A will in North Carolina is a binding legal document that dictates how your “estate” – that is, your personal property and real estate (depending upon how title is held) – should be distributed after you pass. The purpose of a will is to protect your property and your wishes by specifically outlining what will happen to your estate and who will inherit what.

Aside from distributing your estate to family and friends, you can also use a will to leave money or property to an organization to which you’re committed, to dictate how to care for any minor children you leave behind, and to designate an executor: the person who ensures that the terms of your will are honored.

A will is typically a written document, but there are other types of wills. In some cases, the law will recognize oral wills, created in expedient situations in which there is no time for the testator to draw up a written will. North Carolina law also recognizes holographic wills, which are written in the testator’s handwriting and found after his death among his personal effects.

Why Do I Need A Will?

In North Carolina, if you pass without a will, your property will be distributed according to the State’s “intestacy” laws. The laws will distribute your property according to a statutory scheme, first to your closest relatives, starting with your spouse and children. If you don’t have a spouse or children, your grandchildren or parents will take your property, and after that, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and in-laws. If you have no living relatives, the State will take your property.

Because of this, it is advisable to create a written will executed in accordance with North Carolina law, so that you can ensure your estate is distributed according to your wishes.

How Do I Create My Will?

While you can draft a will yourself, it is advisable to consult an experienced estate planning attorney to ensure that your document adequately protects your interests – especially if you suspect it may be contested, or if you want to disinherit your spouse or a child.

North Carolina law requires the testator to be at least 18 years old and of sound mind: Once someone has become mentally incapacitated, he is no longer able to execute a will. Also, the law imposes certain formalities in the execution of a will, requiring the testator to sign the document in front of two witnesses, who also sign the will.

It’s Never Too Early to Plan Ahead

While no one enjoys thinking about his own death or a loved one’s death, it is never too early to start planning to settle your own estate. Failing to draft and execute a descriptive, legally compliant will can cause problems from the State’s interference at best, to inter-family disputes at the worst.

If you need help putting your North Carolina will in place, the Wilmington law firm of Rountree Losee is well-equipped to help you articulate your wishes and express them in a binding legal document. If you have questions or would like to start your estate planning process, please contact our Wilmington office at 910-763-3404  for a consultation.