If a North Carolina resident dies without a valid will, then his or her probate estate will get divided in a process called intestate succession.
Intestate succession will not apply to property that is not subject to probate. For example, real estate or bank accounts that include a right of survivorship will pass automatically to the designated account holder.
Likewise, accounts like retirement plans or life insurance policies get paid to beneficiaries. They do not pass through probate. The same is true for assets held in a valid trust.
In intestate succession, a surviving spouse has a privileged place
The laws governing intestate succession favor a person’s surviving spouse. He or she receives half of all the real estate in probate if the person who died had a child or was survived by at least one of the person’s parents.
If the person had more than one child, the spouse gets one-third of the real estate. On the other hand, when a deceased person had no children and no surviving parents, the spouse takes all the real estate.
Personal property, like cash, automobiles, and personal effects, works a little differently. In any case, the surviving spouse gets at least $60,000 or all of the personal property, whichever is less.
If the person who died had only surviving parents, the spouse gets a minimum of $100,000 or all of the personal property.
As with real estate, a surviving spouse will receive a portion of any personal property in excess of the applicable minimum. If the person who died left no children or surviving parents, the surviving spouse will take all personal property.
Without a surviving spouse, children, other family members are favored
If a person dies unmarried, then the laws spell out how property will get divided among his or her children, descendants, parents or other extended relations.
The law of intestate succession can be complicated, so a Fayetteville resident with detailed questions should consider asking an experienced probate attorney. Those who want to avoid intestate succession will need to create a valid will or other estate plan.
People who are involved in a probate process where intestate succession is in play may want to ensure their interests are represented.