Our estate planning and administration practice reflects our values of family and tradition. We understand our clients’ desires to preserve their legacy and provide for their beneficiaries and charitable or humanitarian interests.
Whether you want to create a new will or are altering the terms of an existing will, our estate planning attorneys can give you legal advice geared toward ensuring that your wishes are carried out. If you are concerned about family members making critical medical decisions on your behalf, we can help with a health care power of attorney or living will. Our estate planning attorneys also assist clients with the creation of durable powers of attorney, living trusts, qualified personal residence trusts, and life insurance trusts.
Our estate planning attorneys also represent estate executors and administrators in a variety of estate administration services. While our estate planning lawyers provide meticulous technical assistance with matters related to estate planning and probate, we are also profoundly aware of the complexity of interpersonal family relationships as well as the emotional toll the loss of a loved one can take on a family. We work closely with families to avoid or settle intergenerational disputes amicably and promptly. Furthermore, we represent clients in will caveats (contests), as well as in establishing guardianships and conservatorships.
Do you need an Estate Plan?
Everyone should have an estate plan. Whether you have an abundance of wealth or you simply want to make sure your valuables end up in the right hands, there are plenty of estate planning tools to provide you with the assurance that your family, finances, and property will be taken care of long after you are gone.
What is Estate Planning?
At its simplest level, an estate plan is nothing other than a set of directions for your loved ones after you become incapacitated or pass away. Having an estate plan means that important end-of-life decisions, asset distribution, and financial matters are managed the way you want them to be. Estate planning is also a tool used to reduce or eliminate estate taxes and protect your property long after your death.
With an estate plan, you appoint someone to manage your finances and make decisions about your medical support and life-sustaining treatment. An effective estate plan also helps you control how your property is managed or distributed at death and beyond.
While every estate plan is different, the most common components found in an effective estate plan are the will, advance directive, power of attorney, and trust.
What is a Last Will and Testament?
Commonly known simply as a will, this legal document details how you want your property distributed and/or managed and allows you to name an executor or personal representative to settle your estate within the parameters you choose to provide.
To create a valid will, you must be the age of majority, of sound mind, and the document must satisfy the requirements of state law. In North Carolina, this means the will must be signed by the testator or his agent acting under the testator’s direction, and it must be witnessed by two individuals who are not named beneficiaries in the will. Though a written will is preferable, North Carolina also recognizes oral wills in some circumstances.
What is a Trust?
A trust is a legal instrument that allows a trustee to hold the grantor’s property for the benefit of the beneficiaries. A trust is not one size fits all. There are several kinds of trusts, including those that can be changed with your life circumstances and irrevocable trusts. Unlike a will which often requires your estate to go through probate to transfer ownership to the intended beneficiaries, ownership of the property conveyed by a trust is usually transferred before death or at the time the trust is created with the will serving as a catch-all for any remaining property.
Testamentary trusts are drafted as part of a will and therefore, are a matter of public record and subject to probate. Property ownership does not change until the trust becomes effective upon the testator’s death. A testamentary trust allows you to specify and control how your property is distributed, when ownership transfers, and how your property is managed even after any ownership changes.
As a separate estate planning tool, the living trust is not part of a will and therefore, it is private and does not require probate. Living trusts require the grantor to invest a considerable amount of time and effort to transfer titles, change bank accounts, re-deed the house, or otherwise transfer ownership to the intended beneficiaries for the living trust to become effective.
While a testamentary trust does not help with estate taxes, the living trust is likely to minimize and may even eliminate estate taxes particularly when the living trust is irrevocable. Many factors go into determining which trust is appropriate for your estate and needs.
An experienced Wilmington estate planning attorney can guide you in making the best decision to honor your wishes and benefit your loved ones.
What is Probate?
Probate is the legal process for settling an estate. In North Carolina, the Clerk of Superior Court manages the probate process through which the decedent’s assets are transferred into the hands of the rightful heir(s). A personal representative of the estate, either named in the will or appointed by the court, is responsible for administering the estate. This requires taking inventory of the decedent’s assets, notifying the decedent’s creditors, and paying any remaining debts.
The probate process can be lengthy, complicated, and come with expensive court costs and attorney fees. Having a will does not necessarily spare your estate from probate, but because certain assets like trusts or property co-owned with someone else are not subject to probate, an effective estate plan can make settling your estate more manageable.
What is Estate Administration?
The post-mortem process of gathering, managing, and distributing a decedent’s property is known as estate administration. Estate administration can be complicated, with many details and steps to follow. The will is reviewed first, and once approved by the Clerk of Court, the executor is appointed. Typically named in the will, the executor is responsible for administering the estate which includes taking inventory of assets, identifying and notifying creditors, paying debts, and distributing any remaining assets.
What are Advanced Directives?
Advanced Directives, also known as living wills, are documents that guide medical providers and loved ones in providing life-saving medical care when you are unable to consent. An advanced directive applies when you are incapacitated, terminally ill, or otherwise unable to communicate your desires. Decisions about medical treatment such as life support or other life-sustaining interventions will be made by medical providers or become the responsibility of already grieving loved ones if you do not have an advanced directive to guide them.
Do I Need an Estate Planning Attorney?
Absolutely. While there are resources available to assist you with filling in the blanks for simple estate documents, estate planning is serious business that should not be a DIY-project. The laws regarding estate planning are complicated and full of technicalities that make drafting an effective estate plan challenging. One simple typo or error could result in an invalid document or worse, completely change the intent.
An experienced Wilmington estate planning attorney not only ensures valid, effective documents, but also has the knowledge to recommend for the best tools to ensure your finances, property, and beneficiaries are cared for according to your standards. When it comes to planning for the future, trust the professionals to tailor the perfect, detailed estate plan to meet your needs.