Organizing estate plans

North Carolina residents can take certain steps to make sure that their estate plans are in order. Taking these steps can remove much of the burden endured by surviving loved ones who may have to handle their relatives’ estates.

It is important to conduct an inventory of all the assets one may own before creating an estate planning checklist. Individuals should note their real estate, bank accounts, retirement accounts, inheritances they have received, investment accounts and any business ownership they have.

An estate plan should contain more than just a will. Individuals should also include legal documents that specify what type of medical treatment should be administered if they become incapacitated and unable to make decisions for themselves. Parents with minor children should also make sure that their estate plans address guardianship.

Individuals who die without a will leave their estates in the hands of the probate court. The probate process is usually costly and lengthy, and surviving loved ones will find that obtaining what should belong to them may take significant effort.

A durable power of attorney pertaining to property management should be included to give a designated person the authority to make decisions regarding taxes, finances and any other assets. A living trust allows individuals to use the assets placed in the trust while they are alive and then have the ownership of the assets transferred to beneficiaries at the grantors’ deaths.

An estate planning attorney may advise clients of which legal devices should be used in their estate plans to protect their assets for future generations, keep their estates out of probate or ensure that their medical and financial wishes are adhered to if they become incapacitated. A lawyer may recommend the use of various types of trusts, such as express trusts, living trusts, testamentary trusts or charitable trusts.