What Happens If A North Carolina Decedent Dies Without a Valid Will?

When someone dies without a Last Will and Testament, the decedent is “intestate.” The North Carolina Intestacy Laws provide specific rules regarding how an Estate will be distributed in the absence of a valid Last Will and Testament. The distribution rules under the Intestacy Laws involve several different factors, such as whether there is a surviving spouse, whether the Decedent had lineal descendants, and whether there are unborn children. If there is no spouse or lineal descendants, the Intestacy Laws then branch further out into the Decedent’s family trust—potentially to parents, siblings, or further removed relatives.

Often, the Intestacy Laws do not distribute the estate the way that most people would expect. For example, married couples often assume that the assets would all go to the surviving spouse. However, if there are children, then part of the estate goes directly to the children. If there are not children, then part of the estate may go to any living parents.

Properly determining the appropriate Heirs and distribution shares in an Intestate Estate is critical to the proper administration of the Estate. We strongly encourage you to hire legal assistance to ensure the proper administration of an Intestate Estate.


Losing a loved one is hard. The days and weeks after a loss are often fraught with grief, questions, and unfortunately, family complications. It’s a terrible time to try to think through a legal process clearly. It’s often a challenge just to know where to start. Maybe you’re not even sure what questions to ask and whom to ask. How do you know you’re getting good advice and doing it right? You could probably use some help. Our Understanding Estate Administration guide can help. This guide will give you an overview of the probate and estate administration process in plain English. Request your free copy here.


Jennifer Mercer
Paralegal, Probate and Estate Administration Team Lead