay for food, housing, medicine, and other necessities—including accounts in which CARES Act stimulus payments and tax refunds will be deposited—have been tied up without consumers having any recourse.


Recognizing this crisis, a group of consumer advocates joined forces to draft an initial proposal.  “Every person has a right to a $4,000 wildcard exemption that can be asserted during a hearing,” explained Ashlee Highland, a Supervising Attorney at CARPLS Legal Aid.  “But because many courts do not currently have a process for emergency hearings on bank citations, some consumers would not be able to access their funds for months.” 


The consumer advocates worked together with creditors’ attorneys to refine the original proposal.  Steven F. Pflaum, a partner at Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg LLP, assisted the groups with drafting the proposed Supreme Court Order.  “In times of crisis, it’s wonderful to see groups that are usually adversaries come together to find fair and workable solutions,” Pflaum stated.


The Supreme Court Order, In re: Illinois Courts Response to COVID-19 Emergency/Impact on Post-Judgment Proceedings, M.R. 30370, automatically applies the $4,000 wildcard exemption to all personal bank accounts.  The Order requires a bank to release all funds in accounts holding less than $4,000.  Banks with accounts holding more than $4,000 are ordered to release the wildcard amount while freezing additional funds. 


CDEL encourages consumers with frozen bank accounts holding more than $4,000 to seek an attorney to help them negotiate the release of additional funds.  The Supreme Court Order facilitates such arrangements by specifically instructing financial institutions to accept a letter from creditors in the absence of a court order. 


The duration of the Emergency Order is tied to the Governor’s Executive Order 2020-25, which suspends the service of garnishment summonses and citations while the Gubernatorial Disaster Proclamation remains in effect.




Center for Disability & Elder Law - In its 36-year history, more than 30,000 people with disabilities and senior citizens have received free legal services from CDEL. CDEL provides the majority of its services in the communities where its clients live, and engages the Chicagoland pro bono community in all of its programming. 


List of Consumer-Advocate Organizations that Requested Issuance of the Supreme Court Order:


CARPLS Legal Aid

Center for Disability & Elder Law

Chicago Jobs Council

Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights

Chicago Legal Aid Society of Metropolitan Family Services

Chicago Urban League

Chicago Volunteer Legal Services

Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI)/Power-PAC IL

Heartland Alliance for Human Needs & Human Rights

Housing Action Illinois

Illinois Asset Building Group

Illinois Chapter of NACA

Illinois Legal Aid Online

Illinois PIRG

Land of Lincoln Legal Aid

Legal Aid Chicago

Mujeres Latinas en Accion

National Association of Consumer Advocates (NACA)

National Consumer Law Center

Partners in Community Building

Prairie State Legal Services

Shriver Center on Poverty Law

Woodstock Institute

YWCA Metropolitan Chicago