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South Carolina Inheritance Laws

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A will that conforms to South Carolina's inheritance laws is a common means of expressing one's wishes about the distribution of their estate after death. However, family disputes over inheritance are also common. Examine the case of James Brown, also known as the Godfather of Soul.

James Brown left behind a $100-million estate. In his will, Brown was very specific about what he wanted and even mentioned that he did not deliberately put any family members out. His family, however, still faced multiple legal actions to override the terms of his will. Disputes centered on the entertainer's estate and ownership of his music copyrights.

This case may serve as a reminder to make a clear and precise will. This will help protect your loved ones and avoid contention and disagreement. If you do not have a valid will, your property will be distributed following South Carolina inheritance laws, which will probably not be according to your preferences.

This article gives an overview of the South Carolina inheritance laws, including how to draft and execute a legitimate will and the inheritance rights of your loved ones if you passed on and did not leave a will. It also covers the state's required tax filings regarding inheritance.

What Happens if Someone Dies With a Will in South Carolina?

When a person passes away in South Carolina and leaves a valid will, their estate is considered testate, which means that the beneficiaries named on the will may get the specific share of assets designated for each of them.

Valid Will

The following are the requirements for writing a valid will in South Carolina:

  • Age: It is required by South Carolina inheritance laws that the testator, the person writing the will, is not a minor.

  • Capacity: The testator must have a sound mind.

  • Written: The will must be in written form. It cannot be in a video, audio, or other digital file format.

A will must be signed by the testator or a representative in the testator's presence for it to be executed and finalized in South Carolina. Furthermore, the testator or representative must sign the will in the presence of at least two witnesses, who must both be present.

It is not a requirement to hire an estate planning lawyer when creating a will in South Carolina. However, if a testator anticipates that their will may be contested in the future, an estate planning attorney can offer the necessary legal counsel.

In South Carolina, a testator's will is deemed valid even if it is not notarized. However, if the testator wishes to make their will "self-proving,"  South Carolina inheritance laws will require them and their witnesses to appear before a notary to sign an affidavit attesting to their identities and to the fact that they are all aware that they are signing a will.

Probate processes can go more quickly with a self-proving will since the court may acknowledge it without needing to speak with the witnesses who signed it.

Deadline For Passing The Will in Appropriate Court

A will in South Carolina must be submitted to the appropriate probate court within 30 days after the death of the deceased. Upon verification of the will, the executor or personal representative may initiate the probate process to finalize the estate.

Probate

Probate is the legal procedure that follows a person's death, during which the personal representative manages the estate and distributes assets in accordance with the decedent's wishes. Not every asset, though, needs to go through the probate process. Some non-probate assets in South Carolina are as follows:

  • Assets in a revocable living trust.

  • Retirement accounts with named beneficiaries.

  • Life insurance policy with a designated beneficiary.

  • Bank accounts with transfer-on-death or pay-on-death arrangements.

South Carolina inheritance laws provide a shortened probate process for estates with no real property and worth less than $10,000. In addition, "small estates," or estates that have no real property and are valued at less than $25,000, may be eligible for a summary administrative procedure, which is a faster and less expensive procedure than the traditional probate process. Settling a small estate is usually faster than traditional probate, often taking weeks rather than months.

Contesting a Will

Only interested parties are eligible to contest a will in South Carolina. Typically, they are people who stand to gain financially from the will, like an heir or a former heir who was disinherited.

A will cannot be challenged by interested parties unless they have an appropriate legal basis. In South Carolina, the following are some of the most typical justifications for contesting a will:

  • Fraud. Anything from falsified signatures to missing or altered will pages could be considered fraud.

  • Undue influence. Undue influence occurs when someone coerces, threatens, or forces a testator to put terms or clauses in a will that they would not normally include.

  • Lack of testamentary capacity. This indicates that the testator was not in sound mind when they made or modified the will. Typically, medical evidence is required to prove this.

  • Lack of formalities. The will did not meet the legal standards for correctly writing, witnessing, and executing wills under South Carolina inheritance laws.

An interested party can challenge a probated will either within eight months from the date of the probate petition submission or one year after the decedent's death, whichever comes later.

A will can be probated without the assistance of a South Carolina probate lawyer. But bear in mind that the procedure calls for several steps and legal knowledge. In situations where beneficiaries are at odds, a probate attorney can assist in navigating the issues and relieve the executor of some of the stress.

What Happens if Someone Dies Without a Will in South Carolina?

If a person passes away in South Carolina without a will, their estate is deemed intestate, meaning that the heirs will get their property in shares that are predetermined by the state's intestate succession laws. The intestacy law benefits the decedent's closest family members because the closer the relative, the larger the share of the estate.

Even in the absence of a will, the allocation of a deceased person's property is decided by probate. The general probate process for an intestate property in South Carolina is as follows:

  1. Appointing an Administrator: The administrator, chosen by the court, will "administer" the estate in accordance with South Carolina intestate succession laws.

  2. Gathering the Assets of the Deceased: All of the deceased person's assets must be located and collected by the administrator. Assets may include personal belongings, bank accounts, and real estate. 

  3. Settling Debts: The administrator is responsible for settling the deceased's outstanding debts. Debts can include income taxes, credit card loans, medical bills, and burial costs.

  4. Allocating the Remaining Assets: After all debts are paid, the remaining assets can be divided among the heirs or beneficiaries following South Carolina intestate succession laws. 

The time it takes for an estate to finish the probate process is determined by several factors, including the entire worth of the estate and the effectiveness of the administrator. A simple estate can take around a year to go from opening to closing under ideal circumstances. Complex cases will require more time to be settled.

Spousal Rights

If a married individual dies in South Carolina without leaving a will, the surviving spouse’s share depends on whether or not the decedent had living descendants (children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren).

  • The surviving spouse will receive the entire inheritance of the deceased if there are no living descendants.

  • If the deceased has living children or grandchildren, the spouse will inherit half of the property not covered by a will, and the remaining half will be divided among the descendants.

Children’s Rights

In South Carolina, if a person passes away without leaving a will, the total number of surviving children determines the intestate share of their children. The following is the inheritance right of each type of child under South Carolina inheritance laws:

Biological kids

The decedent's biological offspring will naturally get an intestate portion.

Adopted children

Just like biological offspring, the decedent's legally adopted children will get an intestate share.

Posthumous children

A portion will be given to children who were conceived by the deceased before they passed away, provided the child is born within 10 months of the deceased's death.

Children born out of wedlock

If the decedent is not married to the mother of their children, the child will only be entitled to a portion of their assets if one of the following requirements is met:

The paternity of the deceased was established by law prior to their passing.

After the decedent passes away, their paternity is formally established within eight months of their passing or six months following the appointment of an administrator for their estate.

The deceased took part in a marriage ceremony.

Grandchildren

Only in the event that a grandchild's parent has passed away will the grandchild receive an intestate share.

Foster kids and stepchildren

Foster kids and stepchildren that the deceased never formally adopted will not automatically get an intestate portion.

Kids given up for adoption

Children put up for adoption and legitimately adopted by a different family will not receive a portion. On the other hand, the child will receive an intestate share if the surviving spouse adopts the child.

The Rights of Other Surviving Relatives

As per South Carolina inheritance laws, a decedent's estate will go to the parents if they died intestate, were single, and had no children. If the parents are no longer alive, the estate will be divided equally among the siblings. If the parents are no longer alive and there are no siblings, the estate will be divided among the closest living relatives, which include grandparents, great-grandparents, and children of grandparents and great-grandparents.

Estates With No Heirs

If a person dies in South Carolina without a will and has no surviving family members, their property will go to the state's treasury. This situation is extremely uncommon, though, and South Carolina inheritance laws are made to distribute intestate property to any living relative of the deceased.

Unique Situations in South Carolina Inheritance Law

The following are the unique situations under South Carolina intestate succession laws:

  • Gifts. Relatives who received property from the decedent during their lifetime have their intestate share reduced only in the following cases:

    • The decedent declared in writing that the property is a gift; or

    • The relative acknowledged in writing that the property is a gift.

  • Immigration status. In most cases, an heir's citizenship status does not affect their right to an intestate share under South Carolina law. However, some exceptions may apply.

  • Half-relatives. Half-relatives have the same rights to an intestate share as full relatives.

  • Survivorship period. An heir must live for more than 120 hours after the decedent's death in order to inherit their share. A person who was born prior to the death of the decedent but does not outlive the decedent by 120 hours is considered to have predeceased the dead and is consequently ineligible to receive an intestate share.

Does South Carolina Impose Inheritance and Estate Taxes?

Estate taxes are deducted from the decedent's estate right away, whereas inheritance taxes are levied on the decedent's heirs after they have been awarded their inheritance.

South Carolina does not impose an inheritance tax or estate tax. It is among the 38 states that do not impose such taxes. Additionally, there is no gift tax in South Carolina. However, in 2024, the federal gift tax will kick in if someone gives away more than $18,000.

Although South Carolina does not have an inheritance or estate tax, some other tax implications may apply when inheriting property, such as income taxes on inherited assets.

  • Inheritance from a different state. If you inherit property from someone who lived in a state that has inheritance or estate taxes, you may need to pay those taxes.

  • Federal estate tax. If an inheritance exceeds $13.61 million in 2024, the federal estate tax is imposed. Only the excess is subject to taxation and not the entire estate.

Legal Resources Related to Inheritance Law in South Carolina

South Carolina Bar Pro Bono Program

A private, nonprofit organization called the Pro Bono Program is available through the South Carolina Bar. Its goal is to provide free services to clients who cannot afford legal representation in civil cases. Probate, family, housing, and bankruptcy are some of the issues covered by the program. Meeting federally set poverty requirements is needed for eligibility for the South Carolina Bar Pro Bono Program. The program will try to put the person in contact with a volunteer attorney if they are eligible. Finding the ideal volunteer attorney to take a case could take up to four weeks.

Contact Information
Phone Number: 1-800-395-3425

South Carolina Legal Services

South Carolina Legal Services is a nonprofit organization that offers qualifying low-income South Carolina citizens free legal aid for a range of civil legal concerns. The types of cases it handles include family, tax, education, employment, finance, and elder law. Applications for legal aid must be submitted via the local offices or the statewide intake office. South Carolina Legal Services also maintains a collection of publications with information on frequently occurring legal situations and action suggestions.

Contact Information
Phone Number of Intake Office: 1-888-346-5592
Email: andrealoney@sclegal.org

South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center

The South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center works to end economic, social, and legal injustice for low-income South Carolinians. It has written several booklets, newsletters, brochures, articles, and guides on a variety of subjects, including public benefits, consumer affairs, housing, education, immigration, family, and health. In addition, it provides continuing education programs for community members and legal professionals who want to stay current on South Carolina legal matters.

Contact Information
Phone Number: 803-779-1113
Fax: 803-779-5951
Email: info@scjustice.org
Address: 1518 Washington St., Columbia, SC 29201

Charleston Legal Access

Charleston Legal Access is a nonprofit law firm that offers low- and moderate-income residents of Charleston County legal assistance at reduced, sliding-scale prices. Its services include free phone consultations for guidance and counsel, one- to two-hour in-person consultations for a fixed cost, and sliding-scale full legal representation. Its sliding-scale strategy offers legal assistance at accessible fees of $50 to $100 per hour, based on income and family size.

Contact Information
Phone Number: 843-640-5980
Email: info@charlestonlegalaccess.org
Address: 1816 Success Street, Building A, Unit 102, North Charleston, SC 29405

South Carolina Free Legal Answers

Qualifying users can post civil legal concerns to South Carolina Free Legal Answers, a virtual legal advice clinic, and receive free legal help from state-licensed pro bono attorneys. Civil rights, family, consumer rights, health and disability, and education law are among the subjects covered. It additionally provides a list of resources that one can visit for legal information and assistance.

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