What happens to a person's property after they die is the domain of probate law. Like other states, North Carolina has numerous statutes governing the distribution of property. Whether a person dies with or without a last will and testament, the North Carolina probate laws apply and determine how property is distributed.
In North Carolina, citizens can determine for themselves how they want their property to be distributed after they die. This can be done through a last will and testament.To make a legal will in North Carolina, a person must be at least 18 years old and of sound mind. Generally, wills in North Carolina must be in writing, though the use of oral wills is allowed in certain situations. All wills in North Carolina must be attested to by the testator (the person leaving the property) before two competent witnesses. In the case of an oral will, the testator must be in the last stages of his illness and declare the will to the two witnesses simultaneously. (North Carolina Code § 31-1et. seq.)
When someone in North Carolina dies without leaving a will, their property is divided according to the state's intestate succession laws. These laws establish a predetermined line of succession do determine who inherits property. For example, if the deceased leaves behind a spouse and a child, both the spouse and child are entitled to half of any real property. The surviving spouse in this situation is also entitled to inherit any personal property. If the personal property of the estate is less than $30,000 the spouse receives the entirety of the personal property inheritance. If it is more than $30,000 the spouse receives the $30,000 plus half of anything over that amount, with the remainder going to the surviving child. (North Carolina Code § 29-14)
The process through which the deceased's estate is distributed in North Carolina is covered under the laws of probate. These laws establish a procedure through which both intestate estates and those with a will get distributed. Typically, this process involves several steps. The first step involves locating any will and determining if an executor or administrator is named therein. Once the will is presented to the court, a probate judge will either name an executor in accordance with the will, or if no will exists, name a qualified administrator. This administrator will be granted the right to inventory any estate assets and debts as well as pay for those debts with the funds of the estate. Once all taxes and debts are accounted for, the administrator can then distribute property in accordance with the will or the laws of intestate succession. (See generally North Carolina Code Chapter 47)