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How To Become the Personal Representative of the Estate

April 23, 2024 Estate & Trust Administration

Probate in North Carolina can be a challenging experience, particularly for individuals who have recently lost a loved one. Probate requires various steps, including appointing a personal representative responsible for managing the deceased person’s estate. To become the personal representative in North Carolina, you must meet certain qualifications. In this article, we will provide information on the qualification process, including the requirements and duties involved. As you read, remember that Carolina Estate Planning attorneys are here to help you navigate the probate process every step of the way.


What is a Personal Representative?

The personal representative is the individual or entity that manages the deceased person’s belongings and assets. They are either named as the executor in the will or appointed as administrator by the court.

Their job includes finding and collecting all the belongings of the person who passed away and paying off any debts. The personal representative also has the responsibility to file taxes and distribute the remaining property to the entitled recipients.

The personal representative must follow a specific legal process to manage the estate. To complete this process, one must seek approval from the court for specific actions and provide detailed reports. The personal representative must also inform the people receiving the property about what is happening.


How To Become the Personal Representative if There Is a Valid Will

A “testate” estate refers to the estate of a deceased person who has left behind a valid will. When someone passes away testate, they have clearly expressed their wishes regarding the distribution of their assets and the appointment of an executor to manage the estate

  • Filing the Will: The first step in the process for a testate estate is for the person named as executor to submit the original will. The executor must file the will with the Clerk of Superior Court in the county where the deceased person resided at the time of their death.

  • Application for Probate: When someone passes away and leaves a will, the named executor must submit an Application for Probate and Letters (AOC Form E-201) to the Clerk at the time of qualification. This application should include the full legal name of the deceased person (including all names that they were known by), the date of death, the address at the date of death. The names, addresses, and ages of the people named in the will should also be included. Finally, the application should include the nature and probable value of the property that the person who passed away had.

  • Bond: In North Carolina, a named executor who is a resident is not typically required to post a bond unless the Will expressly requires it, which is uncommon. However, even if the Will waives the bond requirement for a nonresident executor, some Clerks may still need it. Therefore, checking with the Clerk when qualifying is essential to determine their current policy and whether the beneficiaries can waive the bond requirement. Suppose the Will does not waive the bond requirement and the named executor is not a resident. In that case, a bond will be necessary unless the nonresident executor is serving as co-executor with a resident executor.

  • Certificate of Probate: Once affidavits have proved the Will or if it is self-proved, the Clerk will prepare and sign the certificate of probate (AOC Form E-304) during the qualification process.

  • Oath: To become the personal representative, you must take an oath of office. The oath must be signed by the personal representative and made a part of the court’s file.

  • Order Authorizing Issuance of Letters: The Clerk often prepares this form: AOC Form E-402. The form’s purpose is to authorize the issuance of Letters to the personal representative, and the form may only be signed by the Clerk or an Assistant Clerk.

  • Letters Testamentary: To become the personal representative, the Clerk, an Assistant Clerk, or a Deputy Clerk issues you Letters Testamentary or Letters of Administration C.T.A. This document proves your authority to receive and administer the estate’s assets. The Clerk typically issues five Letters automatically.


How To Become the Personal Representative if There Is No Valid Will

In North Carolina, an “intestate” estate refers to the estate of a person who has passed away without leaving behind a valid will. When someone dies intestate, it means they have not provided clear instructions on how their assets should be distributed after their death.

When someone dies in North Carolina without a valid will, the law determines the personal representative based on priorities. The priorities are:

  • Surviving Spouse: The decedent’s surviving spouse holds the first priority to serve as personal representative.

  • Heirs of the Decedent: Individuals who would inherit from the decedent under North Carolina intestacy laws.

  • Next of Kin: If there is no surviving spouse or heir, the decedent’s next of kin is considered for appointment as personal representative. Priority is given to the closest related individual to the decedent.

  • Creditors: If no surviving spouse, heir, or next of kin is available or willing to serve, a creditor of the decedent may be appointed as personal representative.

  • Person of Good Character Residing in the County: Any person residing in the county where the decedent resided may apply for Letters of Administration if they are of good character.

  • Other Qualified Person of Good Character: If no other qualified individuals are available, the court may appoint any other person of good character who is not otherwise disqualified.

Forms and procedures for intestate estates are similar to those for testate estates. Bonds may be waived under certain conditions, and forms must be prepared accordingly. Oaths, orders authorizing the issuance of Letters, and Letters of Administration are also required.


You Can’t Become the Personal Representative if You Are…

Individuals listed above must be “qualified” to serve, as per N.C.G.S. § 28A-4-2, which outlines disqualifications for serving as a personal representative. The personal representative must not be: 

  • Under 18 years of age: Individuals under 18 are generally considered minors and may lack the legal capacity to fulfill the responsibilities of a Personal Representative.
  • Adjudicated Incompetent:  Individuals legally declared unfit by a court due to mental incapacity or other reasons may be unable to manage the estate’s affairs.
  • A convicted felon: Persons convicted of a felony offense may be disqualified from serving as a Personal Representative. This disqualification is based on concerns regarding trustworthiness and integrity.
  • A nonresident who has not appointed a resident agent: Nonresidents of North Carolina who wish to serve as Personal Representatives must select a resident agent within the state to accept legal notices and process them on their behalf.
  • A corporation not authorized to act as PR in this state: Only corporations authorized and licensed to act as Personal Representatives in North Carolina are eligible to serve in that capacity.
  • A person who has lost his or her rights in any manner under Chapter 31A (Acts Barring Property Rights): This refers to individuals who have been deprived of property rights or other legal privileges under Chapter 31A of North Carolina statutes.
  • Illiterate: Illiteracy may present challenges in fulfilling the duties of a Personal Representative, which often involve reading and understanding legal documents, correspondence, and financial records.
  • A person the Clerk finds unsuitable: The Clerk of the Superior Court has the discretion to deem individuals unsuitable for serving as Personal Representatives based on character, competence, or conflicts of interest.
  • A person who has renounced: Individuals who have voluntarily renounced their right to serve as Personal Representatives are disqualified from doing so. Renunciation typically occurs when an individual chooses not to accept the responsibilities associated with the role.


Special Notes on Qualification

  • If You Don’t Want To Become the Personal Representative: A surviving spouse or any other person with priority to serve as a personal representative can renounce their right in favor of another qualified individual or corporation. Additionally, if an individual renounces their right to serve, they may nominate another qualified person in writing.

  • Hurry, the Clock is Ticking: If a person entitled to apply for Letters of Administration fails to apply within 30 days of the date of death, the Clerk may issue a notice for qualification. After 90 days, if no one applies, the Clerk may appoint any suitable person as personal representative without notice.

  • We Both Want To Become the Personal Representative: If multiple individuals have equal priority to serve as personal representatives, the Clerk may grant Letters of Administration to the person considered most likely to administer the estate effectively. If one person desires to qualify within a class (e.g., children of the decedent), renunciations must be obtained from other class members.


Responsibilities of the Personal Representative

Regardless of whether the estate is testate or intestate, once you become the personal representative, your responsibilities include:

  • Managing Estate Assets: Safeguarding and managing the deceased person’s assets until you can distribute them to beneficiaries.
  • Paying Debts and Expenses: Settling the deceased person’s outstanding debts and estate expenses, including funeral costs, taxes, and creditor claims.
  • Distributing Assets to Beneficiaries: Distributing the remaining assets to beneficiaries in accordance with the terms of the will or North Carolina intestacy laws.
  • Filing Tax Returns: Ensuring that you file all necessary tax returns, including income and estate tax returns, accurately and timely.
  • Reporting to the Court: Providing regular reports to the court detailing the administration of the estate and seeking court approval for significant transactions or distributions.


Final Thoughts

Understanding the process to become a personal representative is crucial for those tasked with managing the affairs of a deceased loved one’s estate. By adhering to the legal requirements and fulfilling their duties diligently, personal representatives can navigate the probate process with confidence and integrity. However, given the complexity of probate proceedings, seeking legal guidance and support is highly advisable to ensure compliance with North Carolina law and protect the interests of all parties involved.

If you have any further questions about qualification process or would like assistance in qualification process, contact our law offices today or call us at 336-790-5107.


Disclaimer: The information above is provided for general information only and should not be considered legal advice. Our attorneys provide legal advice to our clients after talking about the specific circumstances of the client’s situation. Our law firm cannot give you legal advice unless we understand your situation by talking with you. Please contact our law office to receive specific information about your situation.

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Jeffrey L. Bloomfield Founding Attorney
Jeff is a highly dedicated and accomplished lawyer with a wealth of experience in various areas of law, particularly focusing on tax, estate planning, and estate administration. His expertise and genuine passion for charitable planning make him a sought-after advisor for families looking to structure their initiatives using trusts.

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