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By Ryan McNeill, Attorney at Law

The recent news stories in North Carolina of coastal residents evacuating due to the hurricane reinforces just how important it is to be prepared in the event of an emergency. Storing drinking water, non-perishable food items, and extra medicines will meet an immediate need. Unfortunately, many people stop their planning there. While Hurricane Florence is passing south of the Triad, the damage we are seeing on the news is a good reminder for everyone to add estate planning to their preparations for future events.

Why Do I Need an Estate Plan?

Many people put off estate planning assuming they will have time to deal with it later. Seeing a strong storm come ashore in the Carolinas reminds us there are no guarantees in life. Injury, illness, or death can occur at any time. No matter your age or financial situation, it is important to get your estate planning documents in place to cover whatever situation might arise. This includes documents to allow medical treatment as well as wills or trusts.

What Documents Do I Need?

There are some basic documents everyone should have, and others that are relevant to specific situations. Everyone should consider having the following advance directives:

  1. A healthcare power of attorney gives another person the legal right to make healthcare decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so.
  2. A living will allows you to determine the extent of treatment for a medical condition when you are unable to state your wishes. This is sometimes referred to as a declaration of desire for a natural death.

A third specialty document, advance instruction for mental health treatment, may also make sense, depending on your situation. This directive outlines your wishes on how you are treated for a mental health condition when you are unable to make that decision.

In addition to having advance directives in place, every adult should name (and keep updated) beneficiaries on any accounts that permit this (bank accounts, retirement accounts, life insurance) and have a current will that details your wishes for distribution of any assets. If you do not have a will, your estate will be distributed based on North Carolina probate laws. We recommend reviewing your will every two to three years to ensure no changes are needed, or updating the will and any beneficiary designations immediately upon a major life event like the birth of a child, marriage, divorce, etc.

Depending on your situation, you may also wish to have a financial power of attorney in place so that someone you trust can assume responsibility for your finances if you are unable to handle them, a trust to make transfer of assets easier after your death, or a special needs trust to provide financially for a loved one with special needs.

We hope you will add estate planning to your emergency preparation list and take action today to get your plans in order. Discuss your wishes with your family, and keep copies of your documents in a waterproof (and fireproof) place where you and your family can reach them quickly in an emergency. Ready to get started? Contact us today to schedule an appointment with one of our estate planning attorneys.