The state decides who gets your assets if you die without a will.Dying without a will—which is legally known as dying “intestate”—can be a costly mistake that impacts your family in ways you hadn’t anticipated. Planning for where your assets will go after you die may not a pleasant topic, but it is a financially critical process everyone needs to undertake at some point. 

Don’t let the courts decide where your property, money, and valued heirlooms go after you pass away. You worked hard to earn what you own, so you should get to decide how your assets are divvied up and where they go. 

What You Need to Know About North Carolina Intestacy Laws

If you don’t have a will, or if your will doesn’t cover everything in your estate, then North Carolina’s intestate succession rules take effect. That means a court will appoint someone to pay off debts and creditors before divvying up any of your remaining assets to family members. Exactly how that distribution takes place depends on the makeup of your immediate family:

  • Children receive an even distribution of all assets if you have no living spouse.
  • Your spouse is granted all property and assets if your parents aren’t alive and you have no children. If you have two or more children, your spouse receives the first $30,000 of personal property, plus one-third of any remaining assets and real estate, while the remaining two-thirds is divvied between the kids. If you only have one child, then the amounts change to an even half and half split after the first $30,000 in property is granted to your spouse.
  • Parents will receive everything if you have no spouse or children, either divided evenly between them or going solely to one person if only one parent remains alive. If both your parents and spouse survive but you have no children, your spouse is granted the first $50,000 in property and the remaining assets are split half and half between spouse and parents.
  • Distant relatives will be contacted and granted assets if you have no surviving parents, spouse, or children.
  • The state of North Carolina receives your assets if no living blood relatives can be found

Obviously, these rules for the division of assets may not be what you had in mind. Couples without children often prefer their spouse to receive everything for instance, rather than splitting up assets with living parents first.

Intestate asset distribution by a court may also be problematic if you have disabled children with special needs, minor children who may require a guardian, or adult children who are irresponsible with money. Furthermore, if you married someone who already has children, none of your assets will go to those stepchildren unless they were legally adopted, as the courts don’t consider them to be your actual children.

There are other considerations about how assets are divided among family members that can cause major headaches, such as if the court determines your minor children are owed property. Since minors aren’t legally allowed to own property in North Carolina, the court will appoint someone to oversee the property for you, and that person may not follow your wishes or have your children’s best interests in mind. This issue can be particularly difficult for families if your spouse is still living, since they will be unable to legally handle many matters of finances involving the property.

Thankfully, there are ways to avoid these problems. The intestate process specifically covers assets that would have passed through your will if you had one in place. Consulting an attorney to help by making a will is a good first step, but it is by no means the only option available. There are critical legal exceptions to assets that don’t go through a will that can avoid dealing with the courts entirely. For instance, setting up and properly funding trusts completely sidesteps intestate succession and the probate process, while giving you more control over how your assets are split up.

Plan Ahead to Cover Your Family’s Needs, Contact Our Experienced Wilmington Estate Planning Attorneys Today

You should talk to an experienced estate planning attorney as far in advance as possible about the various options available for your specific situation. The Legacy Lawyers team has a wide range of legal solutions to draw on to help ensure families are taken care of after tragedy strikes. Fill out our contact form to schedule a free 15-minute consultation and find out if we can help you.

John J. Peck
Wilmington Elder Law, Estate Planning & Asset Protection Attorney