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Estate Administration in North Carolina

Understanding Probate and Estate Administration

Probate is the process of having a will administered with the supervision of the Clerk of Court. Without a will to probate, the process is called estate administration. An Executor or Administrator, usually a surviving spouse or an adult child of the deceased, is appointed, either by the deceased person's Will or the Clerk of Court. Once approved, this person, often called the Personal Representative or PR, has the legal authority to gather and value most of the assets owned by the decedent, to pay bills and taxes, and, ultimately, to distribute the assets to the heirs or devisees.


The purpose of probate is to make sure the decedent's assets get to the people he or she wanted to have them, as much as possible, and that creditors of the deceased are paid to the extent that assets are available.  Once all of the assets are valued, sold (if necessary), and creditors paid, the PR can begin distributing the property and then close the estate.

The estate administration process is not identical for every estate.  If an estate falls below a certain threshold, it is considered a "small estate" and is allowed a simpler administration.  Some estates require no administration process at all. 

Also, not all assets are subject to the administration process. Certain assets transfer automatically at the death of an owner, such as: 

Joint Tenancy with rights of survivorship assets-when one joint tenant dies, the surviving joint tenant becomes the owner of the entire asset, without the need for a administration.  Married couples holding property "by the entireties" also fall within the survivorship rights.

Beneficiary Designations-assets like retirement accounts and life insurance policies have named beneficiaries. Upon the death of the account or policy owner, these beneficiaries are entitled to the assets in the account or the proceeds of the policy without regard to the debts of the deceased and the administration of the estate.

Payable on Death/Transfer on Death Accounts-bank and brokerage accounts can have designated beneficiaries, too. These types of accounts may be available to creditors in limited situations, but they generally avoid the administration process for most estates. 

Trusts can also avoid the estate administration process in most cases, and people often create revocable living trusts to hold their largest assets for this very purpose.  A big factor is the creation of such trusts is the privacy aspect that the avoidance of probate can provide. 

For most estates in North Carolina administration of the estate is necessary, either through probating a will or administering an intestate estate.  

The general procedure required to settle an estate via probate in North Carolina is the following:

The Will must be filed in the Superior Court in the county where the decedent lived. 

An Application for Letters must be filed as well in order to open the estate. This requests the appointment of an Executor/Administrator. The person must be qualified by the Clerk and may have to pay a Bond in order to be named as PR.  Notice must be given to all heirs and beneficiaries that a will is being probated, and in some cases, that the PR is being named. 

The Court will issue "Letters" (either "Testamentary" or "of Administration" to the PR), which give the PR the legal authority to act on behalf of the estate.

Notice to any potential creditors must be filed in a newspaper where the decedent owned real property, or where he or she lived, if none. Creditors have 3 months to make a claim against the estate, in order for their debt to have any priority over other debts of the estate.

An inventory of the estate's assets must be filed with the court within 3 months of appointment of the PR.  Once all of the creditors and taxes have been paid, and the property is distributed to all the heirs and devisees, an Account must be filed with the Clerk, and the estate can be closed. 

The PR is entitled to  fees for his or her services, though many PRs forgo the fees. 

Though some PRs administer an estate without the help of an attorney, many estates have complicated issues that require the help and guidance of an experienced estate administration attorney.  

Without proper assistance, it is possible to make costly mistakes or created unnecessary delays, causing frustration and distrust among the heirs. If you need help navigating the administration of a loved one’s estate, call us at 910.729.6644 and we can answer your questions and give you the guidance you require.


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The North Carolina Probate Team is a team of local professionals specifically organized as a comprehensive resource to help the Executor or heirs of an estate face the stressful and time-consuming portions of estate administration.

North Carolina Probate Team

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