Frequently Asked Questions

Learn more about our estate planning and administration services.

What Is It?

Simply put, our wills, trusts, asset protection, and probate services help you safeguard your wealth during your life and distribute it economically after your death. In the context of a larger estate plan, these items can help you control how your estate is managed, minimize taxes and fees, and avoid uncertainty about final medical and financial decisions. This is accomplished through contracts and documents, ranging from very simple to extremely complex, that we customize to achieve your unique goals.

Can’t I Just Do a Handwritten Will?

It depends. Handwritten wills (or if you want to use a fancy legal term, “holographic wills”) are not favored in any state, and there are usually a lot of restrictions over how they are made and what they can do. In North Carolina, they are valid so long as it is entirely in your handwriting and signed by you, it is found in your private records at the time of your death, and three witnesses testify that it is your handwriting. It’s much more prudent (and easier on the person who’ll have to deal with your estate) to have a printed will, signed by you, two disinterested witnesses, and a notary.

My Spouse and I Own Everything Jointly, Isn’t That Enough?

No, for many reasons. While some property will automatically go to your spouse when you die (such as property owned as “Tenants by Entirety”), personal property and other assets don’t necessarily work the same way. Generally, when a spouse dies without a will (called dying “intestate”), the surviving spouse will not inherit the decedent’s entire intestate estate if there are other surviving family members.

Under North Carolina law, if you die intestate, and you have children or parents who survive you, they will receive a portion of your estate. Even if your wife is the only person in your family who survives you, she will not be able to inherit your property without completing a long and expensive probate process. Dying intestate can tie up critical assets at a time when they are needed most. Fortunately, this can be prevented with even a basic estate plan.

What Happens During Probate?

After your death, your will goes through probate. This is a court-supervised process of transferring property in accordance with the terms of your will. The person you name as the executor or personal representative in your will is in charge of probating your will. During probate, your assets are identified, your debts, expenses, and taxes are settled, and your property is transferred to your heirs. It can be a time-consuming and expensive process, especially if it’s contested. That’s why most estate planning attorneys advise that in addition to a will, a majority of clients should have a revocable living trust, which can transfer property without having to go through the probate process first.

Will My Estate Planning Documents Become Public Records?

Your will becomes a public record when it is probated, as do other documents associated with probate, including inventories of your assets and debts. However, terms of a living trust are not public record, except in rare circumstances. If you want to keep your personal and financial information private, you should strongly consider utilizing a living trust.

What Is a Living Will?

A living will (sometimes called an “advance health care directive”) isn’t a “will” at all—it is a document where you can direct others to withhold or withdraw life-sustaining treatment when you no longer have the capacity to do so due to injury or illness. It’s important to have a living will in place to avoid conflicts over your treatment and to ensure your final wishes are being followed.

Author: Nathan Workman