Making a Will in North Carolina

How to make a will in North Carolina and what can happen if you don't.

By , Attorney · University of Arkansas School of Law

Steps to Create a Will in North Carolina

Here's a quick checklist for making a will in North Carolina:

  1. Decide what property to include in your will.
  2. Decide who will inherit your property.
  3. Choose an executor to handle your estate.
  4. Choose a guardian for your children.
  5. Choose someone to manage children's property.
  6. Make your will.
  7. Sign your will in front of witnesses.
  8. Store your will safely.

What Should I Make a North Carolina Will?

A will, also called a "last will and testament," can help you protect your family and your property. 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.

What Happens If I Don't Have a Will?

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, nieces, and nephews. If the court exhausts this list to find that you have no living relatives by blood or marriage, the state will take your property.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Make a Will in North Carolina?

No. You can make your own will in North Carolina, using Nolo's Quicken WillMaker & Trust. However, you may want to consult a lawyer in some situations. For example, if you think that your will might be contested or you have especially complicated goals, you should talk with an attorney. See Do I Need an Attorney to Make My Estate Plan?

What Are the Requirements for Making a Will in North Carolina?

To make a will in North Carolina, you must be:

You must generally make your will on hard copy. That is, it must be on actual paper. It cannot be on an audio, video, or any other digital file. (Although, see "Can I Make a Digital or Electronic Will?," below.) Type and print your will using a computer, or you can use a typewriter.

North Carolina does allow nuncupative (oral) wills if a person is in their last sickness or in imminent peril of death. The oral will must be spoken in front of two competent witnesses you specifically ask to be witnesses. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 31-3.5. This type of will can only dispose of your personal property. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 31-3.2.

North Carolina does permit handwritten wills (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 31-3.4), but they are usually not a good idea.

How Do I Sign My North Carolina Will?

To finalize your will in North Carolina:

  • you must sign your will in front of two witnesses, and
  • your witnesses must sign your will in front of you. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 31-3.3.

Only "disinterested" witnesses who do not stand to inherit anything should sign your will since "interested" witnesses can lose the gift you leave them or their spouse by serving as your witness. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 31-10.

A holographic will does not need to be witnessed, but it must be completely in your own handwriting. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 31-3.4

Do I Need to Have My Will Notarized?

No, in North Carolina, you do not need to notarize your will to make it legal.

However, North Carolina allows you to make your will "self-proving" and you'll need to go to a notary if you want to do that. A self-proving will speeds up probate because the court can accept the will without contacting the witnesses who signed it.

To make your will self-proving, you and your witnesses will go to the notary and sign an affidavit that states who you are and that each of you knew you were signing the will. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 31-11.6.

Should My Will Name an Executor?

Yes. In North Carolina, you can use your will to name an executor who will ensure that the provisions in your will are carried out after your death. Nolo's Quicken WillMaker produces a letter to your executor that generally explains what the job requires. If you don't name an executor, the probate court will appoint someone to take on the job of winding up your estate.

Can I Revoke or Change My Will?

In North Carolina, you may revoke or change your will at any time. You can revoke your will by:

  • burning, tearing, canceling, obliterating, or destroying your will with the intent to revoke it
  • ordering someone else to burn, tear, cancel, obliterate, or destroy your will in front of you
  • making a new will that says it revokes the old will, or
  • making another writing that says it revokes the old will and following the same formalities you used to make your original will (see above). N.C. Gen. Stat. § 31-5.1.

If you and your spouse divorce (or if a court determines that your marriage is not legal), North Carolina law revokes any language in your will that leaves property to your spouse or names your spouse to be your executor. This rule does not apply if you happen to remarry your spouse or you specifically state in your will (or divorce decree or contract relating to the division of your property) that divorce should not affect the provisions in your will. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 31-5.4. If you have any concerns about the effects of divorce on your will, see an estate planning attorney for help.

If you need to make changes to your will, it's best to revoke it and make a new one. However, if you have only very simple changes to make, you could add an amendment to your existing will – this is called a codicil. In either case, you will need to finalize your changes with the same formalities you used to make your original will (see above).

Can I Make a Digital or Electronic Will?

In a handful of states, you can make a legal will digitally—that is, you can make the will, sign it, and have it witnessed without ever printing it out. Although such electronic wills are currently available in only a minority of states, many other states are considering making electronic wills legal. North Carolina currently doesn't allow e-wills, but that may change in the future.

Where Can I Find North Carolina's Laws About Making Wills?

You can find North Carolina's laws about making wills here: North Carolina General Statutes Chapter 31 Wills Article 1 Execution of Wills.

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