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Estate Planning for Married Couples in North Carolina

Although the marriage rate is falling somewhat across the country, the majority of adults are married. According to the United States Census Bureau, 51% of people in North Carolina are currently married. Another 20% have been married, but are now divorced. If you are married, your spouse is going to be an important factor in your estate planning decisions. At Arnold & Smith, PLLC, we are driven to provide useful information and resources to people and families throughout North Carolina. In this article, our Charlotte estate planning lawyers highlight some important considerations for married couples.

Four Estate Planning Considerations for Married Couples 1. Protection for Your Children

For married couples, the estate planning process generally starts with consideration to their children/dependents. If your children are already adults living on their own or you have no plans to ever have children, this is not an issue. However, if you have young children or children who are still dependents, it is essential that your estate plan provides adequate protection. Among other things, you and your spouse should name a guardian. As described by the North Carolina Judicial Branch, a guardian “is a surrogate decision maker and advocate for an individual.” Spouses can use their wills to designate a trusted person as a legal guardian for your child in the worst case scenario in which something happens to both parents.

2. Health Care and Incapacity Planning

One of the most important—and too often overlooked—aspects of estate planning is health/incapacity planning. Both you and your spouse should have estate plans in place that provide the maximum level of protection, no matter what might happen. If you or your partner have specific wishes regarding your medical care, specifically end-of-life, it is best to draft a living will.

Additionally, you should ensure that another party holds your health care power of attorney. For couples, this is usually not a complicated matter. Most people want to designate their spouse as their health care surrogate. That being said, you are not required to do so. You and your partner have power to set up your health and incapacity plan in a manner that works best for your family.

3. Naming of Beneficiaries

Of course, a big part of estate planning is determining what will happen to your property and assets after you pass away. For some married couples, this is relatively straightforward. You could decide that you want your spouse to get everything. If so, it is still important to put a proper estate plan in place.

While a spouse is a primary heir under North Carolina’s intestacy laws, they are not always an exclusive heir—most notably, if you have children from a prior relationship. Further, without a well-designed estate plan, it can be a little bit complicated for a spouse to take control of your separate (non-marital property). An experienced estate planning lawyer will help you tie up all loose ends and make sure that things are done the right way.

If you own separate property that you want to go to a party other than your spouse, it is imperative that you consult with an estate planning lawyer immediately. If you fail to put a proper estate plan in place, a spouse is going to have a claim to a share of all of your individually held assets. Married couples should make sure that their estate plan does the things they want it to do.

4. Updating Your Estate Plan

An outdated estate plan can cause significant problems. Married couples should review and (if needed) revise their estate plan on a regular basis. As time passes, you may need to make some changes to account for life’s ever-shifting realities. After the birth of a child or grandchild, an estate plan may require an update. After a divorce, an estate plan always requires an update. If one spouse develops serious medical complications or passes away, then the estate plan likely requires significant revisions.

Call Our Charlotte, NC Estate Planning Attorneys Today

At Arnold & Smith, PLLC, our North Carolina will and estate lawyers are driven to help people and families find a true sense of security. If you and your spouse have any questions or concerns about estate planning, we are more than happy to sit down with you and walk you through the process. For a confidential initial appointment with an attorney, please call us at 704.370.2828 or send us a message online. We represent married couples throughout the region, including in Mecklenburg County, Gaston County, Iredell County, Monroe County, and Cabarrus County.