There are many tasks that must be completed upon the death of a family member, and none of them are tasks we look forward to. Arranging for burial or cremation, planning a funeral or memorial service, and taking care of a surviving spouse or young children can be heartbreaking and stressful. If you have also been named as the executor of the deceased’s will, you will have even more tasks to complete. While the probate process is not as complicated in North Carolina as it is in other states, you may still wish to hire a probate lawyer to help you through the process, especially if you are facing other challenges because of the death.
The Probate Process in North Carolina
Probate is the process by which a deceased person’s property is distributed to his survivors. The deceased’s will, if there is one, will name who he wishes to inherit his belongings, property, money, and other assets. If there is no will, North Carolina’s intestate laws will determine who can inherit. Not all property will have to go through probate, however. The following assets will be passed on without going through probate:
- Property owned in joint tenancy, which passes automatically to the surviving owner.
- Real estate the deceased person owned with his or her spouse in “tenancy by the entirety.”
- Accounts, such as retirement funds or bank accounts, for which a beneficiary has been named outside of the will.
- Life insurance proceeds or pension benefits that are payable to a named beneficiary.
- Assets held in a revocable living trust.
All other assets, even if the person who is to inherit them is named in a will, must go through the probate process. It is the job of the executor named in the deceased person’s will—or the administrator appointed by a court if there is no will—to inventory the assets and distribute them according to the deceased person’s wishes or laws of intestate if there is no will.
In North Carolina, this is a fairly straightforward process. The superior court clerk will act as the probate judge and most of the papers that must be filed are available as fill-in-the-blank forms online. The administrator will be required to take the following steps:
- Gather and make a list of the deceased person's assets. No matter what is listed in the will, the executor will have to take an inventory of all probate assets and keep them safe. This includes vehicles, real estate, bank accounts, and personal belongings such as jewelry, furniture, art, and collections.
- Open a bank account. Typically, the executor will open a bank account for the estate and deposit all cash and proceeds from sales of property into it.
- Have assets appraised. Any assets that are to be liquidated will have to be professionally appraised before they are sold to get the highest possible value for them.
- Sell property. It is also the executor’s job to sell real estate or other property that is not being inherited by anyone. This may be necessary if the deceased owes more in debt and taxes than he left in liquid assets.
- Pay off debts and taxes. To determine if the deceased has debts that need to be paid, the executor will have to publish a notice of the probate proceeding in a local newspaper every week for four weeks. The executor will also notify creditors of how to file claims against the estate. Any taxes owed by the deceased must also be paid by the executor.
- Distribute the remaining property. Once all of the above has been settled, the executor can distribute property as the will directs. If there is no will, state law mandates that the closest living relative will inherit the assets.
A competent, organized person who was not too close to the deceased can probably handle these tasks without the help of a probate attorney, but many people will appreciate legal assistance.
Avoiding Probate With a Living Trust
If you would like to spare your survivors the hassle of probate upon your death, attorney George Pender can work with you to establish revocable living trusts that will provide instructions for who should get what and allow those assets to pass directly to the heir, rather than being tied up in probate. Living trusts are especially important if you have considerable assets and are concerned that your survivors have immediate access to them when you die.
Call Teague Campbell and Talk to George Pender About Your Probate Concerns
Whether you are in the middle of administering a loved one’s estate or are planning ahead for your heirs, contact attorney George Pender to discuss your probate concerns. He focuses his practice on probate administration and estate planning and will be a reliable resource as you make your way through what is most likely new territory for you. Call us to set up your initial consultation today!