Tips for Creating a Family Will


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Worrying about a child’s future is something parents often do. However, many parents procrastinate when it comes to will and estate planning. A will is an important legal document that helps your family prepare for the future in the event that one or both parents are no longer living.

Why Create a Will?

Attorney Ashley Pinner with McCullers, Whitaker & Hamer in Garner says “a will dictates how your estate, or possessions, will be distributed after your death. It is the legal instrument that can dictate guardianship of your children, set up trusts for heirs and dictate your final resting place.”

No parent wants to think about dying and how it will impact his or her child; however, it’s a good idea to ensure that relatives and close friends can carry out your wishes with minimal stress.

“Without a will, an individual’s estate will be distributed according to the intestacy laws of North Carolina, and a guardian will be appointed by a family court judge through a court proceeding,” says Tom McCuiston, attorney with McCuiston Law Offices in Cary. Intestacy refers to the quality or state of being or dying.

Bethany and Jared Reeves of Garner created their wills to be clear on who would take custody of their daughter and what part of their estate belongs to her, if both were to pass. “Nothing is a mystery, nothing has to be decided by strangers,” she says. “We can be sure our daughter will be loved and provided for if we are not around.”

When Should You Create a Will?

Pinner says major life changes — getting married, buying a house, having children or getting divorced, for example — usually catalyze the creation or amendment of a will. Each spouse should create his or her own will, which usually leaves all possessions to each other, and gives everything to their children if both parents pass.

Who Should Draft Your Will?

Some families may opt to go with legal software, but McCuiston notes that it’s typically one-size-fits-all. Wills should be individually tailored, he advises. “There are also tax consequences and other planning issues that only an attorney would be able to advise on,” he says.

Attorney fees to set up a will are often lower than what it costs to hire an attorney to “clean up the mess,” Pinner says. “In regard to wills, one often won’t discover that there is a ‘mess’ until it’s too late — at which point he or she is deceased.”

What is the Process?

Creating a will takes about 30 days, McCuiston says. The process consists of an initial consultation and is followed by compiling information, drafting the will, client review and finally document execution.

Some attorneys provide an estate planning questionnaire for clients to complete. “It helps clients get a better idea of what their estate includes and forces them to think about difficult end-of-life decisions,” Pinner says.

Reeves used the State Employee Credit Union’s estate planning services for her will. She says it was a lengthy process with difficult choices, but “well worth it for the peace of mind.”

How Much Does It Cost?

The cost of creating a will can vary depending on complexity. “Usually the cost is for the initial consultation with the attorney (which takes up to one hour) and then the cost of drafting,” McCuiston says. “Often, we have clients that price out LegalZoom or other online options and they find that coming to our office costs just about the same.”

How Do You Find an Attorney?

Ask friends and family, or possibly an accountant for recommendations. Also, check out Internet reviews and the N.C. State Bar’s referral service at ncbar.com.

Keri McManus is a freelance writer and mom, who is interested in all things parenting.

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