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In North Carolina, as in many other states, if you die without a will (this is known as dying “intestate”) the courts will decide what happens with your estate. Without a will to reference, the Intestate Succession Act governs the distribution of your real and personal property after your death based on structured rules that revolve around your marital status, whether you have children (and how many), and whether your parents or siblings are still alive. If you have no relatives at all (this includes half-siblings, distant cousins, etc.), your entire estate will go to the State of North Carolina.

Children (or adult dependents) are one of the most important reasons you should have a will. Without a will, guardians for your dependents will be chosen by the court. If you have special needs children or dependents, not only should you have a will, but you should also consider setting up a special needs trust to provide for your loved ones after your death. We strongly recommend anyone with children speak to an estate planning attorney to get a will and related documentation in place.

More About Dying Intestate in North Carolina

  • Certain types of property where a beneficiary is listed or the account is titled as joint tenancy (this may include life insurance, bank accounts, retirement accounts, and trusts) are not impacted by the Intestate Succession Act and will be distributed based on your beneficiary selections.
  • Property located outside of North Carolina will be distributed based on the succession laws of that state (or country).
  • If you are married and leave behind a spouse and children, a portion of the estate will go to your spouse with the remaining being divided equally between your children or, if you have no children, your parents. In the absence of a spouse, children or living parents, your siblings would receive your estate.
  • If you are not married but have a partner, under current law that person receives nothing.
  • If you have a large estate, planning ahead can lower the tax burden for your beneficiaries. Learn more about protecting your assets.

In short, it’s always a good idea to have a current will in place to protect your loved ones and ensure your wishes are carried out. Even if you have no relatives anywhere, would you rather leave your assets to your alma mater or favorite charity, or have them go into the State’s account? We also recommend everyone have advance directives on file. These documents include a living will that outlines your wishes for end of life care should you be unable to communicate them and a healthcare power of attorney to give a relative or close friend the ability to make healthcare decisions on your behalf should you be (even temporarily) incapacitated.