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Why do I need a will?

No one wakes up one day and says, “I’d love to make a will.” Instead, they say to themselves, “I wonder what will happen to my loved ones when I die?” If you are reading this, then you’ve probably had that thought. You are also ahead of the game, because you’ve also taken the first step by beginning to educate yourself on what happens to your loved ones after you die.

So what happens to my “stuff” without a will?

In North Carolina, if you die without a will your assets will be distributed according to default rules from the Intestate Succession Act. Intestate succession is intended to be a fair disposition, but, like anything left to the government’s control, things can turn out wacky. For instance, if you are married with no descendants and die without a will, then your spouse only gets 1/2 of your real property, the first $50,000 of personal property and 1/2 of the balance of your personal property. The rest of your property would pass to your parents!

Who will take care of my young children if I die without a will?

One of the most important reasons to have a will if you have young children is the ability to designate who will be their guardian if something should happen to you. State law requires that the courts consider the parent’s designation of guardianship in their will as a “strong guide” when appointing a guardian. Without a will, the decision is left to the discretion of the Clerk of Court. I’m sure nearly everyone can think of a certain family member they would prefer to not become the guardian. Now is your chance to speak up.

Why should I use a lawyer instead of one of those cheap websites?

There are plenty of websites that will allow you to make your will for a cheaper upfront price than hiring an attorney, but unless you are comfortable with legal terms, such as abatement, codicil, and fee simple subject to condition subsequent, then I would never advise you to create your own will.

While you probably expected an attorney to tell you that you need an attorney, it isn’t for the reason you think. Do an online search for a legal website reviewing any of the online will making websites and read through the comments. You’ll find countless comments from estate lawyers discussing how much more they’ve made fixing mistakes from these websites, than if the client had just come to them in the first place for a will. Plus, I don’t have any fine print that enrolls you in a $14.99 a month subscription plan.

So what do I do?

Contact a lawyer. Many lawyers, myself included, will provide a free consultation to discuss these matters with you. The price for a simple will drafted by an attorney is usually in the range of $150 to $300. For this price, your lawyer should speak with you to discuss your options, draft the document according to your wishes, explain the terms of its provisions, and make sure it is properly executed.

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