Are Out-of-State Wills Recognized in North Carolina?

American society is mobile. People move all around the country. In recent years, the number of people moving to North Carolina has been rising. It has become one of the most popular states to move to. According to data provided by Carolina Demography, approximately 43% of the people who currently live in North Carolina were born in another state. In Mecklenburg County, the number of ‘non-native North Carolinians’ is nearly 60%.

This raises an important question: Is my out-of-state will still legally valid when I move to North Carolina? The answer is generally ‘yes’—as long as the document meets the basic requirements for a will under state law, it is valid. In this article, our Charlotte probate lawyers provide a more in depth overview of the most important things to know about North Carolina’s rules regarding out-of-state wills.

Constitutional Law: States Generally Recognize Proceedings from Other States

Under Article IV, Section 1 of the United States Constitution, you will find the ‘Full Faith and Credit Clause.’ It is a long-standing Constitutional doctrine that holds that the individual U.S. states must recognize “public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state.” Simply put, this means that states will generally honor legal judgments and legal decisions from other states.

As a simple example, imagine that you and your partner got married in South Carolina. If you move to North Carolina, you are still married. North Carolina recognizes marriages from South Carolina and all other U.S. states. The same rules generally apply to estate planning. Though, there are some limited exceptions.

What Constitutes a Valid WIll in North Carolina?

If you drafted your will in another state—whether it is South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia, New York, California, or any other jurisdiction—it is not automatically invalid when you move to North Carolina. Quite the contrary, the document is generally assumed to be fully valid. There is no requirement that your will has to be drafted in North Carolina or reviewed by an attorney licensed in the state. Instead, you should ensure that you will meet the broad requirements under NC General Statutes § 31-1. The law states that “any person of sound mind, and 18 years of age or over, may make a will.” For a will to be valid in North Carolina, it should satisfy the following two basic requirements:

  • The will should be signed by the testator (the drafter); and
  • There should be two witnesses.

In North Carolina, you can have the ability to create a ‘self-proved’ will. Essentially, this means that you can attach a unique type of legal document to your will that makes the probate process easier.

Note: If you are not sure if your will meets the requirements set forth by North Carolina law, it is highly recommended that you consult with an experienced estate planning attorney. A lawyer can review your specific documents and ensure that they are fully valid in North Carolina. Ultimately, it is always better to play it safe. You do not want to risk your will being ruled invalid or otherwise unenforceable.

A Move to Another State is Often a Good Time to Review (and Revise) a Will

As noted above, when you move to North Carolina from another state, your will is still (usually) fully valid. That being said, a move across state lines is a significant life event. It is a good time to get your will and your broader estate plan reviewed by an experienced attorney. The estate plan you have in place may already be the best strategy to protect yourself and your family.

Still, it is worth sitting down with a lawyer for a comprehensive review and evaluation. You may be able to benefit from some minor (or major) revisions to your will or estate plan. It is especially important to review your estate plan if you bought property in North Carolina, sold property in another state, or have recently had another major life change, such as a marriage, divorce, or birth of a child.

Get Help From a Estate Planning Lawyer in Charlotte, North Carolina

At Arnold & Smith, PLLC, our North Carolina estate planning lawyers are skilled, diligent advocates for people and families. If you have any questions or concerns about out-of-state wills, we are more than ready to help. Give us a call now or send us a message online to set up a confidential initial appointment. From our offices in Charlotte, Monroe, Mooresville, we handle probate cases throughout the area, including in Mecklenburg County, Gaston County, Lincoln County, Cleveland County, and Rutherford County.