This is a follow up to my previous blog post, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way … to provide for your spouse.”
In that blog, I discussed that it is a common estate planning myth that when a spouse dies without a will, the other spouse will inherit everything. Instead, a portion of the estate may go to the deceased’s children or the deceased’s parents instead of the spouse.
Today, I’m going to discuss what happens if you die without a will and you do not have a surviving spouse or surviving children.
Under the North Carolina Intestate Succession Act, the people who will inherit, in order of priority, are (1) Grandchildren, (2) parents, (3) siblings and/or their children, and (4) Grandparents and/or their children (the deceased aunts and uncles).
Like my previous blog discussed, you can certainly see a potential issue here for some people. If you are unmarried or widowed and you don’t have any children or grandchildren, perhaps you don’t want your parents to inherit your estate? If they are wealthy, perhaps your sibling, who needs money more than they do, would be better served with inheriting your estate. Maybe you are estranged from your parents, and you would prefer your sibling or your favorite cousin or uncle to inherit your estate?
Another issue that comes into play are adopted children or step-children. Under North Carolina law, an adopted child is treated as a biological child. A step-child, however, is not treated as a biological child unless they have been adopted.
This issue works both ways. Perhaps your estranged parents adopted a child, who is now technically your sibling under North Carolina law, but you have no interest whatsoever in having this person inherit your estate. You would need a will to ensure this does not happen.
On the other side, perhaps your child has married someone who has a child from a previous marriage, who would be your step-grandchild. If you have a grandparent-grandchild relationship with this child for 30 years and you want them to inherit your estate when you pass away, you will need a will if they are not adopted.
To summarize these blog discussions, in order to truly have a say in what you want done with your property when you pass away, you need a will.
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Kelly Rains Jesson