If You're "Intestate"... Do You Call a Doctor or a Lawyer?

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Q: If you are "intestate," do you call a doctor or a lawyer?

A: Good news - as long as you're alive, you'r not yet "intestate" but you might be when you die. Being "intestate" is dying without a Will. "Intestacy" and "intestate succession" are the terms for the legal processes that apply when this happens. Here are some facts:

  • Most adult citizens of the United States own at least a few things (aka property).

  • The majority (estimated 60%+) of adult citizens of the United States die without Wills.

  • Figuring out what happens to that property when those people die can cause (big) problems for individuals as well as the government.

  • Every state in the US has established some default laws to function as a safety net to deal with the property of people who die without Wills. These are Intestacy Laws.

  • Intestacy Laws are applied without regard to any evidence about what the deceased person would have wanted or the best way to use/distribute their property.

  • These laws are made (and changed) by elected officials.

  • The individual intestacy processes are generally administered and controlled by the local county courthouse.

Put another way: dying without a Will is equal to waiving your right to have a say in how your property is handled and distributed after your death. Even if you had some conversations about what you wanted, went as far as to write some things down, and/or left loved ones behind who are expecting to get, use, or even need your property - none of that matters (unless that writing qualifies as a Will, which it probably doesn't). Your wishes and your loved ones' needs are irrelevant in this process.

In North Carolina, what happens to your probate property under the Intestate Succession Act depends on factors like whether you are married, if you have kids (and how many), and if your parents outlive you. Click through here to find out how Intestate Succession may apply to you.

Okay, so you've done that and know how the Intestate Succession laws would apply to you... And you think, "I'm okay with that, so I don't need a Will" and/or maybe you think, "I'll be dead, what do I care?" Brace yourself, it's real talk time.

  1. First things first, you may be okay with the Intestate Succession laws as they apply to you today. But those laws can change at the whim of the legislature and how likely are you to keep up with updates to the North Carolina Probate and Estate laws?

  2. Also, if you're married - you're probably thinking about what would happen if you died first. Step back and redo that form pretending that your spouse dies first and you are single at the time of your death.

  3. And even if you're still okay after thinking through points 1 & 2 above, consider how your family and loved ones will feel about this after you're gone. At best, they will wonder and worry if this is what you intended. At worst, they may fight with each other about the outcome and waste time and money on litigating the specifics of who got what and why.

  4. Remember - having an estate plan is about you but it’s actually for your loved ones.


Check out the related articles below for more information about estate planning. Ready to get started on your own estate planning process? Contact me.