When your spouse dies, you may have many questions. If your spouse was the primary wage earner, you might feel worried about how you will get by in the future. One question on your mind may be, “What are you entitled to when your spouse dies?” In North Carolina, the answer depends on a few factors. Let’s look at what the law says about spousal inheritance.
What is the Wife Entitled To When a Husband Dies?
Whether you are the wife or the husband, the laws are the same for either spouse. There is no special entitlement to a wife over that of a husband. What the wife is entitled to when a husband dies is the same as a husband would receive if his wife passed away.
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Accounts that You Own Together
As far as your inheritance goes, some assets you own with your spouse go to you immediately. These two types of assets include:
- If you and your spouse owned real property as joint tenants with the right of survivorship, you automatically own the property in its entirety as your own. The same principle applies to any accounts held as joint accounts with rights of survivorship. For these assets, you continue as the sole owner.
- For life insurance or retirement accounts that name you as the beneficiary, you automatically receive these accounts when your spouse dies. It does not matter if your spouse had a will or not. It doesn’t even matter if the will names someone else to inherit your beneficiary account. When you are the named beneficiary, your rights trump that of someone else named in a will.
However, dying without a will can cause trouble for a spouse left behind.
When a Spouse Has No Will
If your spouse dies without leaving a will in North Carolina, the laws of intestate succession will determine who inherits your spouse’s property. Under the rules of intestate succession, the surviving spouse receives a portion of the deceased spouse’s estate. The surviving spouse’s amount depends on whether the deceased spouse had any living children at the time of death.
If the deceased spouse did not have any living children at the time of death, then the surviving spouse receives all of the deceased spouse’s property. The only exception is when parents are still living. In that case, the surviving spouse receives one-half of the deceased spouse’s property.
If the deceased spouse did have living children at the time of death, then the surviving spouse is entitled to one-half of the deceased spouse’s property. If the deceased spouse had children from a previous relationship, the surviving spouse receives a portion of the estate. The exact amount depends on how many children there are and what other relatives are alive.
In North Carolina, you are not entitled to any of the deceased spouse’s property if they were married to someone else when they died. You also don’t generally inherit if you and the deceased spouse were in a legal separation when they died.
As you can see, the laws surrounding what you receive when your spouse dies without a will can seem complicated. If you find yourself in this situation, talking with an estate planning attorney about your unique case is essential.
If you have any questions about what you are entitled to when your spouse dies, an experienced attorney can help you understand your rights under North Carolina law.
Husband or Wife Dies With a Will or Trust
When your spouse dies with a will in North Carolina, the probate court generally allows the appointed executor to distribute the assets and pay the debts. In the case where your spouse kept all assets in a trust, the trustee will distribute assets and pay debts without court interference.
If the will or trust states that you inherit, the executor or trustee will distribute any inheritance to you. If the will or trust says that you receive a bequest, it doesn’t matter whether you were in a legal separation or divorced when your spouse died. You receive what the will or trust documents state.
The will or trust may state that the surviving spouse receives a certain amount of money or property. However, in some cases, a will or trust may say that the surviving spouse does not receive anything. The reasons for disinheritance vary, but it is often because of estrangement or divorce. Sometimes a couple divorced and remarried, but the spouse forgot to update their will!
If you face disinheritance in your spouse’s will, you may contest the will. You have a valid case if you can prove that the court invalidly executed the will or that your spouse lacked mental capacity when writing the will. You may also challenge the will if you can show that someone unduly influenced your spouse when they made their will.
An experienced estate planning attorney can help you understand your options if your spouse’s will has disinherited you.
When a spouse dies, the surviving spouse is usually entitled to some of the deceased spouse’s property. However, this depends on whether the deceased spouse had a will and how they owned their assets. If you are unsure about what you are entitled to, an experienced attorney can help you understand your rights under North Carolina law.
We Can Help
If you’ve recently lost a spouse, we can help you take the next steps in your estate planning journey. Whether you need to contest a will or trust document, change your beneficiaries, or update your estate planning, we are here for you. Give us a call today to get started. Find out how we can help you prepare for the future.