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North Carolina Estate Planning Checklist

If you’re like many families, there is no right time to think about estate planning. You have to spend time talking about your health, mortality, and taxes. You must focus on issues you’d rather not think about until it’s absolutely necessary. It can be an uncomfortable process, but it’s the best course of action for establishing long-term asset protection. If you take the time now, you’ll have a legally binding plan that protects your estate and meets your desires for your family’s future. Read on for our Estate Planning Checklist to help you get started.

Your North Carolina Estate Planning Checklist

North Carolina estate planning lawyers help you execute a plan that addresses your current and future goals. You’ll cover a lot of information during your initial consultation. Our Estate Planning Checklist helps you learn more about key concepts before it’s time to make your final decisions.

1. Inventory Your Assets

Create a comprehensive written inventory of your personal and real property, bank accounts, and other items. It’s easier to work through the estate planning process when you clearly identify your assets.

  • Financial Accounts: Checking, savings, retirement accounts, online accounts, cryptocurrency wallets, insurance policies, annuities, etc.
  • Personal Assets: Jewelry, artwork, collectibles, family heirlooms, NFTs, etc.
  • Stocks and Financial Instruments: Certificates, bonds, investments, and other holdings
  • Ownership Documents: Deeds, titles, sales documents, patents, mortgage documents, etc.

Share your lists with your North Carolina estate planning attorney and your personal representative. Also, tell your personal representative where the items and any account passwords can be located.

2. Make a List of All of Your Debts

Upon your death, your legal representative must issue a public notice to all creditors and pay all valid debts.

3. Designate Beneficiaries for Your Financial Accounts

You can minimize probate complications by designating a beneficiary for retirement, savings, checking, or other financial accounts. The money goes directly to the beneficiary and avoids probate.

Check with your estate planning attorney to learn more about designating beneficiaries on Employee Retirement Income Security Act sanctioned accounts.

4. Consider Having Your Real Property Retitled

North Carolina General Statute §31C-3 automatically grants a surviving spouse only 50% of any property purchased during the marriage. If you and your partner or spouse don’t own your real property jointly, you should review the logistics of formally changing the title.

  • If your title is specifically worded to grant “joint tenancy with rights of survivorship” as established under NC G.S. §41-71, your spouse or partner can avoid probate.
  • Married couples also avoid probate when they have a title structured as “tenancy by the entirety” in accordance with NC G.S. § 41-56.

5. Consider Strategies for Preserving and Protecting Your Estate

Without proper protection, taxes and other claims can diminish your assets’ value over time. Estate planning attorneys help you establish a personalized plan and execute the formal documents to implement your strategy.

  • Asset Transfers: The North Carolina Uniform Transfer to Minors Act allows you to transfer property to a minor without tax consequences until they reach adulthood. You may also transfer assets to your spouse.
  • Living Trust: Your attorney places your assets in a revocable or irrevocable trust. Your private trust document designates the assets, the trustee who controls them, and how to distribute them after your death. This allows your heirs to avoid probate.
  • Lifetime Gifts: As of 2022, you can give anyone a nontaxable annual gift of up to $16,000. You can give gifts totaling up to $11.7 million over your lifetime. You may also give monetary gifts to an educational or medical institution on behalf of someone else.
  • Annuities and Life Insurance Policies: You can use a lump sum to purchase a paid annuity or life insurance policy. Upon your death, your named beneficiaries and/or heirs receive funds based on the annuity or insurance contracts.
  • Life Insurance Trusts: Your attorney sets up a trust that owns life insurance policies naming you as the insured. Upon your death, the trustee distributes the benefits to the named beneficiaries.
  • Charitable Trusts and Donations: Your attorney sets up a trust that donates to one or more charities. Donations are tax-deductible if they meet IRS Charitable Contribution guidelines. Your trust may provide other financial benefits to you. You may also donate to a charity outright.

6. Consider Which Assets to Bequeath in Your Will

Your written will provides a legal document that explains which heirs you want to receive your assets after you die. Your attorney can construct your will to designate child custody, funeral instructions, and other issues. In North Carolina, your will must meet statutory guidelines under NC G.S. §31.

7. Consider Your Health Directives

Your attorney can create documents that confirm your healthcare choices. In North Carolina, you have three options.

  • Healthcare Power of Attorney: A document that gives your chosen representative the authority to make medical decisions on your behalf under certain medical circumstances:
    – You are incurably ill
    – You will never likely regain consciousness
    – You have an advanced irreversible cognitive loss
  • Living Will: A document that explains your healthcare choices if you’re incapacitated and unable to make your own decisions
  • Advance Instruction for Mental Health Treatment: A document that designates your representative and gives them authority to make mental health treatment decisions should you become mentally unable to make your own care choices

Contact an Estate Planning Attorney

When you want to preserve and protect your assets, you need a strategy that helps you meet your goals. A North Carolina estate planning attorney will explain your choices and help you make the right decisions for you and your family. Once you have your plan in place, you can review your choices periodically and modify them to meet your changing requirements. Call Cary Estate Planning today for a free consultation.

Author Bio

Paul Yokabitus

Paul Yokabitus is the CEO and Managing Partner of Cary Estate Planning, a Cary, NC, estate planning law firm. With years of experience in estate and elder law, he has zealously represented clients in various legal matters, including estate planning, guardianship, Medicaid planning, estate administration, and other cases.

Paul received his Juris Doctor from the Campbell University School of Law and is a North Carolina Bar Association member. He has received numerous accolades for his work, including being named among the “Best Attorney in Cary” in 2016 and 2017 by Cary News and Rising Star in 2020-2023 by Super Lawyers.

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