As I work from home, I can look out my window and see the fresh green leaves and bright colorful flowers of this glorious spring. Working from home is a different experience, with its own pleasures and rewards. But it will never take the place of looking out over the rooftops of downtown Sanford from our office on Chatham Street, or listening from our office in Pittsboro to the Courthouse bell chiming the hours. And working from home will never permit us to gather the information about our clients that we get while sitting across from you at a conference table with a cup of coffee in hand.
In previous weeks, we have talked about the need for powers of attorney—one to provide for continued decisions about your health care, and one to provided for continued decisions about your money and property.
The least “fun” document to discuss when we plan your estate is your Last Will and Testament. For that reason, many people put off planning their estates. But by failing to plan, you force the State of North Carolina to plan your estate for you.
North Carolina, like every other state, has laws which govern what happens to your property if you die without a will. But if the state’s provisions for the distribution of your property, match what you would want done if we could ask you after you have passed, then that match was purely a matter of chance.
Consider the legislature’s problems when it drafts the laws governing the distribution of your property if you leave no will. Should we give everything to your spouse? But what if your spouse is the Wicked Witch/Warlock of the West? Should we include your children in the distribution of your property? But what if your children are the Prodigal Son/Daughter gone bad, who haven’t seen their mother/father in years?
Then what about your parents, who are still living but in poor health, and who may have financial needs of their own? After all, your parents gave you life itself! Don’t they deserve something? And let’s not forget about your siblings, who may have contributed to your successes in your life’s journey in ways no one but you is aware of.
The State of North Carolina does its best to balance all of these competing “claims” for the property which you worked for a lifetime to accumulate. But if the state gets it right, I promise you it just happened. And I haven’t seen it “happen” in a long time!
It is far better for you to spend some time making decisions about what YOU believe is fair, than to rely on what North Carolina thinks is fair. No one knows what you want done better than YOU!
And please don’t fall into the trap of doing nothing, because you have some thorny situations in your family that pull you in different directions. EVERY family has those situations, and every one of those situations can be dealt with in your will. There exists a “compromise” that will do the most to balance those competing needs, as best they can be balanced. But if you leave no will, then you are depending on the State of North Carolina to do that balancing for you, and you are using a scale that rusted frozen years ago!
Next week we will talk about how you can use trusts in your estate planning, to accomplish goals that are too complex to deal with in your will.