What Is a Legal Will in the State of North Carolina?

By Stephanie Kurose, J.D.

What Is a Legal Will in the State of North Carolina?

By Stephanie Kurose, J.D.

A will is an incredibly important estate-planning tool that allows the person making the document, the testator, to dictate how and to whom their assets transfer upon their death, among many other things. Because state law governs these documents, it is important to understand the specific laws of North Carolina to ensure that a will is legally valid. Otherwise, you can risk a court partially or entirely invalidating the document. In the case of an invalidated will, the court distributes the testator's assets based on the state's default laws of intestacy succession, which typically transfer assets to the closest living relative.

Man at desk typing at laptop

Creating a will is fairly simple and straightforward. North Carolina recognizes a few different versions of the document that each have their own requirements. However, each type requires that the testator be at least 18 years old and of sound mind for the document to be valid. The testator must know what they are signing and what it means, and they cannot have been designated incapacitated in a previous legal proceeding.

Attested Written Wills

The testator writes or types the most common option, an attested will, and must sign it in front of two witnesses. The two witnesses must then sign it in front of the testator.

In North Carolina, the witnesses do not need to sign the document in front of each other. If the testator is unable to sign for any reason, such as an illness, someone else can sign on their behalf so long as it is in front of the testator and at the testator's direction.

Holographic Wills

A holographic will is written entirely in the testator's own handwriting, or, alternatively, written by someone else but subscribed or signed by the testator. This does not need witnesses in order to be valid.

Most states do not recognize holographic or nuncupative wills, but North Carolina is one of the few that do. Some states will recognize one if it was originally created and signed in North Carolina, even if they typically do not.

Nuncupative Wills

Nuncupative, or oral, wills are also valid in North Carolina in certain circumstances. In order for one to be legal, the testator must be suffering from a last sickness from which they will not survive or be in immediate danger of dying from another cause. The testator must also declare that the statement is intended to be their will in front of two witnesses specially requested to bear witness.

For any will that requires witnesses in North Carolina (attested and nuncupative), the witnesses must be competent. State law explicitly deems the executor of that document to be incompetent as a witness due to conflict of interest concerns. However, a beneficiary may be a competent witness so long as there are two other disinterested witnesses present. If there are not two other disinterested witnesses, the beneficiary can still act as a witness but shall not take anything under the will, and the portion of the document governing their interests is void. A beneficiary witness to a nuncupative will, however, does not void the document and can still receive their benefits.

North Carolina allows for a few options when creating a valid will. Whether you choose an attested, holographic, or nuncupative version, it's important to understand the state's requirements that makes each valid to avoid legal complications after death.

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.