The North Carolina Probate Process And How To Navigate It

If you are going through the probate process in North Carolina, you may be experiencing a wide range of emotions as you begin. The death of a loved one is always challenging, and being thrust into the unfamiliar territory of probate can be overwhelming. 

You may feel uncertain or even anxious about managing the legal and financial aspects of your loved one’s estate. You might be worrying about making a mistake or about conflicts among family members. These feelings are completely normal – probate can be a complex process, and it’s understandable to feel uneasy, especially given the circumstances.

Understanding the process and how each phase works, and working with an experienced Wilmington probate attorney, can help ease your mind and make the process a little less overwhelming.

What Is Probate?

Probate is a legal process that allows the assets that are in a deceased individual’s name to be distributed. 

By going through the probate process, a deceased individual’s assets can be assessed and then distributed to the individuals who are legally entitled to them.

Someone who passes away without a will (dying intestate) will have their assets distributed according to North Carolina law. But, an individual who passes away with a will has those assets distributed as specified within the will.

What Are The 5 Processes That Comprise The Probate Process?

Within the state of North Carolina, the probate process is, generally speaking, composed of five processes. Each one of these processes serves an important purpose, but they can be challenging to navigate.

Gathering The Necessary Information

Before the probate process can truly begin, the deceased individual’s assets must be assessed. To accomplish this task, the following documents should be gathered and reviewed:

  • The Last Will and Testament.
  • Bank statements.
  • Credit card statements.
  • Life insurance policy documentation.
  • Car insurance documentation.
  • Property deeds.
  • Tax returns.
  • Retirement account statements.

The list above is only an example of some of the documents that should be gathered – in some cases, all of these may not apply, or there may be additional documentation not listed here.

No matter the documentation that is available and, in turn, relevant, it should be gathered and assessed. Doing so can be tricky, which is why working with a probate lawyer is always wise.

The Role Of Executor

The executor of an estate is the person who is named in a will to administer the deceased person’s estate. Their role is to ensure that the wishes of the deceased, as outlined in their will, are carried out. 

This includes identifying and gathering the assets of the deceased, paying any debts and taxes owed by the estate, and distributing the remaining assets to the beneficiaries as specified in the will. The executor may also need to maintain property until it can be sold or distributed, and handle day-to-day details such as disconnecting utilities, ending leases and credit cards, and notifying banks and government agencies of the death. 

If a person dies without a will, the court will appoint someone, usually a close relative, to perform these tasks. This appointed person is often called an administrator, and their role is similar to that of an executor.

Valuing The Estate And Taking Care Of Taxes/Fees

After the relevant parties have been informed by the executor, the assets within the estate must be gathered and then evaluated. Some of the steps that comprise this process are as follows:

  • Clarifying each and every relevant asset within the deceased’s estate.
  • Assessing the amount of cash within the deceased’s estate.
  • Clarifying the value of any real estate – sold or unsold – within the deceased’s estate.

Each of the steps above – as well as many others that may be relevant and/or necessary – should be completed in conjunction with identifying and notifying any estate creditors.

Once the creditors of the estate have been notified, they may present claims against the estate. The validity of these claims must be verified, and then these claims must be dealt with.

Sometimes, a claim exceeds the amount of liquid assets available in the estate. When this occurs, selling off certain portions of the estate will be necessary to satisfy the creditors.

Distributing The Estate

Every single one of the processes outlined above is in service of this process: the distribution of the estate. All of the remaining assets within the estate are to be distributed to beneficiaries or to a trust that is created in the name of those beneficiaries.

Going through this process is relatively easy, so as long as the deceased individual has provided instructions for the distribution of their estate. The person who is entrusted to take care of the estate, and execute its wishes, must follow these instructions and abide by the deceased’s wishes.

Closing The Estate

To conclude the overall probate process, the estate must be closed. But, in order for this to happen, one of two things must occur:

  • The Executor of an estate must petition the court to certify that they have completed their duties.
  • The trustee of an estate will need to review the trust’s instructions regarding what happens after the estate has been closed.

By going through the above, the estate can be closed, and the probate process can conclude.

Speak With A North Carolina Probate Lawyer

Going through the probate process can be confusing and challenging. Speak with a North Carolina probate attorney at David E. Anderson, PLLC, today, and we will assist you in going through the process and obtaining the best possible outcomes.

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