Estate Planning – What a Great New Year’s Resolution

By: Stella Knight, Attorney

You may not be able to take it with you when you go, but having an estate plan will make sure that your property goes where you want it to go after your death. Whether you are single, married, with or without children, or contemplating a second marriage, everyone should have an estate plan. While the issues confronting each person vary due to their unique situation, it is important to realize that as your life changes, your estate plan also needs to change.

Many people feel that estate planning is only for the wealthy and is done only to save taxes. This is not true. Several reasons to create an estate plan may be:

  1. To make sure your assets are distributed per your wishes.
  2. To decide how and when beneficiaries will receive their inheritance.
  3. To select the person(s) who will manage your estate (executors, trustees, etc.).
  4. To select a guardian for your minor children.
  5. To provide for the orderly continuation or sale of a family business.

Having difficulty getting started? The first steps are to:

  1. Identify your assets.
  2. Identify your liabilities.
  3. Determine how each asset is titled (individually, joint with rights of survivorship, etc.)

What are the essential legal documents for estate planning?

  1. Durable Power of Attorney
  2. Health Care Power of Attorney
  3. Declarations for a Desire for a Natural Death (Living Will)
  4. Last Will and Testament
  5. Trusts – Irrevocable and Revocable

Still unsure about the process?

Consider the alternatives:

  1. There’s no will, it’s unsigned, or no one knows where to find it. Don’t wait for disaster. If you die without a will, the State of North Carolina decides who inherits your property. Don’t miss an opportunity to be able to plan for your grandchildren’s future, especially if your children do not have money management skills. Perhaps you would like to remember your grandson and leave him your golf clubs. Estate planning opens many opportunities that you may not recognize now.
  2. You have not drawn up a power of attorney or healthcare power of attorney. Who will pay your bills, taxes, and make investment decisions if you’re unable to do so due to a mental or physical impairment? No one can predict the unexpected and it is important to plan for emergencies. Who will make your health care decisions when you are unable to do so? If you do not have a spouse, it is important to appoint one of your children or a trusted friend who knows your wishes concerning life support and whether you want heroic measures to keep you alive. Don’t leave these important decisions to a court-appointed guardian.

Don’t wait until a crisis to seek professional advice. It is present-giving time and it is New Year’s Resolution time. Give your family an estate plan. Make sure that if something happens to you, your mark will be on your family’s future. Resolve to be responsible to your loved ones today. When you are in good health and have a clear mind, you have many more options available to you than when decisions are made during a crisis.