A Guide to North Carolina Inheritance Laws


Monday, February 24th 2020, 7:08 pm
By: News On 6


Blue Ridge Mountains in North CarolinaEven though North Carolina has neither an estate tax or nor an inheritance tax, the federal estate tax still applies to North Carolinians, depending on the value of their estate. In this article, we break down North Carolina’s inheritance laws, including what happens if you die without a valid will, and what happens to your property. If you want professional guidance with your estate or inheritance plans, the SmartAsset advisor matching tool can match you with a financial advisor in your area who can help.

Does North Carolina Have an Inheritance or Estate Tax?

North Carolina does not collect an inheritance tax or an estate tax. However, state residents should remember to take into account the federal estate tax if their estate or the estate they are inheriting is worth more than $11.18 million. Even if you are a resident of North Carolina, if you inherit property from another state, that state may have an estate tax that applies. You may also have to file some taxes on behalf of the deceased.

Other Necessary Tax Filings

When you die, there are many federal and estate tax situations that need to become a priority for those who survive you. Besides the state estate tax, you need to look out for the following:

  • Final individual federal and state income tax returns – the federal and state tax returns are due by Tax Day of the year following the individual’s death.
  • Federal estate/trust income tax return – due by April 15 of the year following the individual’s death
  • Federal estate tax return – due nine months after the individual’s death, though an automatic six-month extension is available if asked for prior to the conclusion of the nine-month period
    • This is required only of individual estates that exceed a gross asset and prior taxable gift value of $11.4 million

The Internal Revenue Service requires each estate to have its own employer identification number (EIN) to represent itself in any tax-related matters. To apply for an EIN, visit the IRS website or apply by fax or mail.

Dying With a Will in North Carolina

Cape Lookout in North Carolina

To make a will legitimate in North Carolina, which does not use the Uniform Probate Code, you must sign your will in front of two witnesses, and your witnesses must sign your will in front of you. You do not need a lawyer or a notary to make your will legal. However, you can make your will “self-proving” by going to go to a notary if you want to do that. Self-proving speeds up probate because the court can accept the will without contacting the witnesses who signed it.

If the will is deemed valid, the next step is the probate process, which is usually only required if the deceased owned assets in her or his name only. Other assets, also known as “non-probate” property, can generally be transferred to the other owner without probate.

North Carolina offers two ways of avoiding or speeding up probate for smaller estates. One is an affidavit process, which lets you skip probate entirely if the value of the decedent’s personal property, after liens and encumbrances, is $20,000 or less. If the surviving spouse is the sole heir, the amount goes up to $30,000. When the surviving spouse is the sole heir, spousal allowance is not counted under the $30,000 cap.

If the affidavit process is used, you don’t need the simplified probate process. If the surviving spouse is the only heir, a simplified probate procedure is available – as long as the property does not pass through a trust. If the property passes through a trust, you cannot use this option. The simplified probate process, also known as a summary probate process, may be used if the only surviving inheritor or heir is the decedent’s surviving spouse. The spouse must file a petition with the court, along with the will and supporting evidence.

Dying Without a Will in North Carolina

If you die without a valid will, you’ll lose control over what happens to your assets after your death. These assets are “intestate.” The court will follow intestate succession laws to determine who inherits your assets, and how much they get.

The court will appoint someone to serve as administrator of the estate. If there is a surviving spouse, they have first priority to be appointed as administrator. Both executors and administrators are known as “personal representatives” of the estate.

Often there are extenuating factors, but if possible, it’s best not to die intestate and put your loved ones through that kind of stress. If you’re not sure what kind of estate plan you want to make you can get the help of a financial advisor.

Spouses in North Carolina Inheritance Law

If you die intestate with a spouse, your spouse’s inheritance depends on whether or not you have living parents or descendants. Descendants include children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. If you have no living parents or descendants, your spouse will inherit all of your intestate property.

If you die with parents but no descendants, your spouse will inherit half of intestate real estate and the first $100,000 of personal property. If there is more than $100,000 worth of personal property, your spouse then inherits half of the remaining personal property. Your parents will inherit half of the intestate real estate and whatever personal property remains after your spouse has received their share.

Children in North Carolina Inheritance Law

Two boys surfing off the coast of North Carolina

If you die with one child or descendants of that child, your spouse will inherit half of intestate real estate and the first $60,000 of personal property. If there is more than $60,000 worth of personal property, your spouse then inherits half of the remaining personal property. Your child or descendants will inherit half of the intestate real estate and whatever personal property remains after your spouse has received their share.

If you die with two or more children, or descendants of those children, your spouse will inherit a third of intestate real estate and the first $100,000 of personal property. If there is more than $100,000 worth of personal property, your spouse then inherits a third of the remaining personal property. Your child or descendants will inherit two thirds of the intestate real estate and whatever personal property remains after your spouse has received their share.

Intestate Succession: Spouses and Children Inheritance Situation Who Inherits Your Property Children but no spouse – Children inherit everything Spouse but no descendants or parents – Spouse inherits everything Spouse and one child or descendants of one child – Spouse inherits half of intestate real estate and $60,000 of personal property. If there is more than $60,000 of personal property, spouse  inherits half of remaining personal property
– Child or descendants inherit half of intestate real estate and half of any remaining personal property Spouse and two or more children or descendants of those children – Spouse inherits 1/3 of intestate real estate and $60,000 of personal property. If there is more than $60,000 of personal property, spouse inherits 1/3 of remaining personal property
– Children or descendants inherit 2/3 of intestate real estate and 2/3 of any remaining personal property Spouse and parents – Spouse inherits half of intestate real estate and $100,000 of personal property. If there is more than $100,000 of personal property, spouse inherits half of remaining personal property
– Parents inherit half of intestate real estate and half of any remaining personal property

If you die intestate, each of your children will receive an “intestate share” of your property. Legally adopted children have just as much right to their intestate share as biological children do. In addition, if the decedent placed their child up for adoption and that child was adopted by another family – other than your spouse – they are not legally eligible to receive intestate inheritance from the decedent. However, foster children and stepchildren that were never legally adopted by the decedent are not eligible to receive a share as the decedent’s child.

Children born outside of marriage still receive their share as long as they have been legally legitimated under North Carolina law, the decedent acknowledged paternity, or the child was born within one year of the decedent’s death and paternity was established through DNA testing. Children conceived by the decedent can still receive their share if they are born within 10 months of the decedent’s death. Grandchildren will receive a share only if their parent is not alive to inherit.

Unmarried Individuals Without Children

Intestate succession in North Carolina if there is no surviving child or spouse is arranged as in the chart below:

Intestate Succession: Extended Family Inheritance Situation Who Inherits Your Property – Parents – Parents inherit everything – Siblings, but no parents – Siblings inherit everything

The intestate process is designed to protect your property and make sure it stays in the hands of your family. However, it is usually best to write your own will to ensure that all your property goes where you want it to.

Non-Probate North Carolina Inheritances

The probate process can be difficult and expensive. However, you have some options when it comes to avoiding probate in North Carolina. Some of the assets that do not have to go through probate and instead go directly to the beneficiaries are listed below.

Other Situations in North Carolina Inheritance Law

Greensboro, North Carolina, at duskHeirs must survive the decedent by at least 120 hours to receive their inheritance. Relatives conceived before you die but born after the decedent’s death are eligible to inherit as if they had been born while the decedent was alive. However, posthumous relatives must be born within 10 months of your death to be eligible to inherit.

Immigration status is irrelevant when it comes to inheritance. If a relative of yours is entitled to a share of your assets, they can inherit no matter what their citizenship status is. Half-relatives inherit as much as “whole” relatives.

If you give an heir property during your lifetime, the value of that gift can be subtracted from their share, but only if it is shown that the gift was an advancement, rather than a gift.

Resources for Estate Planning

Managing your own or someone else’s estate can be a complex venture. You might want some help with the process from a financial advisor, who can also help you invest your inheritance. Finding the right financial advisor who fits your needs doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in five minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors who will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.

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