Wills & Estate Planning

Preparations

Few people want to sit down with a lawyer and discuss estate planning and have wills and other documents drafted. Many people put this off for years, trying not to think about it, however the truth is that there are major consequences when you don’t have a proper plan to take care of your loved ones and your assets. No one wants to think about the events that make these documents relevant, however everyone needs to have them in place to protect their assets and their families in the event something happens. At McCollum Law, PC we work with our clients to help them prepare for their future by making sure the important step is taken. Many of our clients tell us that they’ve been meaning to do this for some time. We help people cross estate planning off their To-Do List, by competently handling this important step.

We assist all types of clients in Estate Planning, from wealthy individuals looking to use planning to mitigate the tax consequences associated with certain events, to young couples who are starting a family and want to provide for their children in the event the unthinkable happens. No matter what your situation we are here to help with affordable options for you.

Please call our office at 919-861-4120 to set up a time to come in a talk with us about this important process.

Planning for your Wealth and Health

We offer legal services in the area of simple Wills, Living Wills, and the preparation of Power of Attorney documents to assist people as they carefully plan for their future as well as for their family, their businesses, and important people in their lives.

Our office provides legal counsel and direct you through a planning process which can otherwise seem overwhelming.

Contact us today to make an appointment and learn more about our services.

Wills

A Will, sometimes called a Last Will and Testament, is strongly recommended for everyone, but it is of particular importance to people with minor children, property, specific bequests or wishes regarding your asset distribution at death. 

Individuals with minor children will typically need a trust provision within their will that establishes a guardianship and asset distribution for their minors. Estates of $2 million or more per person usually require special tax and/or estate planning, and we assist clients appropriately based on their needs.

Living Wills

A Living Will, sometimes called a Declaration for a Natural Death, is generally used to express a person’s wishes for medical interventions.

In addition to a living will, a Health Care Proxy or Power of Attorney can designate and direct the person you wish to make healthcare decisions on your behalf in the event that you are:

  • Hospitalized and unable to make health care decisions
  • Permanently incapacitated and no longer able to answer for yourself

Power of Attorney

There are many different reasons why a person may need a power of attorney, including financial and healthcare planning.

A power of attorney can be used in many different situations to designate who can make legal, financial or medical decisions on your behalf.

We strongly recommend that everyone have a durable power of attorney.

The Business of Dying

A McCollum Law production about things that are important to consider when a family member passes away.

Frequently Asked Questions About Estate Planning

What is Estate Planning in North Carolina?

Estate planning is the process of developing and executing the legally binding documents needed to protect your family’s inheritance, manage your estate, and distribute your wealth according to your wishes after your death. It may also include appointing someone to act in your behalf in the event that you become incapacitated in the future.

Do You Need to Have an Estate Plan in Place?

The simple answer is: Yes. There are several reasons why you should work on creating an estate plan. For example:

  • You can make sure that your wealth and property are transferred to the desired beneficiaries after your death. If you die without a will (or “intestate“), then the state controls how your property is distributed after you’re gone. 
  • In the event that you die or become incapacitated, you have the ability to appoint a trusted relative or friend as the guardian for your minor children. You can also ensure that your children’s inheritance will be protected until they come of age.
  • You’ll be able to minimize or even eliminate disagreements between your family members over how your property should be divided after your death.
  • You can also reduce the tax burden on your family by administering your estate in the most cost-effective way (for instance, by means of a trust). 

What Can a Will Accomplish?

A will (aka “last will and testament”) can accomplish several important tasks in terms of estate planning. For instance, you can clearly identify the beneficiaries of your estate in your will. You can name an executor for your estate to administer it according to your wishes. You can also name the preferred guardian(s) for your minor children if something were to happen to you.

What Can a Trust Accomplish?

A trust is a legal relationship in which you (the “grantor”) create a private contract with another person or entity (the “trustee”) for the benefit of a third party (the “beneficiary”). For example, you can create a trust for your minor children so that a conscientious trustee will manage and maintain their estate for them until they are old enough to assume control. 

By developing a legally valid trust, you can protect your family and/or property in the event of your death or incapacitation, and ensure that your designated trustee will closely follow the terms of this contract.

Is a Will the Same Thing as a Trust?

No, these are different documents with different purposes. A will primarily allows you to name who will receive your property and assets after your death. A trust is a legally enforceable agreement between you and another person or entity that ensures they will manage your estate according to your wishes.

What is Probate?

The term “probate” refers to the official proving of a will as legally binding. It’s the process by which a probate court determines that the contents of your will are valid and enforceable; or if there is no valid will, it’s the process by which the court administers the distribution of your estate after your death. If you execute a “self-proving” will, then you can streamline the probate process considerably.

What is “Living Probate?”

Living probate is a legal process that can help you to squash any potential challenges to your will during your lifetime. In essence, you are declaring your will valid while you are still alive. Anyone who wishes to challenge your will would have the opportunity to do so during living probate procedures, and you would have the opportunity to explain the reasons behind your decisions. The living probate process is one way to forestall any family strife over your will after your death.

What is a Power of Attorney?

In North Carolina, there are a number of estate planning documents known as “powers of attorney.” These documents allow you to appoint an agent to make decisions in your behalf, especially in the event of your incapacitation.

The Durable Power of Attorney (DPA) enables you to name an agent to take over your financial affairs in case you become incapacitated (due to a car accident, the onset of dementia, or another occurrence). You can set certain limits for your agent’s authority when creating a DPA.

You can also create a Health Care Power of Attorney in order to grant someone the authority to make medical decisions for you in the event of your incapacitation. In your Health Care Power of Attorney, you can outline your specific wishes on medical treatments, end-of-life situations, and other important decisions. Many residents of North Carolina combine a Health Care Power of Attorney with a will to cover all conceivable end-of-life decisions.

What Would Happen If You Don’t Have a Power of Attorney in Place?

If you become physically or mentally incapacitated and can no longer make important decisions for yourself, then your designated “power of attorney” would step into your place. However, if you have no designated agent, then the only thing your family and friends can do is to seek legal guardianship through the clerk of the superior court.

The guardianship process can be time-consuming and costly. Your family would have to file a petition claiming that you are incompetent to make decisions on your own. Then a court hearing would take place, and the court would ultimately appoint a guardian for you, or dismiss the case.

While guardianship is an important last resort, much time, money, and frustration can be saved if you have financial and medical powers of attorney already in place. A legal guardianship may take away more of your rights than is absolutely necessary, even if you are incapable of making certain decisions on your own. 

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