One of the facts that people who first visit an estate planning attorney are sometimes surprised to find out is that they already have an effective estate plan in place.
The estate planning process is about making decisions. Those decisions will control what happens to you and your property should you become incapacitated or die. However, even if you never get around to making an estate plan, the decisions your plan would have addressed must still be made.
In every state, including North Carolina, state law automatically makes these decisions for you if you don’t create an estate plan. Here’s what you should know.
Estate Plans and Inheritances
One of the great benefits of creating an estate plan is the ability to determine for yourself how you want to leave inheritances after you die. Whether you want to divide your estate equally between your children or grandchildren, leave money for charitable organizations, or do anything else, the process of creating an estate plan will allow you to make these choices.
However, most people never get around to making these decisions, and die without any kind of estate plan at all. When this happens, the property that belonged to those people must still get distributed. But, because they didn’t make any legally recognized choices, their property gets distributed in accordance with laws that already exist.
In North Carolina, as with all other states, lawmakers have already enacted laws that predetermine what your inheritance choices are. These predetermined decisions control the property you leave behind if you do not have an estate plan. Though you can make your own decisions by creating a plan, these predetermined inheritance rules will apply to anyone who fails to do so.
Estate Plans and Incapacitation
Let’s say that you are involved in a serious car crash. The crash leaves you unconscious and unable to express yourself. What happen to your possessions? Who would take control over your money and make sure that your bills are paid? Who would talk to your doctors about the kinds of medical treatment you should or should not receive?
As with questions about inheritances, these types of questions must also be answered. Yet if you are not there to answer them yourself, someone else will have to answer them for you. Should you become incapacitated and failed to have an estate plan in place, it will likely fall to your closest relative to make these decisions on your behalf. However, the final decision on who gets to make these choices will fall to a North Carolina court, not you.