A will, or last will and testament, is a legal document that gives you the power to control how your property passes and to whom it passes at your death. For example, a will may be used to specify who will receive your home or other real estate, your automobile, furniture, jewelry, bank accounts and more. If you have minor children, a will may be used to designate a guardian to care for your children at your death.  A will also gives you the power to designate a personal representative, sometimes referred to as an executor, to handle the affairs of your estate at your death.

Under North Carolina law, anyone age 18 years or older and of sound mental capacity may execute a will. North Carolina law sets forth very specific requirements for creating a valid will, including the required presence of witnesses at the will’s execution and signature verification by a notary public.

Wills should be reviewed and updated periodically as life circumstances change. Additionally, if you have a will from another state, you should have it reviewed by a North Carolina attorney to ensure that it is valid under North Carolina Law as the rules regarding wills vary from state to state.

Not only is having a valid will and estate plan critical for most adults, but it is also important to have your will and estate documents reviewed and updated periodically. Many estate plans that were carefully drafted will end up failing by the time they are needed because they are either out-dated or the assets are not properly titled so as to make the documents effective. Many life events can cause your estate documents to require updating.    

The most common life events triggering the need for an estate plan review are:

  • Change in martial status such as a marriage, separation, divorce or death of a spouse.v       
  • Change in family circumstances such as a birth, adoption or death of a beneficiary.
  • Children reaching age 18.
  • Acquisition of a significant assets such as real estate, a new life insurance policy, additional investment or retirement account or similar.
  • Acquisition or sale of an interest in a business.
  • A desire to change the persons that you have designated as guardian, personal representative, or trustee.
  • Change in how you would like your belongings to be distributed.
  • Desire to add or change a charitable beneficiary.
  • Change in state or country of residence.
  • Change in estate tax laws.
  • You are at or approaching an age at which you will be required to take distributions from an IRA, 401(k) or other qualified plan.
  • Passage of time, plans should be reviewed every 2-5 years depending upon circumstances.
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