By Associate Attorney Katy Currie
Estate planning can be a daunting process. Whether it is stress of making decisions that will impact loved ones when we are gone or avoiding thinking about death or incapacity, many people are hesitant to create an estate plan. The confusion and anxiety surrounding this process has led to these four common estate planning myths:
1. My estate is not big enough to require any estate planning.
There is a widespread myth that only the very wealthy need estate plans and that the average person does not have an “estate” to begin with. This is not true! When someone passes away, all of their assets become part of their estate; there is no minimum threshold of assets that make up an estate. Thus, at death, we all have an estate, it just varies in size and complexity based on the amount and types of assets you have. Oftentimes, people with fewer assets have the most issues during probate and could have really used the help of an attorney.
2. Estate Planning only deals with distributing property at my death.
Another myth is that your estate plan only deals with who will inherit your property when you pass away. This is also incorrect! A will allows you to name people who may serve important roles when you pass away. For example, a will allows you to name an executor to manage your assets and distribute them to the beneficiaries stated in your will at the time of your death. Without a will, you will not have any control over naming the person to manage your affairs at your death. Additionally, in North Carolina, the only way to name a guardian for minor children (if both parents pass away while the children are still minors) is in a Last Will and Testament. You can also name a trustee who is the “money manager” for inheriting children until they reach a certain age.
Moreover, estate planning involves planning for incapacity through both durable and health care powers of attorney. With a durable power of attorney, you can name an agent to make business, legal, and financial decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated. A bonus myth: If you become incapacitated, your spouse can automatically do these things for you. Unfortunately, this is not true. Without a durable power of attorney, your spouse would have to become your court appointed guardian.
With a health care power of attorney, you can name an agent to make medical decisions for you if you become incapacitated. Your health care power of attorney allows you to include specific instructions for your health care agent regarding your health care wishes. There is also an advance directive or “living will,” which includes your wishes relating to the withdrawal or withholding of life support if you are incapacitated and suffering from a medical condition where you will not likely recover.
3. If I have a will, I can avoid probate.
Having a will drafted will not always prevent your estate from having to go through probate to pass assets to your loved ones. If you pass away with a will, depending on the circumstances, your executor may have to file your will at the courthouse along with the initial probate application. Your executor then must comply with all the requirements of the probate process. This includes providing the court with an inventory of all of your assets at the time of your death, providing notice to any of your potential creditors existing at the time of death, handling creditor claims, paying creditors with estate assets, and making distributions of any remaining assets to your beneficiaries. While there are ways to avoid probate (for example, owning property joint with rights of survivorship, the surviving spouse allowance, and utilizing revocable trusts), sometimes merely having a will is not enough.
4. I do not need a will because my spouse will inherit everything.
There is no law in North Carolina that states that your surviving spouse gets 100% of your assets. The surviving spouse will remain owner of all joint property or accounts with right of survivorship. The surviving spouse gets any assets where they’ve been named as a beneficiary, like life insurance, for example. Also, every surviving spouse is entitled to a year’s allowance of $60,000 of the decedent’s cash or personal property. Thus, this oftentimes results in the surviving spouse getting everything, but not every time.
If there are any other assets, a surviving spouse does not automatically inherit everything according to the North Carolina Intestacy Statute. For example, if you do not have a will and are survived by a spouse and only one child (or grandchildren, if that one child is deceased), the surviving spouse takes ½ of your real property, the first $60,000 of your personal property, and ½ the remaining balance of your personal property while the child inherits the remainder. If there are more children, the percentage to the surviving spouse drops to 1/3. 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 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 may be inadvertently leaving your assets to people who do not need them and leave your spouse in need. For example, if your children are minors, you may want your spouse to inherit your full estate to take care of your children.
If any of this concerns you, it is important to use an attorney to draft the estate plan specific for your situation. For further assistance with your estate planning needs, give Jesson & Rains a call!
By Associate Attorney Danielle Nodar
By creating a will or trust, a testator or settlor may make gifts to beneficiaries that are distributed at death. Often, the gift-giver will attach strings to these gifts in the form of certain conditions that the beneficiary must meet in order to receive the gift. Many conditions have been upheld by courts, but if a condition is considered too restrictive over certain aspects of a beneficiary’s life, the condition has been invalidated.
There are two types of conditions: conditions precedent and conditions subsequent. Conditions precedent are conditions that must be met before the gift can be distributed to the beneficiary. Some examples of conditions precedent that have been upheld include gifts that are conditioned on a beneficiary finishing college or reaching a certain age before receiving the gift. Conditions subsequent, which are conditions that must be met after the gift is distributed, are often more difficult to uphold if the assets have already been transferred to the beneficiary and too much time has passed. For example, if a beneficiary receives a gift of land with the condition that it is never used for commercial purposes, it may be difficult to enforce fifty years after the gift is received; thus, this condition is more likely to be invalidated.
Courts try to honor a testator’s or settlor’s wishes as much as possible, but a condition that encourages a beneficiary to break the law or is against public policy will be invalidated, and the gift will pass to that person as if the condition did not exist. Traditionally, gifts that have been invalidated due to public policy grounds are gifts that encourage harmful or discriminatory acts or hurt society in general.
One common condition that is often challenged are conditions related to marriage, particularly conditions that a beneficiary receive a gift only if he or she marries someone of a certain faith. Depending on how the condition is written, these requirements have been upheld by courts, but the court decisions are very specific to the facts of each case and the phrasing of each gift. If a condition is too restrictive on the beneficiary’s right to marry anyone or if it encourages the divorce of a beneficiary, it is likely to be a violation of public policy.
Whenever a condition is placed on a gift made in a will or trust, the condition must be clearly written, because if a beneficiary does not inherit due to failing to meet the condition, they may file a lawsuit to challenge the validity of a gift. A lawsuit will cause an unnecessary delay in other assets being distributed to beneficiaries, and the expense of a lawsuit will be paid out of your estate or trust. Also, when considering how to make a gift, certain conditions are easier to administer in a trust versus a will, as gifts in a will are usually distributed shortly after the decedent’s death and are subject to court scrutiny. When considering where and how to leave your assets, particularly if you want to exert some control over how the beneficiary receives the gift, it is important to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney. Please call Jesson & Rains if you are interested in more information on making gifts in your will or trust.
While You Build, We Protect®
By Associate Attorney Katy Currie
Valentine’s Day is a holiday to celebrate the endless love we have for the loves of our life. What better present to give your Valentine this year than ensuring your estate planning is done? There are many important aspects of sitting down and planning for your future through your estate planning documents, and unfortunately, there are countless issues that could arise without proper estate planning.
Without a will you lose the control you have over who inherits what when you pass away, and this could have huge implications on your loved ones. You are deemed to have died “intestate” if you die without a will. North Carolina has an Intestate Succession Act which is the default law that kicks in if you should pass away without a will. It names which of your surviving family members are considered your legal heirs in North Carolina.
The most common misconception surrounding intestate succession is that your spouse will inherit everything if you pass away without a will. This is not always the case if you have probate property and are survived by children or parents in addition to a spouse. For example, if you do not have a will and are survived by a spouse and one child (or grandchildren if that child is deceased), or a spouse and a living parent if you have no children or grandchildren, in addition to receiving the $60,000 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/grandchildren/parent inherits the remainder. If you are survived by multiple children or grandchildren, that number is cut to 1/3.
Additionally, in North Carolina, a will is the only way to name a guardian for your minor children in the event both parents pass away. You can also create a testamentary trust within your will, which will name a trustee who can be the money manager for inheriting children until they reach a certain age (later than the default age of 18).
So, while enjoying a nice romantic dinner to celebrate and show your love for your Valentine, it is also an opportunity to discuss planning for your future while you have some alone, intimate time together. If you approach the conversation with care and thoughtfulness, it could help you break the ice for those difficult, but important, decisions for your estate plan which will have a positive impact on your Valentine for years to come. If you would like to take the next step and work on your estate plan, give Jesson & Rains a call!
By Attorney Kelly Jesson
National Estate Planning Awareness Week was adopted in 2008 to help the public understand what estate planning is and why it is important for all people, not just the uber-rich. An “estate” does not necessarily mean something like the Biltmore Estate. Everyone has an estate, even small or insolvent estates. Estate planning is more than money – estate planning allows you to gain control and peace of mind over difficult and unpredictable situations. We have previously written about the difficulties caused by dying without a will in North Carolina and the pitfalls of the probate process in North Carolina; however, many of the “worst-case” scenarios can be avoided with proper planning. Let us help you plan for emergency scenarios and protect your business and personal assets for the benefit of your loved ones through estate planning.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 has shown us that there are no guarantees, but it has also highlighted what is most important to each of us: family. Estate planning allows you to plan for what happens when you pass away, including naming a trusted person to handle your final affairs, name guardians for minor children, and distribute your assets according to your wishes. In addition to planning for death, our office drafts durable and health care powers of attorneys, where you can name agents to make both financial and medical decisions for you if you are incapacitated and cannot communicate.
There is no reason to wait to do planning, and as we age and the pandemic continues to be a part of our “new normal,” you should get a plan in place before it is ever needed. If you do become incapacitated or ill, it may be more difficult or impossible to get documents in place, as you must have testamentary capacity to create valid estate planning documents.
Some of our clients delay estate planning because they do not have any friends or family members they trust to serve in fiduciary roles. In some circumstances, members of the firm may serve in these roles for the client if the client feels comfortable. It is better for you to take control and name someone yourself than to have the government appoint someone in an emergency or when you pass away.
National Estate Planning Awareness Week is a great time for you take CONTROL! Please call Jesson & Rains if you have questions about getting your estate plan in order or updating an existing estate plan. While You Build, We Protect.
By Attorney Kelly Jesson
North Carolina has a procedure whereby the surviving spouse can claim an “allowance” when their spouse dies, allowing them to obtain, free and clear of any creditor claims or expenses, their deceased spouse’s singularly owned personal property up to $60,000 less any liens or encumbrances. Any jointly owned property will automatically become the surviving spouse’s and is excluded from the $60,000 cap. If a deceased spouse had real estate only in his name, the surviving spouse could not use the spousal allowance to get the real estate and would then have to resort to the probate process. The spousal allowance law applies whether or not the deceased spouse had a will.
The benefits of the spouse allowance statute are clear. Example: you and your deceased wife own a house jointly and own joint bank accounts, but she had a car in only her name worth $30,000 and a stock account in only her name worth $20,000. She also had a $20,000 Macy’s credit card bill in only her name. You can go up to the courthouse with proof of her death and proof of your marriage, fill out a fairly simple form, pay $20, and leave being able to transfer those two items to you directly. There is no need for a costly and time-consuming probate proceeding. Additionally, Macy’s will not be paid.
It is very important to note that a surviving spouse only has one year to file a claim for the allowance. There are no exceptions to this rule. If the deadline had been missed in the above example, the stock would likely have to be sold to pay the Macy’s debt. Also, there is a $5,000 child’s allowance available for children under the age of 18 or certain children over age 18. Finally, government entities may not recognize the state statute, so debts like taxes may still be owed.
If you or a loved one need assistance with the probate process, please give Jesson & Rains a call!
By Tony Cline
We say this over and over again: everyone needs a will to direct who gets their property when they die and avoid the default inheritance laws of this state. But the truth is, for some people, dying without a will and having their assets go to their “intestate heirs” is okay by them. However, in a country where families are having fewer children, and people are making the decision to cohabitate without getting married, the number of people who will leave behind no intestate heirs will only increase in the future.
If you die without a will and with no intestate heirs, your assets will “escheat” to the state, meaning that all of your property, real, personal, and intangible, will become the property of the state of North Carolina.
If you have no intestate heirs and do not want the state to take your assets, you must have a will. Even a simple will can prevent escheat by naming the desired recipients for your property. Oftentimes, people without intestate heirs will choose a charity, which they prefer over the government. Even if you currently have intestate heirs, there is no guarantee they will survive you, so naming backup beneficiaries can help prevent escheat. If you need assistance with drafting a will, call Jesson & Rains PLLC for assistance.
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