Q: Are online wills valid in North Carolina?

S.B.

Answer: “An online will, if it contains all the necessary provisions the law requires and it is signed as the law requires, CAN be valid,” said local attorney Mike Wells. “But there are just too many things which can go wrong with homegrown wills in their provisions and execution (signing).”

It is risky to fill out legal forms on the internet without a trained person supervising their signing, he said.

“We all want to know we are getting a fair shake about the costs of services, especially for professional services. But the price quoted for a will sounds reasonable and consistent with what is fair to the consumer. As importantly, lawyers who practice in this area of the law will tell you of many unintended, and costly, consequences of dealing with homegrown estate planning documents which are not valid after it is too late to modify them so they comply with the law.”

One helpful service is the North Carolina Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service, which can provide a 30-minute conference with a licensed NC lawyer in your geographical area of the state for no more than $50 at 800-662-7660.

“The general difficulty with pulling forms off the internet and signing them is that you do not know fully if they comply with North Carolina law,” Wells said. “But more than that, it is the way the documents are signed. If the statutes are not followed about whether the witnesses qualify to be witnesses, and whether the parties and the witnesses sign in compliance with the law, the wills are not valid.... When that happens, the state of North Carolina essentially writes a will for you. If you have children of the marriage, or, if no children, the decedent has a surviving parent, the surviving spouse splits the property inherited with others. The result is rarely satisfactory.”

When one dies, an invalid will cannot be treated as the controlling wishes of the person. When one dies without a will, the statutes of North Caroline define what heirs receive what property. In certain but very limited circumstances (little or no assets subject to probate, such as non-probate accounts with right of survivorship provisions), it may not be necessary to probate the estate of a decedent, according to Wells, but there are still some items to be handled, such as filing for life insurance benefits.

“If there are any assets to be probated, it is likely one would need to hire a lawyer to sort out all the issues and distribute the assets as the law requires,” Wells said.

Note: The Elder Law Clinic at Wake Forest University, a resource SAM has frequently pointed people to in the past for assistance with wills, has permanently closed and is no longer providing services. They recommend getting in touch with Legal Aid of North Carolina at 866-219-5262 or the Senior services help line 336-724-2040.

The Elder Law Clinic did not keep any original wills or powers of attorney.

Email: AskSAM@wsjournal.com

Online: journalnow.com/asksam

Write: Ask SAM, 418 N. Marshall St., Winston-Salem, NC 27101 

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