Our firm regularly drafts wills. Most people prefer simple wills, leaving property to their spouse, and upon the spouse’s death, to their children, etc. However, we also draft much more complex documents which establish trusts for a spouse, the children, or both. Unless you have a large estate (over $1,000,000), you really don’t need to consider the advantages of a marital deduction trust or other tax shelter trust. However, it is common for even small estates to desire trusts to insure the proper use of funds by children.

If someone dies without a will (intestate), then their property passes according to North Carolina’s Intestate Succession Laws. The primary disadvantage to this is that you may not like how our state requires the property to be divided. For instance, if you died without a will and left a surviving spouse and two children, your mate would get the first several thousand dollars, but then, she/he would be required to split the rest three ways. This can be particularly troublesome if the children are minors (not yet age 18). Minors have to have guardians appointed for their interests, and this process can be expensive and time consuming. A simple 3 or 4 page will could avoid this predicament.

If you want to have a will made, come prepared with the name of your “Executor/Executrix” in mind. Typically, this is usually your spouse, but we like for our clients to also select an alternate in case the original person cannot or will not serve. The Executor is responsible for seeing that your will is properly probated and that all properties are accounted for and properly distributed.

If you have young children, it is also a good idea to select a potential guardian and alternate guardian in case of premature or simultaneous death.

Many types of properties pass outside of a will, for instance: remainder interests by deed, tenancies by the entirety (deeds of husband and wife), life insurance proceeds, and many joint bank accounts, etc. Through yearly “gifts”, trusts, and other legal instruments such as “life estates”, many people are able to avoid adverse estate tax consequences.

Our law also protects married persons so that one cannot completely exclude the other from sharing in his or her estate. A divorce changes this relationship though, and normally severs any interest a spouse may have in the other’s estate.

If someone in your family has passed away, we would be glad to speak with you about the procedure for properly probating their will, qualifying as Executor/Administrator, and administering their estate. We typically take care of all the paperwork details for our clients so that they can concentrate on more important things.

We also draft intervivos (living) trusts as well as testamentary trusts. An intervivos trust is often very useful for children who receive some monetary gift, stock, insurance settlement, etc., but are not of sufficient age or discretion to manage same. These trusts can be revocable or irrevocable, and can even name a bank as “trustee”.