S-Town is sequel to the podcast Serial that takes place in a rural Alabama town. The story opens with a reporter investigating a son of a wealthy family who has been allegedly bragging that he got away with murder. As the story unfolds, there is a shift in focus from the alleged murder to John B. Mclemore, the star of the show. His eccentric outlook on life and colorful personality, keep the audience wondering what he is going to say next. The tragic death of Mclemore, sparks a nasty feud between Tyler (a friend of Mclemore) and Mclemore’s family. John’s untimely death left behind a plethora of personal belongings, a house, and a mother who had been suffering from dementia. Since John did not create a will before he died and did not arrange care for his mother in his absence, the family and Tyler were left to decide what would happen to John’s belongings and his mother. The rising popularity of this podcast, has made people wonder what would happen if this occurred in their town, who would care for their mother or gain possession of their things if they died without a will?
If someone dies without a valid will, the legal terminology that is used to describe this circumstance is “dying intestate.” Under the North Carolina intestate succession laws, the person’s assets will go to the individual’s closets relatives. The only assets that are affected by intestate succession laws are assets that would have passed through an individual’s will. Typically, that includes only assets that the individual owns alone, in their own name. Property that an individual has transferred to a living trust, life insurance proceeds, and funds in retirement accounts are all examples of assets that are not affected by interstate succession laws.
In addition, under interstate succession, who is entitled to what depends on whether or not the person has living children, parents, or other close relatives when they die. In Tyler’s case, since he is neither a child of John’s nor a blood relative, he would not be entitled to any of John’s possessions.
Prior to John taking his own life, he left Tyler a text message saying that he was allowed to have certain items if he ever decides to get rid of them. In North Carolina, a text message does not count as a will. North Carolina recognizes two alternate forms of wills, known as holographic and nuncupative wills. A holographic will is a handwritten, not typed document and must be entirely in the testator’s handwriting. Holographic wills are still valid without witnesses, but it is imperative that the testator signs the document.
When John died he left behind a mother with dementia. Her deteriorating mental state and old age made her incompetent and unable to take care of herself or her personal affairs. John was her general guardian giving him the power to make personal decisions for and handle the finances of his mother. John failed to make arrangements for her prior to his death, so when he died there was a question of who would care for Johns mother, Mary Grace.
Usually, in guardianship documents there are backs listed to take over the care of the ward (the incompetent adult) in the event that something happens to the guardian. If no backs are listed in the documents, then anyone can petition to be the ward’s new guardian. It is usually other family members that petition to be the ward’s new guardian. Decisions are made in the best interest of the ward. In the event that no one comes forward and petitions to be the new guardian, then a public guardian will be appointed by the courts. In John’s mother Mary Grace’s case, John’s cousin was the best person to gain guardianship over her after John died.