A will or a “last will and testament,” helps protect your family and your property. It enables you to decide where you would like your property to go when you pass away.

You can use a will to:

  • leave your property to people or organizations
  • name a personal guardian to care for your minor children
  • name a trusted person to manage property you leave to minor children, and
  • name an executor, the person who makes sure that the terms of your will are carried out.

In North Carolina, if you die without a will, your property will be distributed according to state “intestacy” laws. North Carolina’s intestacy law gives your property to your closest relatives, beginning with your spouse and children. If you have neither a spouse nor children, your grandchildren or your parents will get your property. This list continues with increasingly distant relatives, including siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and your spouse’s relatives. If the court exhausts this list to find that you have no living relatives by blood or marriage, the state will take your property.

In order for a will to be valid you must sign your will in front of two witnesses, and your witnesses must sign your will. However, in North Carolina, you do not need to notarize your will to make it legal.

You may want to have your will notarized because it does make your will “self-proving”.  A self-proving will speeds up probate because the court can accept the will without contacting the witnesses who signed it. This is important if the people who sign your will are not close relatives or friends that will be easy to find when it comes time to probate your estate. To make your will self-proving you and your witnesses will go to the notary and sign an affidavit that proves who you are and that you knew you were signing the will.

You should name an executor who will make sure that the provisions in your will are carried out after your death.  If you don’t name an executor, the probate court will appoint someone to take on the job of winding up your estate. You should pick someone you trust to carry out your wishes.