Can a Beneficiary Forfeit His Inheritance in North Carolina?

by Joe Stone

Beneficiaries forfeit their right to inherit property in several situations under North Carolina law. In general, a person found liable for the willful killing of another forfeits any rights to inherit from the victim's estate. A spouse forfeits his inheritance rights in the other spouse's estate in several circumstances, such as when he abandons the marriage. Similarly, parents forfeit inheritance rights in a child's estate when they abandon the child.

Slayers

North Carolina law bars anyone from inheriting property from the estate of a person whose death he caused in a willful and unlawful manner. This person is a "slayer," who, in a criminal proceeding, is convicted, pleaded guilty or no contest as a principal or accessory before the fact of killing the decedent in a willful and unlawful manner. A slayer is also a person found liable in a civil lawsuit as having willfully killed the decedent or procured the killing of the decedent. The definition of slayer also includes a minor who commits an act that, if committed by an adult, would make the adult a slayer. Anyone found not guilty by reason of insanity in a criminal proceeding for killing another person is excluded from the definition of slayer.

Spouses

A spouse in North Carolina forfeits any rights in the estate of the other spouse who dies without a will, or intestate, in five situations: after divorce or annulment of the marriage; when a spouse voluntarily separates from the other spouse and lives in an adulterous relationship; if the spouse abandons the marriage and refuses to live with the other spouse and is not living with the spouse at the time of death; if the spouse obtains a divorce not valid under North Carolina law; or the spouse commits bigamy. The offending spouse also forfeits that right to be appointed administrator for the estate of the deceased spouse in any probate proceedings.

Parents

North Carolina's General Statutes prohibit any parent who abandoned a child from inheriting from the child's estate or being appointed administrator of the child's estate. Abandonment includes willfully failing to care for the child or providing financial support. The statute provides for two exceptions to the forfeiture rule: if the parent resumed caring for the child at least one year prior to death and continued to do so until the child's death; and, if the parent was denied custody of the child be court order, but abides by the court's orders requiring child support payments.

Voluntary Renunciation

North Carolina also permits a beneficiary who is entitled to receive an inheritance to voluntarily forfeit or renounce the inheritance. The renunciation must be in writing and filed with the clerk of court where probate proceeding are pending or, if probate is not pending, in the county court that has jurisdiction over the deceased's estate. The renounced inheritance is passed according to any provision of a will that addresses disposal of a renounced inheritance. If there is no will, the person renouncing the inheritance is considered to have died before the decedent and the inheritance passes to the next heir according to the North Carolina law.