When someone dies without a valid will, the legal term is that they died intestate. Any property that was owned joint tenants with rights of survivorship, which is frequently the case with marital assets, will pass to the surviving spouse without the need for a court process. Any assets that the deceased owned individually go through a process called estate administration (people frequently call this probate, although probate technically is the process of proving the validity of a will).
For intestate estates, during estate administration, the court will appoint an administrator (similar to an executor) to handle the process, which includes paying the deceased’s debts, funeral expenses, court and administrative fees before distributing the deceased's assets to his or her heirs. The order in which debts must be paid and the distribution to heirs is determined by the North Carolina intestate succession laws. We’ve provided a summary of them at our North Carolina Wills & Trusts blog or you can review the statutes themselves here.
If you are dealing with an intestate estate in North Carolina, or if you want to make sure your own estate is protected with a valid will or trust, please call us at (919)443-3035. Ask about a free phone assessment, or contact us online. At the end of your assessment, you'll know the next steps, and we will point you in the direction of resources that can help. There is no obligation to you. The assessment is completely free.