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During this extraordinary moment in history, attorneys at Manning Fulton have, rather appropriately, been receiving many questions about estate planning from those seeking to prepare estate planning documents for the first time, as well as those seeking to bring older documents up-to-date.

Worldwide affliction and stay-at-home orders have inspired all of us to think, once again, about what is important, and to bring family well-being even more clearly into focus.

In sum, making sure that you and your family members have the proper estate planning documents in place is imperative. That is why we are advising and meeting with clients virtually – by phone, videoconference, and email – to ensure their estate planning needs are met.

If this pandemic has elevated the subject of estate planning for you and your loved ones, allow us to share some thoughts about why having a comprehensive estate plan is so important – no matter your degree of wealth – and highlight some of the key estate planning documents all North Carolinians should have.

Reasons for Creating or Revisiting Your Estate Plan Now

You always have an eye on taking care of your loved ones, whether it be your children, your parents, a spouse, or siblings. Having a plan in place, or updating your existing plan to account for changes in your circumstances, plays a vital role in caring for those who mean the most to you. In the case of a will, it could mean preserving assets to pay for a child’s college or to help an aging parent with their care. In the case of a power of attorney, it could mean making things simpler for a family member who may need to step in and care for you. Having a property estate plan in place is a key piece in achieving peace of mind towards your family’s well-being.

In addition to family considerations, others include: avoiding needless probate fees and administration hassles; tax planning; and protecting your assets from creditors.

Key Estate Planning Documents

The following is a list of the most important estate planning documents.

  1. Healthcare Power of Attorney
    A Healthcare Power of Attorney is a document that allows someone to make healthcare decisions on your behalf if you cannot do so. This could encompass choosing your doctors, determining what medications might be best to take, and consenting to treatment or surgeries. With the current climate around COVID-19, it is imperative to have someone you love help guide you through any medical issues you may face.
  2. Living Will/Advance Directive
    A Living Will is a document that encompasses your wishes regarding end-of-life care. It can comfort your family knowing they are following your wishes.
  3. Durable Power of Attorney
    A Durable Power of Attorney is similar to the Healthcare Power of Attorney in that it allows for someone you designate to handle your financial affairs if you are unable. For example, should you become incapacitated, you may need someone to access your accounts for medical care funding, paying bills, or other financial matters. Unless you have a joint owner on your accounts, your bank will not be accommodating in granting anyone access without this document, not even your spouse.
  4. Will
    The thought of preparing or amending a will can seem daunting but, among other reasons, if you have young children, your will is of paramount importance. In it, you may designate a Guardian to care for your minor children if something happens to you.  What’s more, most estate planning can be done without needing an in-person meeting. Emails and phone calls are an effective way to work through the details while making sure all quarantine and social distancing protocols are still followed.
  5. Beneficiary Designation Forms
    These days, more of our net worth is tied up in assets controlled by a beneficiary designation form. Generally, your will does not control the distribution of life insurance, 401ks, IRAs, and pensions (among other assets). The beneficiary designation form will control those distributions. Thus, it is imperative you check your beneficiary designation forms and make sure they are correct.  On numerous occasions, because of outdated elections on these beneficiary designation forms, assets have been left to a previously divorced spouse, or similarly unintended parties.

Time For A Refresh?

If you have these documents already in place, now would be a good time to review them with an attorney to make sure they are still up-to-date and aligned with your current life circumstances.

Even if you aren’t sure your documents need changing but have questions, now is a good time to reach out to Manning Fulton so we can answer those questions, help you better understand your documents, and discuss recent and important changes to estate and tax law.

Manning Fulton has developed procedures for adhering to social distancing requirements while working with clients, and we would be honored to work with you.

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