Though none of us enjoy thinking about it, death is inevitable. And thanks to our unwillingness to face it, it can often catch us unprepared. Unfortunately, this can often result in a messier, longer, and more expensive North Carolina probate process for our loved ones, which is the exact opposite of what we want to leave them. Instead, this article explains how just a little estate planning can go a long way toward ensuring our wishes and legacies are protected, both before and after we die. It includes
- The key documents you will need to create and how an estate plan can help you even before you pass on.
- What happens when someone dies without a will or estate plan in North Carolina?
- When is the best time to plan your estate with an attorney (and when it is too late).
Why Do We Need Better Estate Planning In North Carolina?
While estate planning certainly includes planning for the distribution of your assets, and property after death, a full estate plan involves so much more. Including many elements that come into play before we pass on.
For example, advanced health care directives help ensure we die with dignity, while powers of attorney ensure our assets are protected if we become incapacitated. Estate planning is, therefore, all about looking toward the future and planning for every eventuality.
What Happens If Someone Dies Without An Estate Plan Or Will In North Carolina?
While a full estate plan can cover nearly any eventuality, there is one inevitability that every estate planning attorney will help you prepare for. It is vital that you have at least a will in your estate plan because it governs the basics of how your belongings, assets and property will be distributed and to whom.
If you do not have a will when you die, North Carolina state statutes step in to determine how your assets and property will be distributed. This may be nothing like what you want, but it can easily be bypassed with a properly executed will, which will overrule the state statute.
When Is The Best Time To Start Planning? Is It Ever Too Late?
The good news is that as long as you are still breathing and sound of mind, it is not too late to start estate planning. The bad news is you never know whether that will be the case tomorrow. As a result, it can all too unexpectedly become too late, and the best time to start planning your estate is usually right now.
This is even more true if you have begun to build up significant wealth, assets, or property or if you have just undergone a significant life change, such as a marriage, divorce, or starting a family.
Though you might not be in possession of substantial assets, it can still be important to undergo at least some estate planning. Even if you are 18 and have nothing much to pass on, you could become incapacitated. You might want to have directives in place for, as an example, what should happen if you are in a car crash but left comatose or unable to care for yourself instead of being killed.
Finally, if you have made an estate plan, but it has been five, ten, or twenty-plus years since, then it may be time to update your estate plan to reflect changes in your life. The last thing you want is your assets going to an ex-spouse instead of your current one!
At Its Simplest, What Should Proper Estate Planning Do For You?
At its core, estate planning is about peace of mind. It is about ensuring that no matter what happens, you can be assured that your assets, property, and legacy will be properly cared for.
An estate plan, a full one, will not just direct where your property will go according to your wishes after you die. It will also set up the right people to help administer your estate before and after you die. It can even take into account tax implications to ensure as little as possible of your estate is lost to taxation.
In short, with the right documents in place, estate planning can do anything and everything needed to ensure your peace of mind and give you control over what happens to your assets and legacy.
What Key Documents Are Generally Required In North Carolina Estate Planning?
We already spoke of the will, which is the most basic and fundamental form of estate planning. A full estate plan crafted with the help of an attorney will, however, include several other essential documents, including:
- Financial power of attorney.
- Healthcare power of attorney.
- An advanced healthcare directive (sometimes called a living will) which is a directive towards a doctor that you may see in an emergency situation.
- Trusts can offer alternatives or supplements to your will, controlling what will happen to your assets when you die without passing through North Carolina probate court.
What Are Trusts And How Does Trust Administration Compare With Probate?
Trusts are estate planning tools that allow you to transfer ownership of assets to the trust before you die, with instructions for how they should be handled until and after your death. Doing so offers a number of advantages, including bypassing the North Carolina probate process.
Probate is normally required whenever anyone passes away with assets still in their name in order to have them transferred and distributed. By transferring the property out of your name to a trust before you die, trusts can thus allow you to avoid probate entirely, which can save your family time, expense, and potential conflict.
This is because while a trust is governed by contract law and supervised by a fiduciary, probate requires going through the court to review all the documents before handing over responsibility to your executor.
Finally, another advantage of trusts is that any revocable trust can easily be changed and altered during your lifetime.
How Often Should North Carolinians Be Reviewing And Updating Our Estate Planning Documents?
Change is as inevitable in life as death is, and while you cannot plan for every eventuality, you can certainly adapt your plan to them as they occur. A good rule of thumb for estate planning is to re-examine everything at least every ten years to ensure it is up to date and reflects your current wishes.
Of course, you should also review and update them whenever your situation changes. Anytime there is any significant change in your assets, for example, if you sold your house or business, or if you have acquired new assets, or created a business, you should review your estate plan with your attorney. Similarly, if there are big changes in your personal or family life, such as a marriage, divorce, childbirth, or estrangement, it can be vital to update your estate plan to reflect them.
Even without such changes, however, it is worth reviewing your estate plan at least once every ten years. Laws change, after all, and there may be new ways to set up your estate plan to your advantage. Your estate planning attorney will help guide you through the process and ensure that at every step along the way, your plan reflects your wishes and offers that essential peace of mind.
For more information on Estate Planning In North Carolina, an initial consultation could be your first step toward long-term peace of mind. Get the information and guidance you need by calling (252) 371-0127 today.