Frequently Asked Questions about Estate Planning in North Carolina

As an estate planning law firm, Salines-Mondello Law answers questions about estate planning and preparation daily. Following are some of the most common questions we’ve encountered in our years of experience.


What is Probate?

Probate is the court and process that looks after people who cannot make their own personal, health care, and financial decisions. These people fall into three general categories:

  • Minor children (under age 18 in most states)
  • Incapacitated adults
  • People who have died without legal arrangements to avoid probate

Probate proceedings can be expensive and time-consuming, and court documents are a matter of public record. Many people choose to avoid probate in order to save money, spare their heirs a legal hassle, and keep their personal affairs private.


What is Joint Tenancy with Rights of Survivorship?

Also known in some states as “Tenancy by the Entirety,” joint tenancy is the most common form of asset ownership between spouses. Joint tenancy (or TBE) avoids probate at the death of the first spouse, but can cause the loss of assets or unnecessary death taxes if not prepared properly.


What is a Will?

A will is a document someone signs to provide for the distribution of assets after death. Wills do not avoid probate. However, nearly everyone benefits from a will – especially those with minor children, since this document is the only way to appoint the legal guardian of an orphaned child.

A will can also help protect the management and distribution of assets for your heirs, as well as help your estate avoid death taxes.


What is a Living Will?

Sometimes called an Advance Medical Directive, a living will allows you to state your wishes in advance regarding what types of medical life support measures you prefer to have, or have withheld/withdrawn if you are in a terminal condition (without reasonable hope of recovery).

A living will is often executed along with a Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare, which gives someone legal authority to make your healthcare decisions when you are unable to do so yourself.


What does Intestacy mean?

If you die without a will (intestate), the legislature of your state has already determined who will inherit your assets and when they will inherit them. You may not agree with their plan, but roughly 70 percent of Americans currently use it.


What are Beneficiary Designations?

Beneficiary designations allow you to avoid probate on the transfer of some assets at your death. Laws regarding what assets may be transferred without probate (non-probate transfer laws) vary from state to state. Some common examples include life insurance death benefits and bank accounts.


What is a Durable Power of Attorney, and when do I need one?

This document allows you to appoint someone you know and trust to make your personal health care and financial decisions when you cannot. If you are incapacitated without these legal documents, you and your family will be involved in a probate proceeding known as a guardianship and conservatorship. This is the court proceeding where a judge determines who should make these decisions for you under the ongoing supervision of the court.


What is a Revocable Living Trust?

This is an agreement with three parties:

  • The Trust-makers (Grantors)
  • The Trustees (or Trust Managers)
  • The Trust Beneficiaries

A Revocable Living Trust allows you to protect your assets both while you are living and after your death. It dictates who will manage your affairs, and you can name yourself and/or your spouse as beneficiaries to manage your estate while you are alive. When properly planned, a Revocable Living Trust keeps your case outside of any court proceeding and can help you avoid death taxes on your estate.


Who should have a Revocable Living Trust?

Whether you are young or old, rich or poor, married or single, or if you own titled assets such as a house and want your loved ones to avoid court interference at your death or incapacity, consider a Revocable Living Trust. A trust allows you to bring all of your assets together under one plan.


Do you still have questions?

If you still have questions about your unique circumstances or would like to start working with an estate planning attorney in North Carolina today, contact Salines-Mondello Law Firm at (910) 777-5734 to schedule your first, fully confidential consultation.