Widow loses part of home. Step-daughter gets accidental windfall.

Step-Daughter Gets Accidental Windfall


The biggest estate planning mistake is often doing nothing. A while back, a woman contacted me with the following situation. She and her late husband had been happily married for more than fifty years. He died a few years ago. Unfortunately, he died without a will. No estate had been opened for him.

When someone dies without a will, we have to look at all the assets titled in the decedent’s name and determine which assets are part of the intestate estate. Here, the couple owned a home together and had lived there for many years. We also have to determine the heirs of the decedent. In this case, the woman’s late husband had been married briefly during his youth and had a surviving daughter from that marriage. The daughter rarely contacted or visited her father.

Under South Carolina intestacy laws, children are entitled to inherit a percentage of a parent’s estate. When there isn’t a will or trust, it doesn’t matter whether the children were close to the parent or whether the parent intended for a particular child to inherit. In this case, the husband’s adult daughter from his first marriage was entitled to one-half of all of his intestate assets. This meant that, by operation of law, the husband’s daughter was entitled to part of the widow’s home!  The husband probably did not intend to leave part of his home to this daughter. In all likelihood, the possibility his daughter from his first marriage would inherit property at the expense of his wife of more than fifty years never occurred to him.

In this respect, he wasn’t alone. Most people don’t know the intestate succession laws in their state and many people assume a surviving spouse inherits everything. However, in both North Carolina and South Carolina, certain assets are shared with surviving children of the deceased. In some cases, assets may even go to the parents of the deceased. Because he died without a will, the step-daughter, who already has a home of her own, now owns part of the widow’s only home. Our homes are so central to our feelings of safety and security. Imagine suddenly finding out a virtual stranger owns part of it!

This situation isn’t a one-off; it happens all too often and is one of several similar intestacy cases I have seen recently. Intestacy causes so many unnecessary heartaches for surviving loved ones. But it is completely avoidable. Don’t let the state decide your family’s future. Get an estate plan!

To schedule a time to meet with Nancy about a personalized estate plan, call 704-887-5242 and find out how easy it is to put an estate plan in place.


DISCLAIMER: The contents of this post are for educational purposes only. The information offered in this post does not constitute legal advice and reading the information does not create an attorney client relationship with Nancy Roberts or the Law Office of Nancy L Roberts PLLC Firm. Before taking any action, you should always seek legal advice from an attorney you hire, who advises you based on your specific facts, circumstances, situation, and the appropriate governing law. 

Nancy Roberts
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