Contrary to popular belief, estate planning isn't just for the ultra-wealthy or those who will leave behind a spouse or child. Regardless of your family dynamics or financial status, you need an estate plan to determine the distribution of your assets and who will make important decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated.

For your convenience, we’ve compiled answers to a number of frequently asked questions regarding estate planning. Should you have additional questions or concerns, feel free to contact our experienced Wilmington estate planning attorneys at (910) 452-3577 or fill out our contact form to schedule an appointment.

What are the most essential estate planning documents I need?

While a complete estate plan is recommended, we highly encourage all our clients to have, at least, a General Durable Power of Attorney, a Health Care Power of Attorney, HIPAA Medical Release, Living Will, and a Last Will and Testament. These documents designate who will have the ability to handle your finances and make health care decisions for you when you are unable. A Living Will is also essential as it specifically states your preferences when it comes to extraordinary life-sustaining means, such as artificial nutrition. Finally, a Last Will and Testament is important so your legacy can pass to whom you wish.
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How much does a will or trust cost?

It depends on your situation. We don’t “rubber stamp” our services since each client and their situation is unique. Every estate plan we do is customized to each client’s individual, familial, and financial needs. For example, blended families, families that have a family-owned business, or families that include a special needs heir will require more complex estate plans to ensure that their assets are fully protected.
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I have a will. Why do I need a trust?

While it is true that a will allows you to designate who receives what assets at your passing, a trust gives you more control in the manner in which your assets are distributed, protects an asset from creditors once it is passed to your loved ones, and avoids the overwhelming process and fees of probate for those you leave behind.

If desired, a trust can also be used to add stipulations to an inheritance. For example, you may wish to specify that trust funds can only be used for a grandchild's educational expenses or that payments will only be paid at specified intervals so the recipient doesn't receive a large lump sum.
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Why won’t the power of attorney I have work?

Some powers of attorney are limited in scope on what you may do for a loved one who is incapacitated. We provide our clients with a broad power of attorney that specifies everything that can be done. This ensures that the person you have selected has the full authority to handle all necessary tasks if you become ill or otherwise incapacitated. 
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My loved one just died and I was told I have to go through probate. What is that?

Probate is the process of presenting a deceased person’s assets to the state in which they reside or own property. In general, this involves collecting all of the decedent’s assets, liquidating those assets to pay liabilities/debts, paying applicable taxes, and distributing property to heirs. This does not include miscellaneous costs, such as attorney’s fees, and all the valuable time loved ones will spend organizing and gathering documents to work through this process. This must be done whether there is a valid will or not.

A properly funded trust avoids probate. If you wish to structure your estate to avoid having your heirs go through the probate process, you should contact us today to update your estate plan.
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I have a disabled child. What can I do to provide for his/her future?

Providing for a child or loved one who is disabled once you're gone is essential to giving you peace of mind. In order to accomplish this, our firm sets up a special needs trust that will allow your loved one to be provided for, while not disqualifying them from government assistance if need be. With the cost of health care continuing to rise, the value of maintaining eligibility for Medicaid benefits can't be underestimated.

Another benefit of creating a special needs trust is that you will be able to choose who will oversee your loved one’s trust when you are no longer able. Depending upon your circumstances, this might include a non-disabled sibling, a close family friend, or a neutral third-party.
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Let Us Be Your Trusted Wilmington Estate Planning & Probate Attorney

Our Wilmington estate planning & probate attorneys are ready to answer your questions about your current will or estate plan or to help you get started on a smart estate plan that is customized for your unique situation. We provide free 15-minute consultations to discuss your goals. Fill out our contact form or give us a call at (910) 452-3577. From our office in Wilmington, we help families across the state of North Carolina, and we are ready to work for you!

John J. Peck
Wilmington Elder Law, Estate Planning & Asset Protection Attorney