where do i start?

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It may be the most important term you may not fully understand. This can leave you and your family open to disaster down the road.

"Estate" is a term commonly used to denote the sum total of all types of property owned by a person at a particular time, usually upon their death (or incapacity). It may be better to think of an estate is a legal entity, or "thing,” that springs into being upon the death of a person.

It makes sense, because, generally, a deceased person cannot by law deal with property. This means he or she cannot own property, be indebted, and give property away. It is the deceased person's "estate" that assumes these roles and responsibilities.

In the most straightforward aspect, it determines what happens to your property.

  • Who’s in charge. Estate planning specifies who will handle your estate; such as the executor of a will, also known as a personal representative, or the trustee of your trust.

  • Avoid probate. Structured properly, an estate plan can allow your estate to avoid probate, which will allow your property to pass to your beneficiaries without the oversight of the Clerk of Court in your North Carolina county. It also saves your family from filing fees and delays in transferring property.

  • Provide for charitable giving. If you want to serve the greater good through donation, an estate plan can ensure your wishes are carried out.

  • Plan for incapacity. The use of advance directives, such as durable and healthcare powers of attorney, living wills and final directives will ensure you receive the care you want, or don't want.

  • Plan for business’ future. Estate plans are more than just for the family, they protect the legacy of your business, providing for the proper disposition of business ownership interests.

There are some essential questions you need to answer about yourself and your goals.

  • Who might handle your financial affairs and health care decisions should you be unable to do so?

  • How much is your estimated net worth (the value of all your possessions less any debt owed)? Does this include your retirement accounts and life insurance death benefits?

  • How are each and every one of your accounts (retirement and non-retirement) titled, and are they held with a right of survivorship?

  • Who is the designated beneficiary of your checking and savings accounts, brokerage accounts (both retirement and non-retirement)?

  • Who would you like to benefit from your property after you're gone, and who might manage your help?

Answering these questions may be difficult. It always is. Once you have determined the answers to these questions, your next step is speaking with an experienced North Carolina estate planning attorney.

The Neagle Law Firm provides estate planning using wills, durable powers of attorney, healthcare powers of attorney, living wills, and final directives. In some cases, the use of revocable and irrevocable trusts can be a key part of an estate plan.

If you’re not sure what’s best for your future and that of your family, contact attorney Thomas J. Neagle to find out.