Three Indispensable Estate-Planning Documents for the Carolinas
Emergencies happen without warning and life changes forever. To prepare for the unexpected, everyone 18 years of age or older needs these three estate planning documents at a minimum. These basic documents allow you to decide: 1) what happens to your children; 2) who gets your property; and 3) who will make important healthcare and financial decisions for you during your lifetime if you become incapacitated.
At a minimum everyone needs:
- A Will. Without a will, state law will decide who gets your property. Even worse - a court will decide who gets your minor children. To prevent this, have a will and be sure to name a guardian for your minor children in your will in the event something happens to you.
- Healthcare Documents, including a Healthcare Power of Attorney and Advance Directive. A healthcare power of attorney allows you to choose who will make healthcare decisions for you in the event you are unable to do so yourself. Without a healthcare power of attorney, your family may need to institute guardianship proceedings to determine who can consent to medical treatment for you and make important healthcare decisions.
A healthcare advance directive, also known as a living will, allows you to speak directly to your doctors and express your wishes regarding live-prolonging measures in advance of a medical emergency. Having a living will takes the burden off your family and loved ones. With your wishes known and documented, your loved ones won't have to guess about what you would have wanted in certain situations. The healthcare power of attorney and living will go hand-in-hand. Sometimes they are even combined into one document, hence I am counting them as one. Both North and South Carolina have statutory versions of these documents.
- A Durable Financial Power of Attorney* A durable financial power of attorney allows you to name a trusted person to manage your money while you are incapacitated. Durable means the document is valid even if you are incapacitated. With a durable financial power of attorney, you decide when the power to manage your money and property goes into effect. The power can begin immediately or be delayed until you are determined to be incapacitated. Many people assume a spouse can automatically act on their behalf if they are incapacitated but this is not the case. As with a healthcare power of attorney, if you do not have a financial power of attorney, your spouse may have to institute a guardianship proceeding in court to have someone appointed to manage your finances. The court will choose someone to manage your money. This person may be someone you dislike and it can even be a stranger. To prevent a court from interfering in your financial matters if you become incapacitated, make sure you have a valid, up-to-date financial power of attorney.
These three (or four documents will save you and your family time, grief, and money in the long run. For more information, take a look at our valuable estate planning book, checklist, and articles with tons of tips and helpful information. They were written by me for residents of North and South Carolina. You can request your free copy of our book by clicking on the link on this page.
*Both North and South Carolina made legislative updates to their power of attorney acts recently. If you live in the Carolinas and have a durable financial power of attorney that is more than a couple of years old, you should have it reviewed by an attorney to determine if it should be updated.