After the initial shock and/or sadness surrounding the death of your spouse begins to abate, you may begin to question how they wished to have their assets distributed. Typically those wishes are stipulated in a will, yet what if your spouse died without one? Many in this exact situation come to us here at Orsbon & Fenninger LLP questioning whether the decision of how to divide one’s estate is then left to their heirs. Unfortunately, that is not the case. 

North Carolina has its own rules and regulations on how the real and personal property of one who dies intestate (without a will) is divided (recall that real property is any real estate holdings, while personal property is anything else subject to ownership). These guidelines can be found in Section 29-14 of the state’s statutes. Here it states that if the decedent was your spouse, you are entitled to the entire ownership interest in all of their real property if they left behind no lineal descendants and were preceded in death by their parents. If they had one descendant or have parents who are still alive, your ownership interest is reduced to one-half. It reduces further to one-third if they have more than one surviving descendant. 

As a surviving spouse, you are entitled to the first $60,000 of value of the decedent’s personal property, plus one-half of the remaining value if there is only one surviving descendant (one-third if there is more than one). If your spouse is survived by their parents, your initial ownership entitlement increases to $100,000, plus one-half of the remaining value. You are entitled to it all if none of the aforementioned parties are present. 

More information on estate administration can be found throughout our site.