Many people assume that if they pass away without a Last Will and Testament that all of their assets will pass to their spouse, but that is not always true. During my thirty years of practicing Estate Law in Raleigh, North Carolina, I can’t count the number of times someone has called me to talk about property they think they own, and we discover that they may not be the only owner of that property. 

If you die without a Will, the North Carolina statutes of intestate succession will determine how your assets are distributed. These statutes govern assets that are owned solely by the deceased person. If a spouse dies owning property jointly with their husband or wife, then those assets often pass directly to the spouse by operation of law.  But if the spouse owns real estate or other assets in his or her individual name with no designated beneficiary, then the intestacy statutes determine the new owners of the property at that person’s death. You can read the statute that determines the share of the surviving spouse here and the statute that determines the share of children or other family members here and here.

Intestate succession can be difficult to understand – consult an estate attorney if you need help determining the heirs of a person who died without a Will. An attorney can also help you draft a Last Will and Testament so that you, rather than the State of North Carolina, can choose the people you want to receive your assets at your death.

Amanda Spence has been practicing Estate Planning, Probate, and Estate Administration in Raleigh, North Carolina for thirty years. She works with clients in Wake, Johnston, Harnett and other counties throughout North Carolina. To schedule a consultation with Ms. Spence call  (919) 863-4183 or email her at