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Tips for taking that important first step to estate planning

No matter your age or your marital status, you should begin thinking about estate planning at some point in your life. Whether you work for a company, a nonprofit organization or have a business of your own, consider the benefits of preparing a will or documents such as health care directives.

Here are four tips for taking the leap into estate planning.

1. Resolve to make a will

Even if you have few assets, you need to make a will. If you die without one, the North Carolina probate court distributes your assets according to the state’s intestate succession laws. These heavily favor your spouse, regardless of your wishes regarding your children, grandchildren and other potential beneficiaries. If you are single and have no children, the court will distribute your assets among your parents and siblings. If you have a life partner, he or she will not inherit any of your assets; they will go to your biological family.

2. Establish a medical power of attorney

Let us say you are in a serious car crash. You survive but are in a coma for days. Once you awake, you will need ongoing treatment for a traumatic brain injury. By establishing a medical power of attorney, you name someone you trust to make health care decisions for you if you are unable to do so.

3. Set up a financial power of attorney

Just as you can name someone to handle making health care decisions on your behalf, you can also appoint someone to manage your financial affairs if you cannot do so. You can limit this power if you wish. For example, you can choose to establish a springing power of attorney that only becomes active if a physician declares you incapacitated.

4. Plan to review your documents

You may want to consider adding pieces as time goes on, such as a living trust or a guardianship. Keep in mind that circumstances constantly change, and you should revisit your estate plan every so often to make sure it continues to meet your needs and those of your family.