Dying Without a Will in North Carolina

By Jeffry Olson, J.D.

Dying Without a Will in North Carolina

By Jeffry Olson, J.D.

Wills and revocable living trusts are useful tools for passing property to family and loved ones after you die. In these documents, you have the opportunity to list each item of value that you own and identify who you want to have the item. If you have valuable family heirlooms or other items that you wish to make certain pass to a specific family member or friend, writing your intentions in a will or trust is an effective way to accomplish this.

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If you don't have a valid document detailing your desires when you die, you are considered to have died "intestate," and the laws of North Carolina dictate what happens to your money and your property.

Meeting Obligations

When you do not have a will that designates an executor to manage your affairs and meet any remaining obligations you have after you die, the court will appoint an estate administrator. Before any property can pass to your heirs, the appointed estate administrator inventories the estate's assets and then pays any debts you still have.

The next step for the estate administrator is paying your taxes, including inheritance and estate taxes. Finally, your estate administrator needs to pay any other expenses associated with your assets. Sometimes this requires selling off assets in order to satisfy any of payments that need to be made.

Distributing Property

In North Carolina, property is distributed to heirs according to law. For example, if the deceased is married at the time of their death and has only one child, the spouse receives half of the real property. However, where the deceased has two or more children, the spouse receives only one-third of the real property. Where the person has no children but has parents that are living, the spouse again receives half of the estate.

Other people who may be entitled to inherit include:

  • Children
  • Lineal descendants of children
  • Surviving parents
  • Siblings
  • Lineal descendants of deceased siblings
  • Both paternal and maternal grandparents
  • Both paternal and maternal uncles and aunts
  • Lineal descendants of paternal and maternal uncles and aunts

A person qualifying as an heir depends on whether other people in the line of inheritance are alive. Additionally, the percentage of the size of the inheritance is dependent on how many other people may be inheriting.

Exceptions and Escheat

Certain property is exempt from the intestate laws in the state of North Carolina. Some examples include:

  • Life insurance policies with pay on death provisions
  • Bank accounts with beneficiary designations
  • Property held in joint tenancy
  • Other property with a payable on death or transferable on death provisions

These types of property transfers occur upon death and the submission of the death certificate to the institution holding the account.

"Escheat" is a legal term describing what happens if someone dies with no relatives who can establish a legal claim to the estate. In this case, the money in the estate is turned over to the state of North Carolina. North Carolina then puts the money into the state escheat fund, which is an interest-bearing account. The state then uses the interest gained from the fund to support state student aid programs.

To avoid any issues that can occur when dying intestate, it's best to start looking at estate planning documents as soon as possible. Having your last will and testament in place ensures that your beneficiaries will be taken care of and that your wishes for your assets will be known.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.