Estate planning allows you to decide how your property will be distributed after you die. But what happens when someone dies without a will? In those cases, North Carolina’s law of intestate succession takes over and directs the distribution of the deceased individual’s property.
Here are three things you should know about how intestate succession works in practice:
The spouse is entitled to a fixed share–which may be 100 Percent
If the decedent–i.e., the person who died without a will–was married at the time of their death, the surviving spouse is automatically entitled to a certain share of the estate under intestate succession. The size of the share depends on whether the decedent had children or other descendants (e.g., grandchildren or great-grandchildren):
- If the decedent was married and had no children or descendants, then the spouse inherits 100 percent of the estate.
- If the decedent was married with one child or descendant, the surviving spouse inherits a one-half (½) interest in any real estate owned by the decedent, as well as the first $60,000 of any personal property plus one-half of (½) the balance.
- If the decedent was married with two or more children (or descendants of those children), the surviving spouse inherits a one-third (1/3) interest in the decedent’s real estate, as well as the first $60,000 of any personal property plus one-third (1/3) of the balance.
The decedent’s children inherit equally.
Whenever multiple children inherit from an intestate estate, they do so equally. For example, if the decedent had three children, they would each be entitled to one-third of whatever portion of the estate did not go to the surviving spouse. (Obviously, if there is no spouse, the children inherit everything). For purposes of intestate succession, a “child” includes any legally adopted children of the decedent. It does not, however, include any children the decedent previously placed for adoption with another family.
If a child dies before you, their children can still inherit.
As mentioned above, there are situations where lineal descendants such as a grandchild may inherit from an intestate estate. For example, let’s say Jane had three adult children. One of the children died before her, but that child had two children of their own. If Jane dies without a will, the share of her estate that would have gone to the deceased child will instead be divided equally between the two grandchildren.
Avoid Intestate Succession by Working With a North Carolina Estate Planning Attorney
Intestate succession is designed to prevent a set of legal defaults in the event someone dies without a will. But you should not rely on intestacy law to distribute your estate. A qualified North Carolina estate planning lawyer can help you draft a will and other documents that ensure your property is distributed in the manner you wish. Contact Howard, Stallings, From, Atkins, Angell & Davis, P.A., today to speak with a member of our estate planning team today.