How Much for a Simple Will?

Any attorney who regularly practices in the area of law known as estate planning fields this question on a regular basis; however, there is no simple answer.   Ironically, the reason for that is that the definition of the word “simple” just isn’t simple, and has different meanings to different people, particularly when it comes to estate planning.  This article deals with North Carolina estate plans.

Powers of Attorney Decisions

A basic North Carolina estate plan does not begin and end with a Last Will and Testament, as is thought by many, since the most basic estate plan should always include documents that appoint another person (the “Agent”) to aid a person (the “Client”) during the Client’s lifetime in terms of handling finances (general or durable powers of attorney), and making health care decisions for the Client when that Client cannot make his or her own  health care decisions (health care powers of attorney).   The former financial power of attorney may become effective immediately upon signing or spring into effect upon some event (such as incapacity); the latter health care power of attorney becomes effective only when a physician certifies to the Client’s incapacity, and should always be accompanied by a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) / Health Care Privacy Release.  The HIPAA release allows those named in the release (typically potential Agents and family members) access to the Client’s medical records.  This would allow those named in the release access to the Client’s medical records “before” a physician certifies incapacity, which is helpful when a person to needs to make inquires about a medical bill, deal with insurance companies (and the volumes of paper generated by the insurance companies), and communicate with health care personnel when the Client is in a hospital or other medical facility such as a long-term care facility. 

The Living Will is not a Last Will

The Client should also have the option of executing a Declaration for a Natural Death (aka “Living Will”), which sets forth the Client’s wishes with respect to withholding or withdrawing life-prolonging measures such as medical procedures (operations), maintenance of respiration by means of ventilation or otherwise, antibiotics, ….  Withholding or withdrawing artificial hydration and / or nutrition are usually dealt with separately, which leads to discussions about those decisions co-existing with certain religious beliefs.

So, once we decide who should handle the finances either immediately or upon incapacity, who should handle the health care decisions upon incapacity, whether the health care agent has the power to donate the Client’s organs, under what circumstances life-prolonging measures are to be withheld, whether artificial hydration and / or nutrition are to be always withheld or withdrawn, whether the health care Agent can override the directives in the Living Will, among other items not mentioned herein, we can move on to the topic of the simple will. 

Anatomy of a Simple Will

The simple will names executors, trustees, guardians for minor children, and beneficiaries.  Each of these selections is important and requires discussion as to the duties and obligations associated with each title, and potential candidates to be named for each.  The will disposes of probate property, which is third in priority behind survivorship property and property naming beneficiaries.

Additional issues that need to be addressed include without limitation out-of-state real property, children from former marriages, disinheriting certain relatives, bequests that might jeopardize government aid that a beneficiary might be receiving.

The Answer

to the question "how much for a simple will" is “[l]et’s set up a consult and talk about it,” which is not always met with Client elation. 


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