December 16, 2015

​A will is one of the most important documents that every person should have regardless of age, health condition, marital status, or having children. It contains your wishes and provides a legal guide of what should be done with your property and debts when you die.

A will is a legal document that specifies how you want your assets to be distributed after your death among the person(s) you select.  This document also lets you name the guardian(s) for any minor children, the financial sources to be used to pay debts, taxes and funeral expenses, and the Executor who will be responsible for the settlement of your estate.  The distribution of your property as well as the other specific directions are not valid until you die, so you can make changes to your will at any time.  However, for a will to be valid, the document must comply with several requirements.  For example, it has to end with your signature, which must be witnessed and signed by two competent witnesses.

Writing a will is very important because it lets everyone know who you want to get your property when you die, and who you trust to manage it.  You may select family members, friends, or your favorite charity, and you may also choose to leave a family member out of your will.  Without a will, your wishes are not considered, and the NC Intestacy laws will determine how your property will be divided and who will administer your estate.  The NC intestacy laws are default rules that will give your property and its management to relatives (sometimes distant relatives whom you may not want to inherit from you.)  Generally, your spouse and children will have first priority to inherit, but at unequal shares.  The unequal shares may cause undesirable results between children from a first marriage and a spouse from a second marriage.  If you have no spouse and no children, then your parents will inherit.  If you have no living parents, then your siblings or their children or other more distant relatives will inherit.  If you have no living relatives, your property will most likely go to the state.  Under these default rules, a non-relative (a friend, a fiancée, a lifelong domestic partner, or a favorite charity) will never inherit from you. 

If you don’t have a will, creating one prevents your property from getting distributed undesirably among your loved ones.  Proper planning lets you provide adequately for the future of your children, your spouse, and your parents.  It also lets you give a specific gift or a share of your assets to a non-relative.  Another point to consider is that a will that clearly reflects your wishes may reduce conflict.  Especially in blended families, a will prevents the undesirable results between children from a first marriage and a spouse from a second marriage which is otherwise created by intestate laws.  If you already have a will, it is important that you review it every 5 to 6 years to add provisions and make changes as your life evolves.  Early planning and adequate revisions can ensure that your will is reflective of your wishes for the management and distribution of your property, thus giving you peace of mind.