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A Five-Step Checklist for Basic Estate Planning in North Carolina

Approximately 68% of Americans do not have a will in place. Thinking about what will happen to your assets and family after you are gone can be challenging, and many of us are busy with work and family responsibilities. It is easy to put off creating an estate plan. However, completing an estate plan is one of the best things you can do to protect your assets and your family members. We have created a list of five simple steps to help you get started with your estate plan.

Step 1: Appoint a Health Care Agent

One of the first things you should do when creating an estate plan is to appoint a healthcare attorney. Do you know what will happen to you if you pass away without a healthcare agent in place? If you become incapacitated and cannot make medical decisions for yourself, doctors will have difficulty determining who to ask regarding your medical decisions. When you create a health care power-of-attorney or an advance directive, you can establish who will have the authority to make your own medical decisions if you are incapacitated.

Many people choose their spouses, close friends, or trusted family members to act as their healthcare agents. When you create an advance directive, you can also set the decisions you would like to make if you are incapacitated. For example, you can state whether you would like artificial food and hydration or aggressive life-saving interventions in a medical emergency. Noting your preferences before you become incapacitated will relieve your family members because they will not have to guess what type of medical treatment you would have chosen.

Step 2: Appoint a Durable Power of Attorney for Your Finances

Next, you can create a durable power of attorney. A durable power of attorney is a legal document that allows you to appoint someone to act as your financial agent. When you sign a durable power of attorney, you can rest assured that the agents you appoint will be able to make decisions for you even if you become incapacitated. For example, suppose you are involved in a severe car accident and become incapacitated. In that case, your durable power of attorney will be able to pay your bills, transfer money, and even sell your real estate when needed.

Step 3: Compile a List of Your Assets

Before you begin the formal estate planning process, we recommend compiling a thorough list of your assets. Our clients often think compiling a list will take them only a short time, but the task becomes more difficult than expected. This is especially true when you have significant assets or complex assets. Creating a comprehensive list of all of your assets, liabilities, and debts will also help your estate planning attorney tailor your estate plan to your unique needs. This document will also be a helpful organizational tool for your surviving spouse or loved ones because they will be able to identify all of your assets quickly.

Step 4: Determine Who Will Become a Beneficiary

After you compile your list, you should determine who you would like to be a beneficiary of your estate. A beneficiary is a person or entity who will receive part or all of your estate after you pass away. Deciding on the beneficiary or beneficiaries of your state is often one of the most challenging aspects of estate planning. We recommend taking time to carefully assess whom you would like to benefit from your estate.

Consider the relationships and financial needs of your loved ones. You may want to provide for your spouse, children, or other family members. Additionally, you may have charitable organizations or causes close to your heart that you wish to include as beneficiaries. It's essential to consult with an estate planning attorney to ensure your intentions are clearly defined and legally protected.

Step 5: Contact a Charlotte Estate Planning Lawyer

After taking stock of all of your assets and liabilities, we recommend meeting with a Charlotte estate planning lawyer. At Arnold & Smith, PLLC, our experienced estate planning lawyers have helped many Charlotte-area clients complete their estate plans. After your initial consultation, we will carefully review your financial situation and your goals. We will discuss your options with you and create a will-based or trust-based estate plan. If your estate is relatively straightforward, you may only need a last will and testament. However, a trust-based estate plan might be your best option if you have significant assets, an adult child with special needs, or a business. A trust can provide greater flexibility and control over your assets' distribution while offering potential tax benefits and protection from probate. An experienced estate planning attorney can guide you through the process and help you make informed decisions.

Following these five steps, you can lay the foundation for a basic estate plan in North Carolina. Estate planning is crucial in ensuring that your wishes are respected, your assets are protected, and your loved ones are provided for. Don't delay this vital task any longer—contact a qualified estate planning attorney today to begin the process. Planning for the future will provide you with peace of mind and give your family the guidance they need during challenging times. Schedule your free initial consultation with our Charlotte estate planning lawyers now.