If you die without a will in place, the state of North Carolina will determine who inherits your assets based on intestate laws. These laws are precise and outline an order in which heirs at law inherit from the deceased. Let’s take a closer look at North Carolina’s intestate succession laws and see how they affect the heirs of a person who dies without a will.

What are Heirs At Law?

Heirs at law are those who have a legal right to an inheritance when someone dies without a last will and testament. In North Carolina, the state determines heirs at law through intestate succession laws. These laws set out a specific order in which heirs inherit from the deceased.

Under North Carolina’s intestate succession laws, the first heirs at law to inherit from the deceased are the surviving spouse and children of the deceased. If there is no surviving spouse or child, then the next heirs at law are the deceased’s parents. If there are no surviving parents, then the next heirs at law are the brothers and sisters of the deceased. Finally, if there are no surviving siblings, then heirs at law include any other relatives related to the deceased by blood or marriage.

It’s important to note that North Carolina’s intestate succession laws only apply when an individual dies without a will in place. If an individual dies with a valid will in place, then the probate court will distribute assets according to the terms of their will.

Unexpected Ways that North Carolina’s Intestate Succession Law Works

While North Carolina’s intestate succession laws may seem straightforward, there are a few surprising and unexpected ways that they can work. For example, did you know that if you die:

  • Without a surviving spouse or child, your parents inherit everything?
  • With more than 1 child, your spouse may only inherit 1/3 of the estate?
  • With stepchildren that you did not legally adopt, they receive nothing?
  • Without a surviving spouse or child, your siblings only inherit if you had no other living relatives who are related to you by blood or marriage?
  • With a blood-related child born within 10 months after your death, they receive a share (even if you never knew about the child and were not married to the mother, but she can prove DNA paternity)?

As you can see, North Carolina’s intestate succession laws can be complex and confusing. If you’re unsure how they would apply in your specific situation, it’s best to speak with an experienced estate planning attorney who can help you understand your rights and options.

What if a Probate Judge Declares a Will Invalid?

It’s also important to note that, even if an individual dies with a will in place, a probate judge can declare the will invalid. If this happens, the probate court will distribute the deceased’s assets according to North Carolina’s intestate succession laws.

There are many reasons why a probate judge might declare a will invalid. For example, the deceased may not have properly executed the will with witnesses, or they might have created the will under duress. In some cases, the deceased may have revoked their will before they died.

If you’re concerned that your loved one’s will might not be valid, you must speak with an experienced attorney who can help you understand your rights and options.

What Can Heirs at Law Do to Protect Their Inheritance?

If you’re an heir at law, you can do a few things to protect your inheritance. First, it’s essential to be aware of North Carolina’s intestate succession laws and how they might apply in your specific situation. If you have any questions about these rules, you should speak with an experienced attorney who can help you understand them.

It’s also important to keep track of your loved one’s assets so that they do not become a victim of elder exploitation. This means vetting caregivers and watching any relatives who visit with your elder relative.

Ensure that they wrote a valid will so that you don’t face intestate laws and ensure that their will is up-to-date. A will written 15 years ago may meet a will contest by a disgruntled relative who feels the decedent should have included them.

If your loved one dies without a valid will, the court will distribute their assets according to North Carolina’s intestate succession laws. To avoid this, make sure that their will is valid and up-to-date.

Inherit Outside of The System

One way to inherit that bypasses probate court is when someone opens a trust and names you as a beneficiary. You can also bypass probate court if your loved one names you as joint owner of real property in NC with a right of survivorship. The same goes for joint bank accounts.

In addition, if your loved one lists you as the beneficiary on a life insurance policy or a retirement account, the probate court cannot change that, even if the will or intestate law contradicts your inheritance! 

It’s vital to be proactive and take steps to protect your inheritance. If you’re concerned that someone might try to contest your loved one’s will, or if you’re worried about the probate process, it’s best to speak with an experienced attorney who can help you plan for the future. Taking these steps can help ensure that your inheritance is protected.

If you have questions about intestate succession law in North Carolina or need help drafting a will, be sure to speak with an experienced estate planning attorney. An attorney can help you understand your rights and options under the law and can assist you in creating a plan that meets your unique needs.

We Can Help

At the Hogan, Edwards, and Blue Law Firm, we can help you plan for the future with a well-written and well-thought-out last will and testament. Don’t leave your assets up for grabs by the state or greedy relatives you barely know. Instead, let your family and loved ones know about your wishes.

At Hogan, Edwards, and Blue, we work with you to ensure your will is valid, and the probate court recognizes this. Often, a spouse does not receive enough to care for their needs without a will in place. Ensure your loved ones receive what they need after you die. Contact us and find out how we can help you plan for the future.