Creating a last will and testament is vital to responsible estate planning. For residents of North Carolina, it holds particular significance in safeguarding their final wishes and ensuring the smooth distribution of assets. But you may wonder what to put in a will.
A well-crafted will provides clarity and certainty about who will inherit your property and helps you maintain control over your affairs after you pass away. Without a valid will, state law determines how your assets are distributed, which may not align with your desires.
In this blog, we will explore the essential elements to include in your will, as well as how having a comprehensive document can spare your loved ones unnecessary confusion, anxiety, and potential legal challenges during a difficult time.
Whether you’re a young adult starting to plan your future or a seasoned individual with significant assets, understanding what to put in a will is crucial for securing your legacy and providing for those you care about most.
Why is a Will Crucial For Residents of North Carolina?
Do you have a last will and testament or a trust? If you do not have these essential documents, state law will determine who will inherit your property—and it may not occur as you would have chosen.
In addition, someone appointed by the court, instead of a trusted person of your choosing, will be responsible for caring for any children or pets and winding up your affairs.
Spelling out your wishes in a will or trust also prevents unnecessary confusion, anxiety, and expense for your loved ones when you are gone.
What to Put in a Will in North Carolina?
Creating a last will and testament in North Carolina is essential for ensuring your final wishes are carried out, and your loved ones are provided for after your passing. A well-drafted will can help avoid potential disputes and legal complications, providing clarity and peace of mind for everyone involved. Here are some crucial elements so you understand what to put in a will: :
Begin by designating an executor, also known as a personal representative, who will manage your estate and ensure your wishes are fulfilled. You should trust this person, as they will handle various tasks, such as paying debts, distributing assets, and settling any outstanding matters related to your estate.
Clearly state the names of individuals or organizations you wish to inherit your property and assets. You can leave specific bequests to specific individuals or charities, such as a particular sum of money or a valuable item. Additionally, you can designate residual beneficiaries who will receive what remains after specific gifts and debts have been settled.
Guardianship for Minor Children
If you have children under 18, your will should address who will assume guardianship of them in the event of your passing. This decision is crucial as it will determine who will take care of your children and their financial well-being until they reach adulthood.
Alternate Beneficiaries and Guardians
Anticipating unforeseen circumstances is wise. Consider naming alternate beneficiaries and guardians in case your primary choices cannot fulfill their roles. If a primary beneficiary dies, you’ll be glad you already have a plan.
Assets and Property
Provide a comprehensive list of your assets and properties, including real estate, bank accounts, investments, vehicles, jewelry, and personal belongings. Clearly outline how you want these assets to be distributed among your beneficiaries.
In the digital age, it’s important to consider your online presence and accounts. Include instructions for handling your digital assets, such as social media accounts, email accounts, and online files.
Witnesses and Signatures
For your will to be legally valid in North Carolina, it must be signed in the presence of two witnesses who are not beneficiaries. These witnesses should also sign the will. If you also notarize your will, it will be less likely to face a will challenge.
Although it is possible to create a simple will without legal assistance, seeking professional advice from an estate planning attorney can help ensure that your will complies with North Carolina’s laws and covers all necessary aspects.
By taking the time to craft a well-thought-out will, you can secure your legacy and provide for your loved ones in the manner you desire. However, reviewing and updating your will regularly is crucial, especially after significant life events such as marriage, divorce, the birth of children, or the acquisition of new assets.
Consulting with an experienced estate planning attorney can help make the process smoother and ensure your wishes are accurately reflected in the legal document. A will is a legal document, and any errors or ambiguities could lead to unintended consequences.
Does a Will Help Me Avoid Probate Court in North Carolina?
While having a will is crucial in ensuring your wishes are carried out after your passing, it does not necessarily help you avoid probate court in North Carolina. Probate is the legal process through which a will is validated, assets are inventoried, debts are settled, and the remaining property is distributed to beneficiaries.
Having a will can simplify the probate process since it provides a clear roadmap for the distribution of your assets. However, a will does not exempt your estate from probate.
It is worth noting that some assets can bypass probate court, such as the following:
- Jointly owned property with right of survivorship
- Financial accounts and property held in a living trust (or other types of trusts)
- Assets with designated beneficiaries like life insurance policies or retirement accounts
To explore strategies for minimizing probate and ensuring a smoother distribution of your estate, consult with an attorney for your estate planning needs in North Carolina.
Avoiding the Probate Process Requires Estate Planning
When a person passes away, their will goes through a legal process called probate, usually in a probate court in the county where they lived.
The probate proceedings involve a judge who validates (or executes) the will and assigns the executor (person named in the will) who starts working for the estate under prevailing probate laws:
- Inventory the estate
- Pay creditors and debts
- Filing taxes
- Paying for funeral expenses and often making funeral arrangements
- Distributing assets to beneficiaries, including personal property and other assets
An estate plan can provide significant peace of mind by ensuring that your money and property are protected, plans are in place if you become ill, and your accounts and property pass down according to your wishes.
What Other Key Elements of an Estate Plan Should You Consider?
Power of Attorney Documents
Are the proper powers of attorney in place? A financial power of attorney designates an individual to make financial and property decisions (e.g., opening a bank account, signing a deed, getting your mail, etc.) should you become unable to handle your own affairs. A medical power of attorney designates a person you trust to make medical decisions for you when you are otherwise unable to speak for yourself.
Ensure that you have an advance directive, also called a living will, which memorializes your wishes concerning your end-of-life care, such as whether you want to receive life support if you are in a vegetative state or have a terminal condition.
Plans In Case of Emergency
Do you have insurance? Suppose you become incapacitated (unable to manage your own affairs) or die. In that case, it is vital for your family or loved ones to have information about your insurance. This may include life, health, disability, long-term care insurance, etc. Knowing this information can help your family file any necessary claims.
Having the right amount of coverage is also important if you become ill or die, leaving behind loved ones who rely on your financial support.
Keeping Information In a Safe Place for Emergencies
Compile a list of your accounts and other important information that may be needed to manage your accounts and property if you become incapacitated (or to settle your affairs after you are gone). Keep this information in a safe place and share the location only with trusted family members or other loved ones.
This list should include at least the following information:
- Bank and investment accounts
- Titles to vehicles and homes
- Credit card accounts or loans
- Digital accounts (such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter) and passwords
- Social Security card, passport, and birth certificate
A list of legal, financial, and medical professionals who have performed services for you is also essential. The list should include their contact information so your loved ones can easily reach them if you or they need the professional’s help.
You should also have HIPAA authorizations in place with medical professionals to ensure that your loved ones can obtain needed information.
You Need an Estate Planning Attorney For Best Results
At Vail Gardner Law Firm, we understand that estate planning can be a complex and sensitive process, and we are here to guide you every step of the way. While creating a will in North Carolina is a significant step towards protecting your assets and ensuring your wishes are honored, having the expertise of an experienced estate planning attorney can make all the difference.
Our team of dedicated professionals is well-versed in the intricacies of North Carolina estate law and can help you navigate the legal landscape to create a comprehensive and legally sound will tailored to your unique circumstances. With our personalized approach and attention to detail, we strive to provide you and your loved ones with the peace of mind that comes from knowing your legacy is secure and your estate will be handled according to your wishes.
Don’t leave your future to chance; let us assist you in crafting an estate plan that reflects your desires and protects what matters most to you. Contact us today to schedule a consultation and take the first step toward achieving the best results for your estate planning needs.