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Intestacy Laws in North Carolina

Sanjay R. Gohil and Ruiling (Amy) Zhang Nov. 10, 2022

What does “intestate” mean?

“Intestate” is the legal term for anyone who passes away without creating and executing a will during their lifetime.

What happens if I don’t have a will (i.e., “will the Government get my assets”)?

This is a popular misconception that the State or Government inherits your assets if you do not have a will. This misconception is not accurate. In North Carolina, if someone passes away without executing a will or other estate planning document during their lifetime, then the intestate succession laws of that State will apply to distribute the deceased party’s known assets at the time of their death to their closest relatives. In other words, the deceased’s property and assets are distributed according to North Carolina’s intestacy laws. North Carolina has a pre-defined formula for how the deceased person’s property is passed down to descendants, which may not be according to the person’s last wishes.  Each state has its own intestacy statutes.

What is North Carolina's property distribution formula?

The following summarizes North Carolina’s property distribution formula in the event of intestacy in certain common scenarios according to N.C. General Statute § 29-14, et. seq.:

  1. First, the surviving spouse’s inheritance of personal property and/or real property is determined. The spouse’s share depends on the number of the deceased’s surviving children and lineal descendants, as well as if the deceased’s parents are alive. Generally, if the intestate has no descendants and no living parents, the spouse will inherit everything.

  2. If the deceased has no surviving spouse, the deceased’s real estate and personal property are divided evenly among the children and other lineal descendants of any deceased children.

  3. If the deceased has a surviving spouse and one child or lineal descendants of a deceased child, the spouse receives ½ of the deceased’s real estate and $60,000 of the deceased’s personal property. If there is personal property remaining after the spouse’s initial share, ½ of the remaining goes to the spouse. The deceased’s children and descendants inherit half of the intestate real estate and the other ½ of any remaining personal property over $60,000.

  4. If the deceased has a surviving spouse and two or more children or multiple lineal descendants, the spouse inherits ⅓ of the intestate real estate and $60,000 of personal property. If there is personal property remaining after the spouse’s initial share, ⅓ of the remaining goes to the spouse. Children and lineal descendants receive ⅔ of the intestate real estate and the other ⅔ of any remaining personal property over $60,000.

  5. If the deceased has surviving parents and a spouse but no children, the spouse receives ½ of the intestate real estate and $100,000 of personal property. If there is personal property remaining after the spouse’s initial share, the spouse receives ½ of the remaining personal property. The intestate’s parents receive half of the real estate and ½ of any remaining personal property over $100,000.

  6. If the intestate dies without leaving a surviving spouse or any children or grandchildren, then his/her siblings would be next in line to inherit, followed by the intestate’s grandparents, and then to lineal descendants of the intestate’s grandparents if no grandparents survive the intestate’s death.

What is “escheat”?

If the deceased has no relatives, the unclaimed intestate real estate, personal property, and other assets go to the State. This process is known as “escheat.”

Find peace of mind and plan for the future by contacting the Law Offices of Sanjay R. Gohil, PLLC. Our firm can walk you through the process of developing a comprehensive will that reflects your estate planning wishes and makes sure your surviving relatives and beneficiaries are taken care of according to your specific intent, rather than by default according to relevant statutes.