When it comes to Estate Planning, it is important to understand two distinct legal terms you will often hear when discussing your estate plan: testate and intestate (also known as testacy and intestacy).
In North Carolina, if you die without a Will, your estate is deemed to be “intestate”. This means your estate will pass to your heirs according to the laws of intestate succession. It is a common misconception that if you do not have a Will, your assets will revert to the state and become government-owned property, and this is not exactly the case. Instead, the laws of intestate succession look to your next closest kin as the “heirs” to inherit your estate.
For example, intestate succession depends on your circumstances:
- Single individuals with no children: the first in line to inherit would be any living parents, then siblings, and so on.
- Married individuals with no children: the entire estate would go to the surviving spouse.
- Married individuals with children: the estate would be divided among the surviving spouse and children.
It is important to understand that the laws of intestate succession do not consider the personal preferences of the individual, regardless of their personal feelings or relationship to an intestate beneficiary. Even if this outcome is desirable in some situations, there are reasons having a Will could protect your loved ones, as discussed below.
When you die with a valid Will in existence at the time of your death, your estate is “testate,” and the terms of your Will control how your estate passes. In a valid Will, you can control who will inherit and the terms of their inheritance. Having a carefully drafted Will prepared is especially important to anyone who is married, not married yet carries out daily living as spouses might otherwise do, owns the property, has children, or even pets, that they wish to take care of and plan for.
A Will allows you to appoint an executor of your choosing who will be responsible for managing the estate and ensuring that the assets are distributed according to the instructions laid out in the will. Additionally, with a Will in place, you can exercise greater control over the distribution of your estate by specifying how property should be divided, designating guardians for their minor children, or making provisions for charitable donations or other special requests. A well-drafted will can help ensure that the wishes of the deceased person are carried out and minimize potential conflicts among family members.
Consulting with an experienced estate planning attorney can help you navigate the legal complexities and create a comprehensive plan that reflects your unique circumstances and goals.