What is a Will?

The top portion of a last will and testament pictured alongside a ink pen, coffee cup, and reading glasses.

Short for Last Will and Testament, a Will is the basic instrument that controls the distribution of your property when you die. Your Will gives you the opportunity to express your wishes clearly and unambiguously. While you can technically write your own Will, it is advisable to seek the counsel of an estate planning attorney to make sure your Will is enforceable and actually says what you intend it to say.

In addition to naming beneficiaries of your estate, a Will can:

  • Name an executor. The executor’s job is to carry out the terms of your Will after your death. The executor of your estate will also be responsible for making sure debts and claims against your estate are satisfied before distributing the remainder to your beneficiaries.

  • Provide instructions for when and how your beneficiaries will receive your assets. You may choose to leave assets to your beneficiaries outright, or you may prefer to leave them to your beneficiaries in trust. A trust created under a Will is known as a testamentary trust. Testamentary trusts allow you to control when and for what purposes your beneficiaries can inherit your assets. Testamentary trusts are often used for children or young adults. For example, your trust terms could allow the trustee to make distributions for the health and education of your child during school ages, but only allow the full distribution of assets upon the beneficiary turning 30 years old. The terms of a testamentary trust are up to you.  
  • Name a guardian for any minor children. The guardian is responsible for the care of any minor children. The guardian you name will provide your children with a place to live and ensure that their medical and other needs are met. This is a major responsibility. You should have a discussion with the person or people you name as guardians in your Will to make sure they are willing and prepared for the possibility of becoming guardians of your children.

Do I need a Will?

If you die without a Will in North Carolina, the government decides who your beneficiaries are. This is known as dying intestate. North Carolina statutes set forth procedures for determining your heirs, the administrator of your estate, and who will become the guardian of your children. You should have an attorney draft your Will to ensure that your wishes are carried out and to guarantee a smooth transition for your family after your death. You will also have peace of mind knowing that your affairs are in order.  

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About the Authors

Attorney Travis Woolen

Travis Woolen

Travis joined Bell, Davis & Pitt as a trusts and estates attorney shortly after graduating from the University of North Carolina School of Law. Prior to joining Bell, Davis & Pitt, he worked as a loan officer at a financial institution in Raleigh for several years.
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John Cocklereece headshot

John A. Cocklereece, Jr.

John Cocklereece concentrates his practice on property tax appeals, business law, tax controversies, and estate planning and administration.
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