Thinking about dying and leaving your family behind is difficult. Yet, it’s imperative to plan for the event of your death. Creating a last will and testament ensures your assets go to the people you want, instead of the state deciding what will happen to them. An experienced Cary estate planning attorney will be your best resource when it comes to figuring out how a last will and testament will fit into your estate plan.
A last will and testament, often shortened to will, is a legal document that contains your wishes regarding personal property, real estate, and dependents after you pass. The document provides those you leave behind with instructions about what to do with your possessions. For example, you might choose to leave your possessions to one or more people or donate them to a charitable organization. Wills also provide guidance about the custody of minor dependents, management of financial accounts, and other financial assets.
The honest answer is that every adult needs a last will and testament. Even those with few assets can make sure their personal possessions land in the right hands after they are gone. However, the need for a will greatly increases when someone is married, has children, or has high-value financial and real estate assets.
In North Carolina, asset distribution follows the state’s intestate succession laws when someone does not have a last will and testament. You might assume that your spouse will get everything after you die, but this is not always the case. If you have less than $60,000 in personal assets, your spouse will get everything. When assets exceed $60,000, children receive a portion of the estate, and sometimes parents of the deceased have rights to assets. If you want to ensure your spouse receives everything, you need to create a last will and testament. Similarly, if you want someone outside your family to receive a portion of your assets, you also need a will.
North Carolina’s intestate laws ensure your kids get a portion of your estate if you die without a last will and testament. If you have one child, your spouse and child equally split your assets. If you have more than two children, your spouse gets only one-third of the estate. This might not be an issue. However, if your current spouse is a stepparent, it could play into how you want to distribute your property. If you want your assets dispersed differently from intestate laws, you must create a will to avoid any uncertainty. This is especially true if you want your spouse to receive everything, or you want to disinherit one or more of your children.
Creating a last will and testament is especially important for single parents who have full physical and legal custody of their children. If something happens to a single parent, other family members might fight over rights to take in children, or no one may step up, potentially leaving the state to place minor children in a foster home. You can name a trusted friend or family member as the guardian of your children to ensure they get taken care of the way you wish.
Whether you are single, married, or with or without children, you need a will if you have an abundance of high-value assets. If your net worth is in the hundreds of thousands or millions, you can be sure those left behind will try to claim their piece. Homes, large boats, expensive cars, and businesses are only a few examples of the things you need to plan for, not to mention any large financial assets.
Once a person of sound mind reaches age 18, they can create a last will and testament. Most wills include the following features:
Wills sometimes include other instructions. For example, you might instruct your family to cremate you instead of burying after your death, or you might have specific instructions related to a memorial service or funeral.
You technically do not need a lawyer to create a last will and testament, but it’s in your best interest to let a lawyer draft your will. It is important to keep in mind that a will is only one piece of your estate plan. An experienced attorney can help you draft a will that accurately reflects your wishes and ensure it gets carried out once you’re gone as well as advise you on the other crucial elements your estate plan needs and how they all work together. This protects your wealth, assets, and family for years to come, allows them to avoid a lengthy probate process, and creates clarity for those you leave behind.
In general, in order for a last will and testament to be valid, it needs to meet the following conditions:
A will does not expire. However, a will can be revoked or amended. If someone changes their mind (or has a change in circumstances) they have the ability to revoke the will altogether in order to create a new one, or they can make amendments to the will.
Some things should not be included in a will, since they are handled elsewhere in your estate plan. These include: