A. The Statute
When a person dies without a will, the person dies intestate and the person’s property is distributed in accordance with the Intestate Succession Act (the “Act”) found in Chapter 29 of the North Carolina General Statutes. The Act states that if a person dies intestate without a spouse or lineal descendants (meaning children, grandchildren, etc.), the person’s parents are entitled to take equal shares of the person’s estate if both parents are alive. G.S. 29-2(4); G.S. 29-15(3). If only one parent is alive, then that surviving parent takes the entirety of the intestate estate. G.S. 29-15(3).
The parental right to inherit via intestate succession from a child is not an unqualified right. Under G.S. 31A-2, a parent who willfully abandons the care and maintenance of his or her child shall lose all rights to intestate succession in any part of the child’s estate. This bar includes any recovery from a wrongful death action because, pursuant to G.S. 28A-18-2(a), wrongful death proceeds are disposed of as provided in the Act, even though such assets pass outside of the estate.
Although a parent may have willfully abandoned a child, the parent may still inherit from a child if the parent is able to show an exception to the bar applies. The two exceptions listed in the statute are if the abandoning parent:
- Resumed care and maintenance at least one year prior to the death of the child and continued the same until the child’s death; or
- Was deprived of the custody of his or her child under an order of a court of competent jurisdiction and the parent has substantially complied with all orders of the court requiring contribution to the support of the child. G.S. 31A-2(1) and (2).