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When planning your estate, leave some things out of your will

A will is one of the most important documents in an estate plan. However, there are some things you shouldn't or legally can't include in a will. In some cases, that's because they need to be addressed in other documents or by making other arrangements. In other cases, they are illegal and therefore unenforceable.

Assets with a beneficiary. These don't need to be in a will, because the beneficiaries are already designated. This can include retirement and investment accounts, life insurance policies, stocks and payable-on-death bank accounts. Note that any property held in joint tenancy automatically goes to the surviving owner when one dies, so that doesn't need to be included either.

Living trust assets. Many people find it useful to put much of their property in living trusts when they do their estate planning. If you do that, you'll designate beneficiaries for the property in your living trust. This document is separate from your will.

Assets for pets. Since under the law, pets are property, you can't leave money or other assets to them. Fortunately, North Carolina law allows people to establish pet trusts. These allow you to leave money designated for your animals' care and to name a person to care for them.

Certain conditions. When leaving assets to your loved ones and others in your will, you need to be careful when attaching conditions to them. Some conditions aren't legal and won't be enforced. For example, you can't require someone to get married or divorced or to change their religion to receive an inheritance.

Your North Carolina family law attorney can further advise you regarding what conditions you can and can't place on an inheritance. If you want your grandchild to graduate from college or complete a substance abuse program before inheriting any money, for example, your attorney can help you work to accomplish that. They can also advise you on what types of estate planning documents will best help you craft the plan you have in mind for your loved ones and for your legacy.

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