Planning your estate now is an important part of protecting your family and your legacy. An effective estate plan will ensure your assets are managed and distributed according to your wishes once you pass away. The initial step in preparing a proper estate plan is understanding the differences between all the documents you can use. There are many tools someone can use to craft their estate plan, but the two documents that people tend to use interchangeably are the last will (also known as the “will”) and testament and living will.

Even though they may sound similar, these items are quite different. Understanding the differences between the two legal documents can help you make a well-informed decision regarding your estate planning.

Will vs. Living Will

A will is a legal document that allows you to specify how you would like your property and assets to be distributed after your death. In North Carolina, as in most states, a properly executed will help protect your spouse, children, and other relatives by ensuring that your property is distributed according to your wishes.

A living will (also known as advance directives), on the other hand, is a document that provides end of life instructions in the event  you become incapacitated or unable to make those decisions independently. Sometimes the living will can be a separate document from your Health Care Power of Attorney, or it can be part of your Health Care Power of Attorney.

Are You Required to Have a Will or Living Will in North Carolina? 

While not required,  it is recommended to create a will to ensure your wishes are properly carried out at your death. This document will also allow you to designate how you want your assets distributed and help avoid potential disputes between your beneficiaries.

If you pass away without a will, the distribution of your assets will be determined by the state’s intestacy laws, which vary by jurisdiction. However, this distribution may not align with your specific wishes and may not prioritize the individuals you would have chosen as beneficiaries.

In addition to a will, there is no legal requirement that you should execute a living will in North Carolina. However, it is strongly recommended that all adults (this includes anybody over the age of 18) have a living will. Having a living will is important because it outlines your wishes regarding end of life decisions if you cannot make those decisions due to illness or incapacitation.

Without a living will, your family or someone else will make your end-of-life care decisions. Unfortunately, these decisions will be based on what they believe is best for you and may not coincide with your wishes. That’s why you should write a living will to ensure your end of life decisions are made according to your wishes.

Contact Our Wilmington Estate Planning Attorneys Today to Get Started

If you want to protect your estate and create an effective estate plan to protect your family, the Wilmington estate planning attorneys at Rountree Losee can help. To learn more about our services in North Carolina, call us at (910) 763-3404 to schedule your initial consultation.