When a spouse dies, it’s obviously a very difficult and emotional time for the surviving spouse. After enduring the initial shock and handling all the arrangements, the surviving spouse must navigate the procedural rules and laws of handling the deceased spouse’s estate. Fortunately, North Carolina offers some simplified ways to administer the estate of a deceased spouse.
First, many things automatically transfer to a surviving spouse upon the death of the first spouse. Examples of non-probate assets include jointly owned real estate (tenancy by the entireties property), jointly owned accounts with rights of survivorship, payable or transfer on death accounts, insurance payable to the surviving spouse, and retirement or other accounts which designate the spouse as beneficiary. These types of non-probate assets should immediately transfer to the surviving spouse without the need to open an estate.
As to probate assets (assets solely in deceased spouse’s name or jointly owned without a right of survivorship), North Carolina allows a surviving spouse to claim what’s called a Year’s Allowance. NCGS 30-15 provides that a surviving spouse shall be entitled to an allowance of the value of $60,000 from the personal property of the deceased spouse to support the surviving spouse. The surviving spouse must apply for this allowance through the Clerk of Court within one year of the deceased spouse’s death. The deceased spouse or surviving spouse must have been a resident of North Carolina. This allowance will be exempt from any lien, judgment, or other creditor claims in the decedent’s estate. Additionally, an allowance of $5,000 is available for a year’s support to each minor child of the deceased spouse or in some limited cases children up to 22 years of age. The Year’s Allowance does not apply to real estate.
In many cases, the deceased spouse did not own more than $60,000 of probate assets so this spousal allowance is oftentimes all that’s needed to finalize a deceased spouse’s estate.