Planning for the future can feel frustrating, uncomfortable, and intimidating, so let us help take the guesswork out of it. If you’re wondering if you need a will, this legal guide will help explain it. If you need help with estate planning or just have a question, do not hesitate to contact us for an initial consultation (don’t worry—it’s free).
What Does a Will Do?
A will is a legal document that lets you decide before you die what happens to your home, property, assets, (known as your “estate”) and even custody of your children after you die. Because it is a legal document, each type of will in North Carolina has special requirements that must be included in it for it to be valid. There is no one-size-fits all when it comes to getting a will and deciding which the best strategy for guaranteeing that your expectations and preferences are honored after you die can be difficult. But we can help.
What Happens If I Don’t Have a Will?
If you die without any kind of will - known as “dying intestate” - you may think that your spouse or children will automatically inherit everything. However, it is rarely that simple, especially since the laws that impact inheritances are always changing. For instance, if you are married with no children and don’t have a will, did you know that your parents may actually inherit part of your estate?
Click here for more details and scenarios on who gets what when you die without a will.
Are you married (or divorced)? Then you need a will.
If you are married, you need a will to ensure that your spouse - and only your spouse - inherits your estate at the time of your death. What if you want someone to inherit some of your belongings or property other than your spouse at your death, like a vehicle or something personal and meaningful to you? In that case, there is no way to legally enforce your wishes and preferences after you die unless you have a will.
Do you have kids? Then you need a will.
If you have kids, it is also important to have a will to ensure that your kids inherit your estate in the event you and your spouse 1) get divorced, 2) both die at the same time, or 3) die at different times. You also need a will if you want to leave specific property to certain children or if you want to exclude any of your children from your estate. Step-children, divorced parents, half-siblings make all of this more complicated. Having a will ensures that you are making those decisions about your children’s future, rather than a judge or lawmaker.
If you have young children, you especially need a will in order to specify who will be the guardian of your children in case something happens to you and your spouse. Even if you discuss this verbally with your family and have an understanding and plan in the event that both parents die, a judge might not agree and your own family might not agree after you die. Having a will is not only beneficial for your peace of mind but also prevents family in-fighting and discord that can happen when a loved one dies without a will.
Are you in a same-sex relationship or marriage? Then you need a will.
If you in a same-sex relationship or marriage, it is important to have a legally executed will to ensure your partner or spouse inherits your estate at the time of your death. Without a will, it is very unlikely that a non-marital partner will receive anything from your estate. Even if you are married, there is unfortunately the ongoing risk that North Carolina’s laws could change to no longer acknowledge or accept same-sex unions.
Are you unmarried but own property and/or have a positive net worth? Then you need a will.
Even if you are unmarried and don’t have kids, you still need a will if you have property, belongings, or assets that have any value. Having a will is the only way to guarantee that your estate doesn’t end up in the hands of an unwelcome family member or, potentially, is forfeited to the state. Having a will also reduces the stress and potential for conflict with your family who are already grieving the loss of a loved one.
Are you single, broke, and don’t have kids? Maybe you don’t need a will...yet.
If you own nothing and have no dependents, then you probably don’t need a will...yet. However, if you have living grandparents, parents, or older siblings, they may need your help getting started in this process or updating their previous estate plans that they have forgotten about over the years. It never hurts to ask, and you may save them (and yourself) a mess and headache making sure their end-of-life plans and preferences are in place and up to date.
Do I Need a Lawyer to draft a will?
With everything at stake, we strongly recommend contacting an experienced lawyer to discuss getting a will and protecting your future. Whether it is a simple will or a power of attorney for an aging parent or complex trust, we have experience that matters and can help take the worry and guesswork out of it.