do i have to have a will?
how does it work?

ESTATE Planning

You are not required to have a last will and testament in North Carolina. Without a will, your estate is subject to intestacy, which leaves distribution of your property and assets up to the courts. In these cases, all real property, assets and debts are passed to a living spouse. If one is not available, the court will award it to the children and continue through living relatives until a proper recipient is found.

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At its essence, estate planning is involves the planning and preparation of documents, forms of property ownership, and beneficiary designations that allows for the management of a person's property in the event of his or her incapacitation or death.  In the event of death, beneficiaries are named to receive the testamentary gifts, which may be outright or in trust.

In the event of incapacity, the estate plan would include the designation of an Agent to stand in the place of an incapacitated person.  Optionally, the plan includes an Advanced Directive for a Natural Death (also known as a a "Living Will") in which a person states his or her wishes for the withholding or withdrawal of life-prolonging measures such as intubation, surgical procedures, or antibiotics.

The essential estate planning documents are (i) a Last Will and Testament, (ii) a Financial Power of Attorney, and (iii) a Health Care Power of Attorney with a HIPAA release.   Optional documents include an Advanced Directive for a Natural Death (instructions for withholding or withdrawing life-prolonging measures), a Living Trust, and a Retirement Trust.   In some cases, the Health Care Power of Attorney and the Advanced Directive are combined in a single document.

Estate planning is really looking out for our loved ones, assuring they are provided for, and that our property ends up where we want it to, both while we're alive and afterward. Estate planning has many tools designed to preserve your legacy. These are documents that include:


  • Last will and testament
  • Healthcare power of attorney
  • HIPAA release
  • Financial (durable or general) power of attorney
  • Declaration for a natural death, or living will


Many may confuse last will and testaments with living wills. The primary difference is that living wills state your wishes for medical care if you are incapacitated. Living wills include do not resuscitate orders, also known as DNRs.