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What Should I Know About Estate Planning?

Sanjay R. Gohil & Ruiling (Amy) Zhang July 7, 2022

Why should I set up a will and start estate planning? 

You don't want your family to be left scrambling to pay debts or settle your estate when you pass away. Even though it is hard to think about what life will be like after you're gone, it's still essential to begin planning to protect your legacy as well as your loved ones. Setting up a will now also allows you to name Executors of your estate and make specific bequests of your personal property to your heirs, and you can prevent future heartache by putting your estate in order now.

What is a last will and testament or simple will?

A will is a legally enforceable declaration of how you want your property to be distributed at the time of your death.  It serves as a blueprint to guide your Executor in distributing the assets in your estate like your real estate, bank accounts, personal possessions, property, etc. to your heirs at the time of your death. A will is revocable during your lifetime, and its terms are not operative until your death. After execution, your will should be stored with your other important legal documents (for example: in a safe in your home or a safe deposit box at your bank). Your will eventually gets filed with the Clerk of Court at your local county courthouse where you reside at the time of your death. Your Executor or Personal Representative typically files your will for you after your death, and therefore, they should always be aware of where you store the original signed copy of your will.  

A will allows you to plan for your family’s care and financial security after your death, and also allows you to name a guardian to care for your minor children, or possibly to set up a testamentary trust for your children to provide for their education and health care expenses, or possibly for other beneficiaries with special needs. You can also designate one or more Trustees to manage this trust for them.    

Are “fill in the blank” estate planning software or generic Internet forms sufficient to create a will?

It is always best to seek the advice and guidance of an experienced professional like an estate planning attorney to draft documents for you pursuant to state law, especially since every state has its own probate laws and requirements.  

Whatever you choose, certain minimum state law requirements must be met when finalizing a will.  For example, under North Carolina law the will must be signed in the presence of two disinterested and competent witnesses over the age of 18, and the will must be notarized, and should also contain a self-proving affidavit. 

What should be considered when drafting a will? 

There are a few other points that should be considered when drafting a will as part of a comprehensive estate plan.

For example, have you made considerations to ensure that the appointed Executors are from North Carolina or are at least working with local individuals to accept service of process on behalf of the estate? Was language included to waive the bond requirement for Executors to preserve money for the estate and your beneficiaries? Did you consider contingencies like alternate beneficiaries if your initial heirs pre-decease you? Do you have children from a prior marriage or adopted children, and have you considered making itemized or specific bequests of personal property assets? What about the disposition of your remains or possible organ donation? And finally, have you updated your estate planning documents over time to account for statutory changes in probate laws?

Don't wait for the worst to happen. Find peace of mind and plan for the future by contacting the Law Offices of Sanjay R. Gohil, PLLC today. Otherwise, you can call us at (704) 814-0729! Our firm can walk you through drafting a will and developing a comprehensive estate plan.