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What Else Should I Know About Wills?

Sanjay R. Gohil and Ruiling (Amy) Zhang Jan. 26, 2023

What assets can I include in my will?

Through a will, all of a person's assets, including, but not limited to, land, personal property (like jewelry, cars, and furniture), money, stocks, and an ownership stake in a company, can be transferred to beneficiaries. Some assets, including retirement savings accounts and life insurance policies, are transferred to a beneficiary outside of probate and a will.

What assets are usually not included in a will? 

Even though they are part of a person's estate, several types of assets are typically transferred to a beneficiary without a will. Different categories of assets have different reasons for this "automatic" transfer. For instance, a defined beneficiary plan, such as a life insurance policy or savings account for retirement, often names a beneficiary who will receive plan assets following the account or policyholder's demise. When couples own real estate, a "right of survivorship" usually exists and transfers ownership of the property to the surviving spouse if the property is titled as tenancy by the entirety.  Checking and savings accounts also typically have beneficiary forms (or payable-on-death forms) that can be filled out in advance to allow for transfer at the account holder’s death.

Who may be excluded or disinherited from a will?

A will may disinherit any beneficiaries of the deceased's real estate and other assets except a surviving spouse. According to the North Carolina General Statute § 30-3.1., a surviving spouse with legal residence in North Carolina always qualifies to receive an "elective part" of the inheritance. "Elective part" is the spouse's share of the Total Net Assets and is based upon the length of the deceased's marriage with the said spouse. (Source: North Carolina General Statute § 30-3.1). If a testator has estranged relatives that they intend to “write out of” their will (e.g., children or siblings that they no longer see), then it is generally advisable to mention this directly in the will so there is no issue as to the testator’s intent when the will is probated.

How is a will executed? 

Following its signing and notarization, your will should be kept secure with your other important legal documents, such as in a house safe or a bank safe deposit box. At the courthouse in the county where you reside at the time of your death, your Executor or Personal Representative should file the will with the Clerk of Court (usually at the time of the testator’s death). Because of this, your Executor or Personal Representative should always be aware of where you keep the original signed copy of your will since they will need to file it on your behalf upon your death. 

Can a guardian be designated for the deceased’s minor children in a will?

The State usually gives custody of the children to the surviving parent.  In the event both parents pass away, a will can be used to designate a legal guardian for your minor children. Also, when designating a foreign individual to serve as a permanent guardian for your children, it is advisable to also designate a temporary guardian who can watch over your minor children until the permanent guardian can travel here to pick up your children.

If you have any questions or would like to set up a will, contact our office at (704) 814-0729! You can also use the Contact Us form to reach our office.