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Wills 101: What to Know About Creating a Will in NC

February 26, 2021

Death and dying are difficult topics to digest. But as uncomfortable as it can be to confront your own mortality, a solid plan for the future can provide security and peace of mind for your family and loved ones as you move through different stages of life.

Here at McCullers, Whitaker & Hamer, PLLC, our Wills, Estates, Trusts & Probate Law team approaches estate planning with a winning combination of expertise and compassion. We know that creating a will can be a confusing process for many, so we work closely with each of our clients to make sure that they fully understand the implications of every decision along the way. 

Today we’re taking a closer look at the most common questions we hear about wills and estate planning law. Read on to learn more about the process of creating, updating, and storing a will in North Carolina.

In this post:

  1. What is a will, why do I need one, and when should I create it?
  2. Do my spouse and I need our own wills?  If so, why?
  3. How do I change my will? Do I have to update it after a life change?
  4. Will a will from another state be recognized in North Carolina?
  5. What is a holographic will, and are they accepted in NC?
  6. Where should I store my will?

What is a will, why do I need one, and when should I create it?

Let’s start with the basics. At a foundational level, a will is a legal document that outlines what should happen after your death. This includes information about your intended distribution of assets, the specific people who should inherit your properties, and any particular requests for funeral arrangements. In addition, your will will name three important people – also known as fiduciaries:

  1. An executor to make sure that the terms of the document are carried out
  2. A guardian for minor children, if applicable
  3. A trustee who will control the assets held for your minor children until they reach an age that you specify (this could be 18, or older if you prefer)

So, the short answer to the “why” of wills is that you need to have one in place if you’d like to leave your assets and property to specific individuals. And if you have minor children, you’ll need a will to arrange for their care and financial considerations. 

And when should you create one? Wills aren’t just for the elderly. You’ll want to draft a will with a trusted attorney as soon as you have children to provide for or assets that you’d like to designate for certain people or groups. 

Do my spouse and I need our own wills?  If so, why?

Much of married life is defined by unity, but wills are one thing that should remain separate. Each spouse should prepare their own will.

While some states do accept “joint wills,” they’re becoming more and more uncommon because individual wills offer specificity and flexibility when it comes to making changes. North Carolina does not accept joint wills, so it’s best to avoid them altogether if you’re living here in the Tar Heel State. 

How do I change my will? Do I have to update it after a life change?

If you’d like to change your will, we strongly recommend seeking help from a licensed attorney. While this doesn’t have to be the attorney who created the will originally, it may be more cost effective to stick with the same person depending on the breadth and depth of the changes that you’re planning to make. For comprehensive overhauls and amendments, your attorney may even recommend creating a new will entirely. 

Many of our clients also wonder if major life changes necessitate will updates. The answer is yes. Your estate planning documents should ideally be reviewed and revised whenever you go through a big change like marriage, divorce, birth, death, or a long distance move. These types of events are likely to shift your priorities – i.e. you may want to include your new spouse or child, or add assets like a recently purchased house –  so your will should be changed to reflect the most up-to-date plan that you’ve come up with.

Will a will from another state be recognized in North Carolina?

As we mentioned above, you should review your will when making a big move to a different state. We often see this come into play when folks prepare a will in one place, then choose to retire somewhere else.

Signing requirements vary throughout the country, so it’s important to contact an attorney with state-specific experience who can advise you on the estate planning laws that pertain to your new location. Forgoing this step could leave you with a will that, because of the move, is no longer considered valid. 

What is a holographic will, and are they accepted in NC?

A holographic will is a will that has been hand-written by the person in question. They’re often produced when someone without an existing will feels that their life is in imminent danger – like a soldier in a combat zone or person in an emergency situation.

While holographic wills are allowed in the state of North Carolina, they’re subject to very strict statutory requirements that easily reject documents that don’t meet the proper standards. We always recommend working with an attorney to draft and sign a suitable will that complies with state regulations. 

Where should I store my will?

As we’ve (hopefully!) established already, your will is an incredibly important document. Thus, it’s essential to store it in a safe, dry, and accessible location. 

There are a few options that fit the bill. Some people like the security of keeping their will in a safe deposit box at a bank. Safe deposit boxes are a good choice because they rely on the bank’s robust protective measures to keep the will from being destroyed or lost. They’re also very private, since the box can only be accessed with a key.

For those looking for easier access, a fireproof and waterproof safe, box, or cabinet is an appropriate choice for convenient storage on your own property. But keep in mind: wills stored at home are more likely to be damaged, stolen, or discovered prior to your death. 

Regardless of what you choose, you’ll want to make sure that your executor (the person who will carry out your will) knows exactly how to find and access the document. After all, you’ve worked hard to formulate your plan – you’ll surely want it to be available when the time comes. 

More questions about wills in North Carolina?

Wills can have a significant impact on the people that you leave behind. That’s why it’s important to approach the estate planning process with careful thought, preparation, and the help of an experienced legal professional.

You can reach out to our Wills, Estates, Trusts & Probate Law team through our website or by calling 919-772-7000. We’d be happy to schedule an estate planning consultation to walk through questions that are specific to your unique situation.