Even with the clear benefits of having a will, we’ve found that far too many people in North Carolina don’t have one. For those without a will, there are a myriad of reasons – they think a will is only for people with a certain amount of assets, people with larger families, or any number of other reasons.
Dying without a will is referred to as dying “intestate” – when you die intestate in North Carolina, state law determines what will happen with all your possessions. Even though state law will determine what happens in this case, it almost never matches up to what people would prefer happen with their assets, therefore the need for a will.
If you’re in a situation where a family member has died without a will, what should you know?
What Does North Carolina Law Say About Intestate Succession?
Similar to other states, the law in North Carolina determines how property is divided if someone dies without a will – but, all property is not subject to the law.
Some examples of things that fall outside of this process include retirement accounts, POD (payable on death) accounts, accounts with a designated beneficiary, and more. Also, if you own a house jointly with your spouse, then they will automatically get the house after your death without any additional court process.
Here’s how property is divided according to North Carolina law:
1. If you (1) have no living spouse or children, and (2) your parents are still alive, your estate will be divided between your parents. If you only have one living parent, they would inherit everything.
2. If you (1) have a living spouse, (2) have living parents, and (3) have no children, your spouse receives the first $100,000, and the rest is split between your spouse and parent(s).
3. If you (1) have a living spouse, (2) no children, and (3) no parents, your spouse receives everything.
4. If you (1) have a living spouse, and (2) have a child, your spouse receives the first $60,000, 50% of remaining personal property and 50% of real estate. Your child receives the other 50% of personal property and real estate.
5. If you (1) have a living spouse, and (2) two or more children, your spouse gets the first $60,000, 1/3 of the remaining personal property and 1/3 of real estate, and then your children evenly split the rest.
6. If you (1) have no living spouse, and (2) one or more living children, everything is divided evenly among the children and/or their descendants.
7. If you (1) have no living spouse, (2) no living children, and (3) no living parents, but do have siblings, everything is divided equally among your siblings.
8. If you have none of these, there are additional rules dividing property among more remote relatives.
If none of these apply, and you have no living relatives, then your property passes to the State.
Although it’s great to have a structure, usually these conditions won’t fit perfectly within your wishes. There are many situations that this may apply – do you have stepchildren? Maybe you don’t get along with your parents and want to pass your assets to someone else. What if you’re divorced, but still want to provide some support to your ex-spouse in your will?
Avoiding Stress For Your Family
Another great reason to have a will is to avoid additional stress on your family in a situation where they’re already in mourning. For example, what if there’s an asset that holds a lot of sentimental value to your family and children – who gets it? If there can be no agreement and it’s not specified in the will, odds are that asset would be sold and the proceeds distributed according to the law, which is likely not the outcome you would want.
Other Directives You Can Put In Your Will
Just like you can put in your will where you’d like certain items to be distributed, you can also put in there what you’d like sold and what you would not like to be sold. This is a common practice if there is an extended illness, or other specific situation where the liquidity would be needed.
Intestate Succession And Unmarried Partners
For various reasons, not everyone wants to (or even can) get married. Without a will, intestate succession will leave unmarried partners without anything. This often affects relationships later in life, as many older couples elect not to get married for a variety of reasons, including:
· Social Security and pensions
· Estate and college planning
· Medical expenses
Getting married can have a negative effect on these benefits and some couples don’t see the point in getting married because of these downsides.
If you want to leave property and personal effects to your partner without getting married, you need to write a will.
During your life, you may have a passion for volunteering or working with certain charities. With a will, you can leave a lasting effect on these organizations by specifying that certain assets pass to the charity as a donation.
Our North Carolina Estate Planning Attorneys Can Help
In almost all situations, having a will provides a better outcome than leaving your estate to chance via intestate succession in North Carolina. David Anderson helps individuals and families of all sizes and walks of life plan for what they want to happen to their estate after their passing. Contact us today for a consultation on how we can help you!