By Associate Attorney Danielle Nodar
Who Inherits My Property?
As mentioned in the previous article in this series, you are deemed to have died “intestate” if you die without a will. North Carolina’s Intestate Succession Act is the default law that kicks in if you pass away without a will. It names which of your surviving family members are considered your legal heirs in North Carolina (spoiler alert! Not step kids or “common law spouses”) and the order in which they will inherit.
Only the assets that could have passed through a will are governed by this law. These assets are known as a person’s probate property, which is usually all of the assets that a person owns in their individual name and assets that do not pass via beneficiary designations. Some examples of non-probate assets not commonly governed by the intestate succession laws are life insurance, retirement accounts, jointly owned property with rights of survivorship, securities with named beneficiaries, and Pay on Death or Transfer on Death accounts. However, there could be circumstances where these non-probate assets could become part of your probate estate and thus subject to the intestate succession laws, such as if a named beneficiary predeceases you and there is no back-up named or you fail to designate a beneficiary in the first place.
The most common misconception surrounding intestate succession is that your spouse will inherit everything if you pass away without a will. This is sometimes not the case if you have probate property and are survived by your spouse, children, or parents. For example, if you do not have a will and are survived by a spouse and one child (or grandchildren, if that one child is deceased), in addition to receiving the spousal allowance, your surviving spouse takes the first $60,000 of your personal property, ½ of your real property, and ½ of whatever remains of your personal property while the child inherits the remainder.
If you are survived by a spouse and more than one child (or grandchildren in the event of predeceased children), the spouse inherits 1/3 of your real estate, the first $60,000 of personal property, and 1/3 of whatever remains of the personal property. Your children will evenly split the remaining 2/3 of your personal property and 2/3 of your real estate.
If you do not have children but are survived by a spouse and parent(s), your spouse will inherit ½ of your real property, the first $100,000 of your personal property, and ½ of the remaining balance of your personal property. Your parent(s) will inherit ½ of your real estate and any personal property remaining after the spouse’s share.
Thus, without a will, you do not have full control over where your probate property will go at your death. You may be inadvertently leaving property to people with whom you do not have a close relationship or to family that does not need your assets. You could also be leaving a headache instead of an inheritance if heirs do not get along. For example, if you have a spouse and a child from a previous relationship, they could potentially become joint owners of real estate. If they do not agree on what to do with the property, court procedures may be necessary in order to sell and divide assets. You could also be leaving a family member in need if you do not have a will. For example, if you have a spouse and minor children, you may want your spouse to inherit all of your assets to be able to more easily take care of your children and not leave real estate to minor children.
If you have questions about intestacy in North Carolina, drafting a will, or ensuring that your wishes regarding your property are honored once you pass away, please call Jesson & Rains.
By Associate Attorney Danielle Nodar
If you pass away without a will in North Carolina, there are statutes that govern who will serve as your executor and who will inherit your estate. However, dying without a well-written will can leave your loved ones with a variety of legal hurdles to overcome.
The first article of this series discusses who will be responsible for administering your estate if you pass away without a will and what are some of the issues they may face when trying to get appointed by the probate court. The next article in this series will discuss how property is distributed if you die without a will in North Carolina.
When you die without a will, you are deemed to have died “intestate.” Each state has its own intestacy laws, which are the “default” option that outlines major decisions in the probate process, such as who can serve as your executor and their qualification requirements. The appointment of the executor is the first step in probating an estate. The executor is responsible for collecting all of your remaining assets at death, paying all of your legally enforceable debts and expenses out of those assets, and distributing any remaining assets to your heirs. A court will never appoint an executor who is a convicted felon, incapacitated, or under the age of 18, but generally, if you have a will, you can name anyone, and the court will respect your decision.
If you die without a will, the clerk of court will appoint someone in the following order: (1) a surviving spouse; (2) any heir; (3) any next of kin, with the person who is of closer kinship under having priority; (4) any creditor of the decedent; (5) any person of good character residing in the county who applies therefor; and (6) any other person of good character. The person the court appoints could be someone you don’t particularly want to handle your estate, and you could avoid that by naming them in your will. Also, there could be issues with relatives who are the same degree of kinship arguing over who should serve, which could cause unnecessary delays and expenses if the dispute cannot be resolved without attorneys.
The other issue is that, generally, a bond is required of the executor of an estate. This bond is an insurance policy, and it is required to protect the beneficiaries of the estate in the event that the executor breaches their duties in administering the estate, such as by running off with the estate assets. The executor must be able to pass a credit check in order to obtain the bond and pay the bond premium of out-of-pocket (which can sometimes be quite high) because they will not have access to your assets before they are appointed executor by the probate court.
There are two ways to avoid the bond. First, all of the heirs could sign a document waiving the bond requirement, but this requires them to all be in agreement (which sometimes doesn’t happen) and they all must be age 18 or older and otherwise have capacity. The second way to avoid the bond is to waive the requirement in a will. This makes is easier from the outset for your desired executor to serve. After all, they’re doing a job for your benefit and the benefit of your family.
Lastly, another benefit of having a well-written will is that attorneys can put helpful provisions in the will that don’t otherwise exist under the default intestacy statutes that make it easier for the executor to do their jobs. For example, we can write in the will that the executor can sell a house if needed to pay debts of the estate; whereas, if the same person died without a will, the executor would have to file a motion with the court and having a hearing (costing them money, and likely requiring an attorney) in order to sell the house.
If you have questions about intestacy in North Carolina, drafting a will, or ensuring that a person of your choosing is able to manage your estate once you have passed away, please call Jesson & Rains.
By Attorney Kelly Rains Jesson
Naming a guardian for minor children is one of the top reasons why a parent engages in estate planning. The only way to name a guardian for a minor child in the state of North Carolina is in a will (N.C.G.S. § 35A-1225(a) references “last will and testament” but does not mention any other document). So, making it a Facebook status or writing it on a cocktail napkin before a trip is not going to cut it.
Even though the statute states that the guardian named by the parent is a “recommendation” that serves as a “strong guide” to the clerk, court history shows that the clerk almost always will appoint the guardian named in the will, unless it’s not in the best interests of the child (for example, if the named guardian was a drug addict, felon, or incapacitated). The North Carolina legislature wrote that “[p]arents are presumed to know the best interest of their children.”
We recommend that parents agree on their choice of guardian in the event they both pass at the same time. If they name different guardians in their respective wills, there could be a dispute over who would serve, which defeats the purpose of naming a guardian in the will in the first place. However, a long-surviving spouse may update his/her will after the first spouse passes away. If that is the case, the court will appoint the guardian named in the will with the latest date.
If you or someone you know needs help creating a will and naming a guardian for minor children, give Jesson & Rains a call!
President Trump signed a new law in December that has taken effect this month called the SECURE Act (Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act). It includes a wide array of changes to retirement accounts that both individuals and business owners should know.
For individuals, here are a few highlights:
(i) being unable to perform (without substantial assistance from another individual) at least 2 activities of
daily living for a period of at least 90 days due to a loss of functional capacity,
(ii) having a level of disability similar (as determined under regulations prescribed by the Secretary in
consultation with the Secretary of Health and Human Services) to the level of disability described in
clause (i), or,
(iii) requiring substantial supervision to protect such individual from threats to health and safety due
to severe cognitive impairment.
Business owners should be aware of the following:
A financial adviser would be the best person to contact if you have any questions about how the SECURE Act affects your retirement, and a CPA would be a good person to contact regarding business credits. However, if you want to discuss how eliminating the IRA lifetime stretch might affect your estate plan, give Jesson & Rains a call.
By Associate Attorney Danielle Nodar
Thanksgiving is one of the best opportunities of the year to slow down before the rush of the holiday season and spend quality time with our loved ones. During this time of relaxation and reflection, many people also think about how to they want to plan for their future and the impact it may have on their loved ones. The holiday provides a chance to catch up with loved ones we may not see during the year and open the door to discussing important topics as a family.
While the majority of adults consider having an estate plan important, nearly half of all Americans do not have a will, and even fewer have other documents that plan for incapacity. Unfortunately, there are countless issues that could arise without proper estate planning.
Without a will or living trust, your assets would pass according to the intestacy laws of North Carolina. This takes away the control you have over who inherits what when you pass away and could have huge implications on your loved ones. Additionally, in North Carolina, a will is the only way to name a guardian for your minor children in the event that both parents pass away.
Furthermore, some people may require more complex estate planning depending on their family situation (such as second marriages, a child with special needs, or care of minor children) and the type and amount of their assets. Estate planning through devices such as living trusts allows you to put plans in place to address the specific needs of your beneficiaries, avoid the probate process, and address more complex tax issues depending on your assets.
Finally, a comprehensive estate plan not only plans for what happens after death, but also addresses who would be responsible for making decisions on your behalf if you became incapacitated during your lifetime. This includes naming someone to make financial decisions on your behalf and someone to make medical decisions on your behalf. Without such a plan, your family may have to go through more drastic and expensive court proceeding to have you deemed legally incompetent by a judge.
While most people think of turkey, football, shopping, and the inevitable food coma when Thanksgiving comes to mind, it’s an opportunity to discuss planning for the future while everyone is gathered together in the spirit of family and gratitude. If you approach the topic with honesty, care, and thoughtfulness, it could help you get the ball rolling on making important decisions for your estate plan that will have a positive impact on your family for years to come.
By Associate Attorney Danielle Nodar
When creating an estate plan, people oftentimes consider their legacy and what they may be leaving behind for future generations. For many individuals, this legacy extends beyond their loved ones and includes considering donations to a charity they have given time or money to during their lifetime, a school or organization that has had a meaningful impact on their life, or a cause that they are passionate in supporting.
There are many methods of including a charity in one’s estate plan. One is naming a charity as a beneficiary in your will or trust. Just like any other asset that is left to an individual beneficiary, the terms of your will or trust designate how and when your assets are distributed for charitable purposes and your executor or trustee will be responsible for carrying out the distribution. When considering what to give to a charitable organization (often referred to as Section 501(c)(3) tax exempt organizations), it is important to remember that your gift can go beyond cash in a bank account, but can include assets like a stock portfolio, artwork, a car, or real estate.
When deciding how to contribute to a charity, an estate plan may also provide you with more options in determining how the donation is used. For example, if your donation is to a charity that fights a certain disease, your estate plan can specify that you want your donation to be used for research. You can also leave the donation to the charity directly and they make the overall decision as to how the funds are allocated.
In addition to the benefits to the charity, there may also be financial benefits to your estate and loved ones by including charitable giving in your estate plan. Gifts, during life or at death, to Section 501(c)(3) charities do not count towards the total taxable value of your estate. Thus, naming a charity as a beneficiary will reduce the value of your estate at the time of death, which can lower or eliminate the amount of estate taxes owed by your estate.
Depending on the size of the donation you are planning to make, you may also be able to create a donor advised fund (DAF), which allows you to make irrevocable charitable gifts to Section 501(c)(3) charities while taking advantage of tax benefits during your lifetime. With a DAF, most donors are immediately eligible for a tax deduction upon making the initial donation, donor contributions to the DAF are tax-deductible, and investment growth in the DAF is tax-free. You can also donate long-term appreciated securities without paying capital gains tax.
Another way to include charitable giving in your estate plan is through updating beneficiary designations of life insurance policies, annuities, IRAs, or other retirement plans. You can name a charity as a primary or contingent beneficiary and gift them all or a portion of the funds. While this option may be as simple as updating a beneficiary designation, whether or not is the best choice for charitable giving depends on a variety of factors, including what other assets an individual may have at the time of their death and the value of the asset being distributed through a beneficiary designation. For example, using charitable giving through retirement accounts may be a wise choice for some individuals as retirement accounts are some of the highest taxed assets in any estate. By gifting your retirement account, your estate tax burden is reduced because your estate will receive a federal estate tax charitable deduction on the value that is held in the account. Furthermore, the charity does not have to pay income taxes on this gift.
When considering your priorities in your estate planning, dedicating a portion of your assets to charitable giving is one of the ways to support causes that are important to you, even after death. Contact Jesson & Rains for assistance with considering your options for charitable giving in your estate plan.
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