What if a person dies without a will in North Carolina?

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Responsible attorneys generally will advise their clients to prepare a legally binding “last will and testament, good advice for any adult, no matter how young or old. Most of us would like to ensure that our financial assets and valuable property would be handed on according to our wishes, including special gifts and bequests. More than half of all Americans, however, never get around to making a will. We may procrastinate because we are just too busy, or we may be unwilling to face the fact that death inevitably comes to us all.


Whatever the reasons, when person dies “intestate” (without having made a valid will) in North Carolina, the deceased person’s assets will be divided as in accordance with North Carolina’s intestate succession laws during a process known as “estate administration,” where an administrator is appointed to handle the estate.


The estate administrator deals only with the assets that would normally be included in a will, which are the assets that you alone own. That excludes assets such as property you have placed in a living trust, life insurance, IRA and other retirement funds, securities held in a transfer-on-death account, payable-on-death bank accounts, and property you own jointly with someone else.


For your own assets, even if your family knows what your wishes would have been, North Carolina law will make the decisions for you, whether they correspond to your wishes or not. Here’s a brief summary of the state laws that apply when you die without a will.

If you die:
1. With a spouse but no children or parents, your spouse will inherit everything. With children but no spouse, your children will inherit everything.
2. With a spouse and one child, the spouse inherits all of your personal property up to the value of $60,000. If you have more than $60,000 in assets, your spouse inherits $60,000 plus one-half of the remaining assets, and your child inherits half of the remaining assets. (The same applies to descendants of one child.)
3. With a spouse and two or more children or the descendants of those children, the same rules apply as in (2), but the spouse and children or descendants inherit one-third of the remaining assets over $60,000.
4. With parents but no spouse or descendants, the parents inherit everything. With siblings but no parents, spouse, or descendants, the siblings inherit everything.


In the rare case where there are no immediate family, relatives or descendants, the person’s estate will go to the state of North Carolina.


Richard Manger, principal of Manger Law Firm, has extensive experience in wills and estates, litigation and settlements, with a focus on workers’ compensation and personal injury law. We are proud of the strong relationships of loyalty and trust we develop with our clients. We go above and beyond to achieve the best possible outcome in your case. You can contact Richard Manger via email at ram@mangerlaw.com, or by calling (336) 882-2000.

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