In our third blog posts on basic estate planning ideas, we are going to take a step back and look at what happens to you and your estate if you don’t create a plan. If you are an adult living in the Greensboro, North Carolina area, you are never under any legal obligation to create an estate plan, or any estate planning tools of any kind. In fact, if you never get around to creating an estate plan and die without one, you will be like the majority of Americans. Most people don’t have an estate plan, and most estates are not controlled by the wishes of the decedent. So who controls your estate if you die without an estate plan? Let’s take a look at some the basic ideas surrounding this concept.
Basic Question. What is dying intestate?
Someone who dies without an estate plan leaves behind the same types of questions and issues as someone who took the time to create a comprehensive plan. For example, one of the main questions you leave behind is the question of who will inherit your property. Should your spouse inherits? Your children? Your grandchildren? Your church?
Even if you had clear wishes about your inheritance choices, your wishes will not dictate how your property gets inherited after you die unless you have created an estate plan. If you die without a plan, pre-existing North Carolina law determines all inheritance questions. These laws, known as intestacy laws, or laws of intestate succession, apply to anyone who leaves behind an estate not covered by a will. Should you die without a will, or leave a will that isn’t properly drafted, you are said to have died intestate.
Depending on the circumstances of your death, and depending on which family members survive you, your property will be distributed to your closest surviving relatives. This might be your spouse, siblings, parents, children, or anyone else related to you. On the other hand, should you die without leaving behind identifiable living relatives, your entire estate will be inherited by the state of North Carolina.
Basic Question. What about incapacitation?
Forgetting about inheritances for a moment, do you know what would happen to you if you were to fall seriously ill tomorrow? Do you know who would begin managing your financial affairs on your behalf? If your doctors need to perform medical procedures on you, do you know who would grant consent?
Again, should you become incapacitated without having an estate plan in place, these questions will still need to be answered, but they won’t be answered by you. Instead, North Carolina law, and perhaps a North Carolina judge, will determine who gets to make decisions on your behalf, and who will manage your affairs when you are no longer able to do so.