Blog What Happens If You Die Without A Will In North Carolina?

What Happens If You Die Without A Will In North Carolina?

A very common question we see from estate planning inquiries is: What happens if I die without a will in North Carolina?

Dying without a will is called dying “intestate”. When someone dies intestate in North Carolina, state law determines what happens to their possessions. In this article, we’ll dive into how state law handles the distribution of someone’s property when they die intestate in North Carolina, and why it’s so important to have a will and estate plan in place to protect your loved ones.

North Carolina Laws Handling Intestate Succession

Similar to other states, North Carolina law determines how someone’s estate is distributed when they die without a will. Note that this process only applies to property that would be normally handled in the probate process, and does not include things like retirement accounts, payable-on-death accounts, real estate that is owned jointly with a spouse, etc.

The law divides property as follows:

  1. If you have no living spouse or children, and your parents are still alive, your estate will be divided between your parents. If you only have one living parent, they get all of it.
  2. If you have a living spouse and parents, but no children, your spouse receives the first $50,000, and the rest is split between your spouse and parent(s).
  3. If you have a living spouse, but no children or living parents, your spouse gets everything.
  4. If you have a living spouse and one child, your spouse receives the first $30,000, one half of remaining personal property and one half of real estate. Your child receives the other half of personal property and real estate. Descendants of children are also included.
  5. If you have a living spouse and two or more children, your spouse gets the first $30,000, one third of remaining personal property and one third of real estate. Your children split the rest. Descendants of children are also included.
  6. If you have no living spouse, and one or more children, everything is divided equally amongst the children and/or their descendants.
  7. If you have no living spouse, children or parents, but have living siblings, everything is divided equally amongst your siblings.
  8. If you have none of those there are additional rules dividing property amongst more remote relatives. If you have no living relatives at all, your assets go to the State.

In some cases, this may be fine, while in other cases it can present complex issues. For example, if you have stepchildren, foster children, or if you have a partner but aren’t married, dying without a will can cause them to be left out of any inheritance.

A Will Can Help You Specify Where Certain Assets Go

Another case where dying without a will can cause serious issues is if you have certain assets that hold sentimental value to your family – for example, a classic car. If you pass away without a will in North Carolina and you have multiple children who may want a certain item when you die, who gets it? 

Without a will, the car would likely be sold and the proceeds divided according to North Carolina law. Plus, there are the emotional issues that your family would have to go through dealing with this after your death. Needless to say, this isn’t something you want your family to have to deal with.

A Will Can Protect Unmarried Partners

Not everyone wants to get married – but, intestate succession leaves unmarried partners out in the cold. Some couples, especially later in life, elect not to get married for various reasons. Sometimes it’s because getting married may have negative effects on social security, pension benefits, or disability benefits.

If you want to leave property or other items to your partner when you’re not married, you need to have a will in place. This would also apply if you wanted to leave an inheritance or other items to a close friend, a charity, or other entities.

Our North Carolina Estate Planning Team Can Help

Having a will in place can give you control over protecting your family and loved ones after your passing – it’s not just something for people with a large estate.

At Schulz Stephenson Law, we have the experience to help you craft a will to help you make sure your estate is distributed according to your wishes. Call us today or fill out our contact form to schedule a consultation – we’d love to help you!

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