Steps to creating an estate plan

Many people in North Carolina are among the half of all baby boomers and 70 percent of all Americans who do not have an estate plan. All adults need an estate plan regardless of their age or income level.

Estate plans do not have to be complicated documents, but they may be. Some people may want to use the estate plan to leave a gift for charity. In a will, a person can also name a legal guardian for minor children. Some people also may want to include provisions for pets such as who will care for them and where to find the money to do so. Some people include something called a "legacy letter" with the estate plan. This talks about what the person is passing on to loved ones and why. It may also try to convey a sense of the person's values to the next generation.

An estate plan should be updated regularly. Assets may change, and there may be family changes such as marriages, divorces, deaths and births. Finally, there are several other documents besides wills that are important for an estate plan including powers of attorney, trusts, burial instruction, healthcare directives and beneficiary designations. All documents should be placed somewhere that is accessible to family members.

Creating an estate plan with the assistance of an attorney may be important because the attorney's responsibility is to help ensure that documents are prepared correctly. An attorney may also be able to explain other elements of the estate plan and which ones might be necessary or useful in a person's particular situation. For example, a trust may be a valuable part of an estate plan if a person wants to take care of a family member who has special needs without affecting that person's access to government benefits.

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