The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us just how much control the government can have over our lives (whether constitutional or not). While most people agree that some government control is okay, most people agree that having the government tell you how to give away your possessions is an overreach of power. However, many people do not realize that laws determine where your stuff goes when you die. These are called Intestate Succession laws.
What it is
Intestate succession refers to the way your belongings pass when you die intestate (without a will). This is established by state law and is written to reflect where lawmakers believe most people would want their possessions to go when they die. However, these laws rarely reflect how people wish to distribute their wealth at death.
Why it is bad
Many people assume they know who gets their assets when they die. However, North Carolina law has not set up intestate succession in a “common sense” way (in my opinion). For example, you have a wife and three children, all of who are under the age of 18 years old. Most people assume that your spouse gets everything when you die. However, your spouse only gets up to a certain dollar amount of property automatically. After that dollar amount is satisfied, your spouse gets 1/3 of what is left and the kids split what is left evenly.
Many individuals I know and work with are married without children. Surely the spouse would get everything in this instance, right? Not necessarily. In North Carolina, real estate is divided between the spouse and the living parents of the decedent.
North Carolina law has many more rules on how your wealth passes if you die intestate. As you can see, this can become problematic as state law most likely gives your possessions to someone other than who you want or expect to receive them.
How to avoid it
Fortunately, intestate succession is easily avoidable! The most basic way to avoid intestate succession is a will (which I will cover in my next post). You can also prevent intestate succession by having a trust, creating beneficiary designations for accounts when allowed, and having joint-ownership of property and accounts (each of these will be covered in future posts as well).
Intestate succession is the government’s control over your hard-earned possessions. Fortunately, you have the power to prevent them from exercising this power. If you have any questions about intestate succession in North Carolina or if you would like to create a plan that puts you in control of your assets, schedule a time to talk with me.