If you are facing probate in North Carolina, it helps to understand the fundamentals of the probate and estate administration process in North Carolina. The best place to start is hiring an experienced Wilmington estate planning attorney who understands how the probate law works in North Carolina and can walk you through the entire process.

The estate planning attorneys at Rountree Losee have extensive knowledge and experience in probate law. We can guide you through the probate and estate administration process to avoid missteps that could lead to delays and disputes.

Below, we provide a brief overview of the probate and estate administration processes in North Carolina and define commonly used terms of art .

What Is Probate and Estate Administration?

Probate is the process where the Personal Representative (also known as the Executor) submits the Will of the deceased to the Court to prove its authenticity and it was executed pursuant to North Carolina law.  Once the Will has been accepted by the Court, the Personal Representative can begin administering the estate pursuant to the terms of the Will.  

Estate administration is the judicial process whereby the Personal Representative ensures that all debts of the deceased are paid using the assets of the deceased and remaining assets are distributed to the beneficiaries pursuant the terms of the Will. The estate administration process is supervised by the Court to ensure the Personal Representative is properly managing the assets of the deceased. However, it is good to note that not all assets of the deceased will be handled through the Court supervised estate administration process. Assets not handled through the estate administration could include, but are not limited to, retirement accounts, certain bank accounts, and brokerage accounts. 

Legal Terms

  • Will – A legal document that clearly defines a person’s wishes regarding how they would like their property distributed upon their death. A will could also include a nomination of guardian for the deceased’s minor children, if any. .
  • Estate – Refers to all the property (real and personal), investment accounts and bank accounts owned by an individual at death. However, it is good to note that an estate can include more than what we mentioned here. 
  • Intestate (or intestacy) – This is a situation whereby a person dies without creating a will.
  • Decedent – Is the individual who has passed.

How Is An Estate Administered?

In North Carolina, a person’s estate is administered according to their will. However, if the decedent did not leave a will, then the estate is administered pursuant to North Carolina’s intestacy statute. Whether a person dies with or without a will, the North Carolina court system supervises the entire estate administration process. The Clerk of Court will usually appoint the person designated in the will as the Personal Representative to administer the decedent’s estate. However, if there is no will, or if the will does not designate someone to be the Personal Representative of the estate, then the Clerk of Court will appoint someone, usually a close relative, to handle the decedent’s assets and property. The Personal Representative is responsible for:

  • Taking stock of the deceased individual’s property, money, and assets
  • Paying all relevant taxes and settling debts
  • Paying administration fees
  • Informing the beneficiaries of the decedent’s estate
  • Distributing the estate to the beneficiaries and heirs

How the Estate Administration Process Gets Started

In North Carolina, the estate administration process begins at the office of the Clerk of Superior Court. The Personal Representative files an application for probate with the Clerk of Court’s office in the decedent’s place of residence or where the decedent owned property. The Personal Representative must file the original will (if it is available) and a death certificate with the application for probate.  

The Clerk will examine the application for probate and verify the will and death certificate to establish whether the Personal Representative can proceed with administering the estate. If the will is valid, the court will document certain deadlines that the Personal Representative must adhere to and commence the estate administration process.

Get The Legal Help You Need

The probate process can be a complex and overwhelming process to navigate alone. Hiring a skilled estate planning attorney who understands how North Carolina court systems work can help you avoid the headaches and heartaches that accompany estate administration. At Rountree Losee, we have a team of estate planning attorneys ready to guide you through the entire estate administration process from start to finish. Contact us online or call us at 910-763-3404 to schedule a consultation with our team.