We all want to take care of our families. We work hard to help keep a roof over our head, food on the table and clothes on our backs. To help protect our families, including ourselves, it’s critical to develop a will and plan. You never know what life will hand you, but the best thing you can do is be prepared.
My husband and I are in the process of doing our will and plan. It’s one of the toughest things we’ve done together. It makes you think about what you really want for yourself and your family. It’s not an easy task, but we know it’s an important one.
I’ve asked Allen Starrett, Managing Attorney at Starrett Law Firm to be a guest blogger on this topic. We are currently working with him on our will and plan. He has been great to work with and I would recommend other Smarty Pants to utilize his services. He’s even extending an offer just for Smarty Pants. Mention this post (code: CSP-JV10) and he will waive the consultation fee and give an extra 10% off services. This offer expires November 31, 2012 – so act quickly.
The whole process can be overwhelming. I’ve asked Allen to help answer some questions that may provide some clarity.
What’s the difference between a will and a plan?
Think of a will as one piece of a puzzle called your estate plan. A will is great because it allows you to identify the representative of your estate when you die. If you have minor children, a will allows you to nominate guardians to raise your kids if there are no surviving parents. A will also lets you identify the beneficiaries of your property.
At the same time, you need the other puzzle pieces to complete the estate plan. Let’s say you’re involved in a horrible car accident and suffer a severe injury that renders you unconscious. With a HIPAA waiver, the people you’ve listed as your authorized recipients may access your medical records. Under a health care power of attorney, an agent you’ve appointed is authorized to make medical decisions on your behalf. In short, everything runs smoothly because you planned ahead of the need.
When should I have my will/plan done/reviewed?
Estate planning is extremely personal and should fit your particular circumstances. The events below generally require attention:
– Turn age 18
– Attend college
– Marriage, divorce, or separation
– Birth or adoption
– Death, disability, or serious illness
– Retirement or unemployment
– Increase or decrease in asset values
– Acquisition of real estate in another state
– Change in business interests
– Move to another state
– Changes in state and federal laws
You should review your estate plan annually along with your taxes and investment portfolio. Remember, your plan must stay aligned with your evolving circumstances so any significant events such as the ones listed above should prompt the question, “How is my estate plan impacted?”
There are a lot of transplants from other states in the Charlotte area. What effect does this have on a person’s existing estate plan?
We help new residents look at this question from two angles: the legal and practical implications.
Legally-speaking, some estate plan documents are “portable,” meaning if they were valid in state X, then they’ll be recognized as valid in North Carolina. For example, a health care power of attorney drafted and valid under Maine’s laws will be recognized as valid here.
Also, wills must be executed a certain way in North Carolina. So we pay close attention when reviewing wills that were drafted and signed outside of North Carolina. We ensure that the wills comply with our statute. Some wills do and some wills don’t.
At the same time, it’s important to consider the practical consequences of a move to North Carolina. For example, maybe a client has moved here from Ohio. Does it still make sense for the client to name his or her sibling, who continues to live in Ohio, as the representative of the client’s estate that will be opened in North Carolina? If the client has another family member who also lives in North Carolina, perhaps it makes sense to name the family member who is here instead as a matter of convenience.
Or, take the example of the Maine health care power of attorney from above. While it may be recognized as valid in North Carolina, a North Carolina physician or facility will be less familiar with its format and provisions than the North Carolina equivalent. How does the client feel about this?
Can I do a will/plan myself?
Yes; there is no requirement that anyone work with an attorney to complete his or her estate plan. There are plenty of options for do-it-yourselfers. North Carolina recognizes handwritten wills, so grab a pen and piece of paper and start writing. You can copy the statutory health care power of attorney and living will forms. You can also purchase a will and other documents from a book, CD or online.
Working with an attorney provides several benefits. First, you’ll have peace of mind knowing that you’ve developed a comprehensive plan that fits your circumstances. There’s risk in not knowing what you don’t know. An attorney can educate you on estate planning, provide options that are based on your specific situation, and help you select the most appropriate plan. An attorney is also less likely to miss important details.
Working with an attorney and developing a relationship over time also provides tremendous value. Recognize that estate planning is not a one-time event. You cannot “set it and forget it.” Your life will evolve. Your estate plan must stay aligned with your changing circumstances. Therefore, it needs to be reviewed and updated periodically so that it always stays up-to-date. Over the years, your attorney will acquire an intimate understanding and knowledge of you, your family, and your circumstances. He or she will become one of your most trusted advisors and help you protect your children, your wealth and your legacy. You can’t get that from a book!
What happens if I do not do a will/plan?
If you do not have an estate plan, then you lose the ability to control important decisions. Ultimately, your wishes may go unfulfilled.
When a person dies without a will, he or she loses the opportunity:
– to nominate a guardian for his/her minor children. The court must appoint a guardian without the parent’s input.
– to appoint his/her estate representative. North Carolina law decides who should serve.
– to leave property to his/her desired beneficiaries. North Carolina law decides where property should go.
When a person is seriously injured and unconscious, and he or she has no health care power of attorney, then North Carolina law determines who is empowered to make medical decisions.
Thank you, Allen, for answering these important questions!
Smarties – get to it! Call Allen today for a free consultation at 704-887-4944. Remember to mention this post (code: CSP-JV10) and he will waive the consultation fee and give an extra 10% off services. This offer expires November 31, 2012.