What Is an Estate Plan? How Does It Protect You in North Carolina?

Even though estate planning may not top your to-do list, maybe it should.  Leaving behind clear instructions on how your estate should be handled, who is the responsible party that will make decisions, and how your assets should be divided is essential to protect both you and your loved ones.  In the absence of an estate plan, the probate court may make decisions concerning your estate that might not be in your best interest.  Though an estate plan is not something that is fun and exciting, it is important that your heirs know your final wishes and it will relieve them of making difficult decisions concerning your estate.

What Is Included in an Estate Plan?

An estate plan begins with a will or living trust but can be expanded to include other provisions such as a power of attorney, medical directives, and other special considerations.  An estate plan can provide for:

  • If you become ill or incapacitated, it can specify how you want your finances handled and give power of attorney to the person you designate to make decisions on medical care.  
  • If you are a business owner, it can provide instructions on how to handle the business in case of your death or incapacity.
  • The care and guardianship of minor children can be handled through estate planning.  
  • An estate plan can provide for the care of loved ones who cannot care for themselves.
  • It can help you and your heirs to minimize taxes, court costs, and other legal fees by providing a trust for your survivors.

How to Get Started With Your Estate Plan

Estate plans are not just for the elderly or the wealthy.  Estate plans offer protection to anyone who has assets.  Without a legal plan, your assets may be divided unfairly or could even become the property of the state.  Your dependents may not be cared for the way you want, and much of your estate could be spent on taxes and court fees. Just follow these steps to get started:

  1. Contact an estate planning attorney to discuss your estate plan.  Inquire about the attorney’s experience and set up a consultation.  Listen to the lawyer’s suggestions and ask questions that apply to your particular situation.
  2. Determine the provisions you want to be handled in your estate plan.  List your assets and who should inherit them.  In addition to a will, do you want to provide a medical directive?  Are there special requirements that you need to include, such as dependent children, special-needs loved ones, or pets?
  3. Speak with your loved ones.  Explain your wishes so they aren’t blind-sighted if something happens to you. This gives them a chance to ask questions if they have any.  

How Does an Estate Plan Protect You and Your Heirs?

If you die without a will, your assets will be distributed according to North Carolina’s Intestate Law, which essentially divides the property between your closest relatives.  That starts with your spouse and children, and if none are living, it goes to your parents and grandchildren.  When there are no available relatives, even as distant as nieces and nephews, the court will award the property to the state.  If you want to award assets to persons who are not family members or to organizations such as a church or nonprofit in North Carolina, that must be contained in your will.

An estate plan may contain a living will, which provides instructions on how to handle medical emergencies.  This helps by not putting the decision-making burden on distraught loved ones.  You can also protect your children from being put in foster care or in the home of someone other than your designated guardian.

If you are providing support for a loved one with special needs, you can set up a special needs trust in your estate plan that provides future care in the event of your death.  This person will be protected with care for as long as your trust provides.

By consulting a qualified attorney who is an expert in estate planning, you can protect your heirs by avoiding unnecessary taxes and penalties. Though North Carolina does not have an estate or inheritance tax, there are federal taxes that apply to certain larger estates.    

Perhaps one of the most important protections offered by estate planning is peace of mind for your survivors.  An estate plan takes decision-making in difficult times off of the shoulders of your loved ones and provides them with an indisputable plan to handle your wishes.  It eliminates arguments and unfair division of property.  Making an estate plan may be the most loving and thoughtful thing you can do for your family.

Your estate plan should be reviewed periodically so that updates to your assets, beneficiaries, or a change in your wishes occurs.  Regardless of your age or the size of your estate, getting started now is the best way to protect your family and yourself. You can get started as soon as today by requesting a free consultation with an experienced estate planning lawyer in Cary.

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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