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What Estate Planning Isn't

When many people hear the word ‘estate’, they think of this:

You don't have to be rich (or dead) to have an estate.  Your estate is simply everything you own.

It doesn't just exist when you die.  It's just that when you do die, all that's left is your estate and your memory.  How you handle the former can have a long-lasting effect on the quality of the latter.  I can help you with that.

What Is Estate Planning?

Estate planning is a fundamental part of planning and managing your life. It's taking care of those you love:  your spouse, your children, your relatives, your church, your favorite charity, your alma mater, even your pets.  Many people say that “estate planning is taking care of your family when you're no longer here to do it.” While that's partly true, it overlooks the fact that you may encounter situations other than death that leave you unable to care for your family, either temporarily or long-term.

You might say that estate planning is one of many ways to express the love and caring you have for your family, because it reflects your desire to see to their well-being, whether you're there to share it or not.

Who Needs An Estate Plan?

The short answer is “Everyone.”  Yes, it's absolutely true that North Carolina has laws that will take care of everything if you don't have a will.  But will it take care of everything the way you want it taken care of? And, as mentioned elsewhere, the laws change.  Sometimes, they even change to your advantage; recent changes in the laws governing trusts opened up new options to estate planners by eliminating a restriction that's been a part of the Common Law for hundreds of years.

Will the laws reflect your wishes when you die?  Will you leave that answer to chance?  Or will you take the time and effort now to ensure that your affairs are in order, regardless of what comes along?  If you're not sure what you might need, give me a call. In a short initial consultation, we can discuss the big picture of your life, and look for areas where you can address the most common issues and problems at modest cost, or discover whether you have issues that will require more complex planning to ensure that your assets and interests are taken care of.

How does it work?

An estate plan, as most people traditionally think of it, picks up where your life plan leaves off, carrying out your wishes when you die. But an estate plan can't happen in a vacuum, and it can't pick up where you left off if you haven't made plans in the first place.  An estate plan should take into account steps you've already taken toward your goals:  accounts you've created to save money for college, trusts you may have established for children, plans you have to make gifts, where you plan to live in your retirement, and so forth. The complexity of the estate planning process can vary considerably, depending on your assets, your age, your family situation, and numerous other factors.

Documents commonly included in a basic estate plan include:

  • Wills
  • Durable or Springing Powers of Attorney
  • Health Care Powers of Attorney
  • Living Wills / Advance Directives
  • Guardianship Declarations
  • Trusts

Getting Started

The process starts by gathering information, and what's required will vary widely with your life and lifestyle, your assets, and your family situation.

The form that I use to start that information gathering process is here: Estate Planning Worksheet.

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