Getting your estate plan in place can be both stressful and a great relief. You’re making such important decisions that you just don’t want to make the wrong choice for something that could have a significant impact after you’re gone or if you become disable. “What if my executor doesn’t want to do it?”, “What if I want my kids to be more active in my place when they are adults?”
Great questions, and very common as well. Many people think that estate planning is something that you do once and never revisit it. Once you’ve got a will in place, you surely won’t need another will in the future, right? Maybe. Another will? Probably not. But most people’s intentions change at least once after their estate plan is signed and in place. Whether that’s the people who serve or how your beneficiaries benefit from your wealth, what you thought was proper in your 40’s may be very different in your 60’s. And that’s okay. There’s no right answer, and certainly people change over time.
The question then becomes,”If my intentions and wishes change, can I my will or trust in North Carolina? And, if so, what does that entail?”
Any changes to a will in North Carolina can be made, as much or as little as is needed, as long as you are alive and are competent to make such changes. You must be able to understand the legal significance of changing your will, and that the changes would impact your estate and beneficiaries. Okay on both items? Then you’re ready to make the change.
First, you need to be confident in what the change is that you’d like to make. Are you tweaking the order of executors? Are you changing the distribution scheme for your beneficiaries? Or maybe changing who benefits? Whatever it is, get clear on what your best-case scenario needs to be for your plan and let the lawyer do the rest.
Second, amendments to a will have to be performed and executed with the same formalities as the will itself. That means it must be in a signed writing, witnessed by two independent adults, and notarized. This may be editing and re-executing the will itself or creating a formal amendment to the will called a “codicil” which is a separate document that relates back to and modifies the will itself.
Third, adding the codicil to your plan documents or replacing the old will with the new will ensures that there’s no confusion when your family needs to sort out what your plan requests of them.
Trusts have largely the same rules for amendment: you’ve got to be alive and competent to make the change itself; but lack the same formality requirements of amending the will as set forth above. Trusts do not need to be witnessed, so a trust change can be made with less logistical issues (lining up witnesses) than changing the will. Like wills, trusts can be edited and re-executed in its entirety, or a formal amendment of the trust can be created and signed. There’s no right answer as to which is right for you, but most of the time it’s easier on your family and fiduciaries to have one unifying document, rather than several that related to each other.
Some people delay planning because they’re just not sure what BEST plan is for them. But in reality, given what we’ve discussed above, it’s better to have a plan in place that’s 95+% what you want knowing you can change it in the future, than to have no plan at all. Don’t wait. Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail.