South Carolina: Every Legal, Medical, and Estate Planning Document You Need

Here's a complete guide to every critical medical, legal, and estate planning document and relevant state law for South Carolina. Download these forms and get started with Pillar to organize all of your most important documents in one safe, secure, easy-to-use online storage solution

February 2, 2021

Planning during your life for your death or incapacity is one of the greatest gifts you can leave your loved ones and is the best way to ensure your wishes are followed when you can no longer advocate for yourself.

Read on to learn about the South Carolina forms, documents, and laws you need to know about to ensure your medical wishes are followed and that the things you leave behind find their new owner.

Essential Medical State Laws & Forms: South Carolina

Medical Records and Death Certificates

How long do South Carolina doctors keep patient records?

The South Carolina Physicians’ Patient Records Act requires that physicians retain medical records for 10 years for adult patients and 13 years for minor patients. The minimum retention period runs from the date of the last treatment. 

The Act also caps the fees that medical office may charge for providing copies of the record to patients:

  • Sixty-five cents per page for pages 1-30; fifty cents per page for all other pages, if in electronic format.
  • Clerical fee may not exceed $25.
  • The clerical fee and page fee may not exceed $150 per request
  • Paper records searches may not be charged more than $200 per request. 

How to get copies of South Carolina death certificates

Death certificates are an official record of the date of death and cause of death of a deceased person. The probate court, banks, life insurance companies, and other entities related to the wrapping up of affairs may require a copy.

There are five ways to obtain a death certificate in South Carolina:

  1. Obtain it online through the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control vendor VitalChek or Go Certificates. Processing time: 5-7 business days
  2. Speak to a VitalChek agent at 1-877-284-1008 to request a copy via phone. Processing time: 5-7 business days
  3. Visit the office in person at 2600 Bull Street in Columbia. Processing time: 30-45 minutes
  4. Mail an application to the DHEC Vital Records. See complete instructions here. Processing time: 2-4 weeks
  5. Drop off a completed application at the DHEC State Vital Records Office in Columbia. Full instructions are available online. Processing time: 2 days 

South Carolina Advance Directive Forms & Laws

South Carolina has several forms to simplify and standardize written documents to delegate decision-making ability to others and leave a record of your medical wishes.

By completing these documents, you can ensure your wishes are followed, even if you are no longer able to voice them. They also relieve your loved ones of the burden of trying to guess your wishes or make difficult decisions on their own. 

How to make a living will or DNR order in South Carolina

The South Carolina Death With Dignity Act codifies requirements and procedures for adults to provide written instructions for their desired level of care upon diagnosis of a terminal condition. This document is colloquially known as a living will, or a document you make during life to describe what life-saving measures, if any, you want should you be unresponsive and unable to tell the doctors yourself.

A related document is the South Carolina Do Not Resuscitate Order. The DNR order refuses CPR or other means of restarting the heart and must also be signed by your physician to confirm that you have a terminal illness

South Carolina does not permit physician-assisted suicide.

How to make a durable medical power of attorney in South Carolina

A durable power of attorney for health care allows another authorized person to make decisions regarding your healthcare, and this form designates that decision-maker, also called the attorney-in-fact. 

When a power of attorney form is designated as durable, that means that the attorney-in-fact’s power remains even after your incapacity, and South Carolina’s form only becomes effective upon incapacity. 

Non-durable powers of attorney terminate at the onset of incapacity of the principal. Many online legal websites charge for these forms, but South Carolina has made one available for free.

How to become an organ donor in South Carolina

To designate yourself as an organ donor, register with Donate Life South Carolina. If you have the donor heart symbol on your South Carolina driver’s license, you should be entered into the South Carolina Donor Registry, but the registry recommends that you double check to be sure you are in the registry. 

Essential South Carolina Legal & Estate Planning Laws, Documents, and Forms 

What are the probate process and rules in South Carolina?

Probate is an umbrella term for the legal process of settling the estate of a deceased person (the decedent) with or without a will. Property that passes directly to the new owner by the right of survivorship, trusts, or payable-on-death beneficiary arrangements are not subject to probate procedures and are called non-probate property. 

In South Carolina, much of the probate process takes place outside of court as the executor inventories the estate, determines heirs, and settles the debts before releasing funds or property to heirs. The court’s primary roles are to give the executor or personal representative authority to act via an order of appointment and to settle any disputes that arise. 

The personal representative will be responsible for providing many accounting and inventory records to the court throughout administration of the estate.

An estate must be open for at least six months, and forms may be found online at the South Carolina Judicial Branch and the full probate code is available here

How to administer a small estate

Estates consisting of no real estate and probate property valued at $25,000 or less qualify for a simplified procedure known as a summary administrative procedure. The summary administrative procedure may only take a few days or weeks because there are fewer and less valuable assets to transfer. 

After determining the value of the estate and publishing notice to creditors, the personal representative may immediately disburse the assets of the estate to the beneficiaries and file a closing statement.

The summary administrative procedure is defined in detail at § 62-3-1203.

How to establish a trust in South Carolina

There are two types of trusts: living trusts and trusts created by a will upon death. Laws governing both types of trusts can be found in the South Carolina Trust Code.

Living Trust

A living trust (or inter vivos trust) is a trust that you make while you are alive. Beneficiaries of the trust receive the trust assets upon your death, or at another time determined by the terms of the trust. Property in the trust will be considered non-probate, and will be disposed of according to the terms of the trust rather than by will or probate law.

Testamentary Trust

Trusts can be created by a will upon the death of the Settlor (the person who funds the trust). 

The will directs assets into the trust, and the trust acts as a vessel for holding the assets until they are distributed to beneficiaries. Trusts are commonly used to hold money for children or for disabled people.

To avoid providing a copy of the trust document to persons other than a beneficiary, settlors or trustees can instead furnish a Certification of Trust pursuant to S.C. Code § 62-7-1013

Unfortunately, there is no state-recognized form to fill in the blanks to make your own trust. The law concerning the methods of creation and form of the trust are available at S.C. Code § 62-7-401.

Read more about the biggest differences between a will and a trust, and why you might want to avoid South Carolina’s probate requirements when planning your estate.

How to Set Up a Will in South Carolina

The basic requirements to create a valid will in South Carolina are:

  • The testator must be 18 years of older; and
  • Of sound mind.
  • The will must be in writing; and
  • Signed by the testator, signed in the testator’s name by another person in the testator’s presence and by the testator’s direction; and
  • Signed by at least two witnesses who observed the signing or the testator’s acknowledgment of the signature or of the will. 

Notarization is not required, but wills that are notarized with a self-proving affidavit can be admitted to probate court without testimony of the witnesses to the will. This will make probate simpler for your personal representative. See the affidavit and further instruction at S.C. Code § 62-2-503.

Oral and holographic (handwritten) are not recognized in South Carolina. Read the complete set of South Carolina rules regarding the execution of wills in the probate code.

Learn how much it costs to prepare a will.

How to plan your digital estate

South Carolina’s Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act permits users to grant authority in their wills or other writing to their personal representative or other fiduciary to access their online accounts. This can take several forms depending on the discretion of the custodian of the digital accounts. The custodian may provide:

  • Full access to the user’s account;
  • Limited access to perform certain tasks as defined in the will or other writing; or
  • A copy of what the user could have seen had they logged in the day of the request;

A user may designate a recipient in a will, trust, or power of attorney.

South Carolina Estate and Inheritance Tax

South Carolina imposes income taxes on the estate for income created by assets of the decedent’s estate during administration. South Carolina does not impose an estate tax. 

Three types of taxes may be involved when settling the estate of a deceased person: 

  1. Taxes on the transfer of the assets to beneficiaries (estate tax)
  2. Taxes on income created by assets of the decedent’s estate (income tax). 
  3. Final taxes on the income of the decedent up to the date of death (final return)

For information about filing these federal returns, review the IRS publications for filing final returns and for filing estate income taxes.

For the 2021 tax year, the federal threshold for estate taxes is $11,700,000, meaning estates valued at less than $11,700,000 do not have the estate tax levied against it. Estates that exceed this amount are assessed at a 40% rate. 

Everything You Need to Know About Estate Planning in South Carolina

South Carolina has a number of unique state laws when it comes to your medical records, inheritance taxes, wills, trusts, and estate planning. Navigate the strict probate process and lax estate tax with confidence with your customized (and organized!) Pillar account. You can scan, store, and share your most important state documents when you need them with Pillar's secure and easy-to-use online storage tool for you and your family.

Start your free 14-day trial today and see if Pillar is right for you.