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What is Probate, and How Does it Work in North Carolina?

As you’re researching your estate planning options in North Carolina, you may hear about something called “the probate process.”

However, probate in North Carolina can be confusing, so you may wonder: What is probate? How does probate work? What are the documents needed for probate?

Probate is the court-supervised legal process that gives someone the authority to handle an estate. Whether a person dies with or without a will, probate is the only way to get assets out of their name to pass those assets on. In North Carolina, the probate process is managed by the Clerk of Superior Court.

The process for probate in North Carolina is necessary in every situation after a person dies. However, working with a wills and estate planning attorney from the beginning of the process can make this legal step much easier. These legal professionals can guide you through the probate laws in North Carolina to ensure a deceased loved one’s assets and family are protected — or, if you are creating your own estate plan, to ensure your loved ones will have as easy a probate process as possible.

The attorneys at the Parker Herring Law Group PLLC can help you prepare for and navigate your probate case in North Carolina. To learn more about this legal process and to start working with our attorneys today, please call (919) 821-1860.

How Does Probate Work in N.C.?

The first step to preparing for the probate process is understanding exactly how probate works and whether probate is required in your situation. Whether you apply for probate with no will or with a will also determines a great deal of your probate process in North Carolina.

The probate process begins at the Clerk of Superior Court in the deceased’s county of residence. An application is submitted to the clerk by either the executor/executrix named in a will or, if there is no will or the person named in the will is not able or willing to serve, a person qualified to be an administrator. The application must be submitted along with the will (if there is one), a preliminary inventory of the estate and a certified copy of the deceased’s death certificate.

The fee to open an estate is $120.

Both executors and administrators are known as “personal representative” of the estate. After the personal representative is appointed, they must take an oath of office, promising to faithfully carry out their duties. If the court appoints you as executor/executrix, you will receive “letters testamentary.” If you are appointed as administrator, the court will issue “letters of administration.” Both of these documents give you the authority to handle the assets of the estate.

Duties of a personal representative include but are not limited to:

  • Inventory deceased’s assets
  • Pay valid debts/claims against the estate
  • Publish, deliver and/or mail notices to all known creditors
  • File state and federal taxes for the deceased, if necessary
  • Set up bank account to pay all debts, costs, bills, liens, funeral expenses, taxes and any other expenses incurred on behalf of the estate
  • File required documents with the Clerk of Superior Court in a timely manner
  • Sell assets if there is not enough money in the estate to cover debts or expenses
  • Distribute assets according to the deceased’s will, or if there is no will, give out the remaining property according to state law
  • Prepare a final accounting showing all transactions on behalf of the estate and close the estate

For small estates, North Carolina has a simplified process which allows you to wrap up the estate without formal probate. This process applies to estates with personal property valued at $20,000, or $30,000 if the surviving spouse inherits everything under state law. North Carolina also has a simplified probate process called summary administration which applies if the surviving spouse is the sole heir.

Keep in mind: Because the executor of a probate case is so critical to ensuring that all beneficiaries receive the proper assets, choosing this representative is an important decision to make. It should only be done after a potential executor has agreed to these responsibilities. A wills and estates attorney can help those creating a will choose a proper executor and help prospective executors understand the expectations involved with this legal role.

Probate in North Carolina can be time-consuming and overwhelming, especially while grieving the loss of a loved one. Being the personal representative of an estate is a significant responsibility.

If you’re asking, “Do I have to do probate in North Carolina?” the best thing is to speak with a financial advisor and a wills and estates attorney to better understand your personal situation and the legal steps that may be required as you move forward. A probate wills attorney can also help you prepare for probate after your death and, depending on your circumstances, even help you avoid or shorten the probate process in North Carolina — to save your loved ones time and money after you die.

Keep in mind that the clerk of court cannot give legal advice so, if your documents needed for probate are done incorrectly, the clerk cannot tell you how to correct your forms. However, using an attorney to help you with probate will make the process much less stressful and will ensure that all of the legal requirements are met.

Remember, the attorneys at the Parker Herring Law Group are experienced in not only the legal process of wills and estate planning but also any applicable probate law for your situation. Contact our office if you would like to find out how we can help you navigate the process of probate in North Carolina.