What Happens If I Don’t Have a Will?

Stressed Woman Between Her Colleagues

So we covered 3 reasons in Part 1 of why you need a will, but what happens if you don’t have one – now what? Probate is more complicated when you don’t have a will. As we discussed in the first article, first, you have to notify all of the potential heirs (whether they want or are expecting to get anything). In our experience, the chance of family conflict goes up dramatically based on the number of people involved, especially when they don’t understand how probate works and there’s no will.

Second, the process flat out takes longer. As of 10/18/2022, according to the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts, there are 2,749 estate cases pending in the Forsyth Clerk’s office, and 4,601 estate cases pending in Guilford County. That’s literally hundreds of cases per staff member, so when you add in the fact that you have to follow the NCGS notification process for all potential heirs (since there’s no will), and each step has to be approved by the clerk – you are looking at a timeline of 12-18 months. The average case in the estates division takes 259 days, which is ~9 months, BUT that average number includes Administration by Affidavit (for estates under $20k) AND Summary Estates (where the spouse is the sole heir.) In our experience, a full probate (estates over $25k with no will) require at LEAST 9 months, and some can take upwards of 18 months to close out. As of this week, the Clerks are taking over 90 days after submission to process the 90 day inventory (which is submitted and approved before the Final Accounting can be submitted).

Third, because the decedent didn’t have a will, they (likely) won’t have their estate documentation ready for you. Such as where are all of their financial accounts are located – what insurance (if any) exists – life insurance, burial insurance, etc. Who should get what? Do they own property you didn’t know about? All of these things have to be researched and cleared before you can close an estate and if it wasn’t organized to start with, it will be more complicated, there will be less trust amongst the family and you may have to go back and re-do things because new information comes to light.

Fortunately, the team at Apple Payne Law, PLLC is here to help. If you want to talk to one of our team about setting up your estate plan, contact us and we’ll set you up with a FREE consultation. We can meet with you via zoom, phone or in-person to discuss your estate planning needs. Lastly be on the lookout for part 3 of our series, Wills are Great, But Trusts are Better, where we’ll talk more about how a trust can help you minimize probate if not skip it entirely!

Author Bio

Ronald D. Payne II
Ronald D. Payne II is the CEO and Managing Attorney of Apple Payne Law, a North Carolina law firm he founded in 2018. With more than 11 years of experience practicing law, he is dedicated to representing clients in a wide range of legal matters, including business law, estate planning, family law, probate, and traffic law.

Ronald received his Juris Doctor from the Wake Forest University School of Law and is a member of the North Carolina Bar Association. He has received numerous accolades for his work, including being awarded the 2020 Client’s Choice Award by Avvo and multiple Rising Star awards from Super Lawyers.

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