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The Seven Stages of Probate in North Carolina

October 20, 2023 Estate & Trust Administration

Probate, or Estate Administration, is the complicated legal process of settling someone’s affairs after their death. During probate, the court system uses a process to determine that a will is legally valid before the person’s valuables can be distributed. In North Carolina, probate typically involves seven distinct stages. If you are going to be your loved one’s representative in North Carolina, this article will help you understand the probate stages to give you clarity and peace of mind. As you read, take a deep breath. Remember that Carolina Estate Planning probate lawyers can help you through this process.

Stage 1: Qualification

In the first phase, you should notify relevant parties like banks and insurance companies about your loved one’s passing and let them know that you will be qualifying as the legal representative of their estate. If a valid will exists, it needs to be submitted to the Clerk of Superior Court in the county where your loved one lived. The ex-officio Judge of Probate Court or Clerk of Court then reviews the will’s validity and appoints the executor that was named in the will, or an administrator if there is no will. The executor or administrator is responsible for overseeing the probate process. In North Carolina, the executor or administrator is often referred to as the “Personal Representative.”

Stage 2: 90-Day Inventory

90 days after your qualification as the Personal Representative, you must send the court an inventory of all the assets and property that your loved one owned. This involves identifying and cataloging all real estate, bank accounts, investments, personal belongings, and other assets. Certain assets may require professional appraisals to determine their fair market value, such as guns, businesses, jewelry, artwork, antiques, and classic cars.

Stage 3: Notice to Creditors

As the Personal Representative, you must then publish a notice to creditors in a local newspaper, providing information about your loved one’s passing. This notice serves to inform potential creditors of the estate and provides them with a specific time frame to file their claims. You must then diligently review and assess all creditor claims before approving or disputing them.

Stage 4: Disbursements

During this phase, you are responsible for settling your loved one’s debts using available estate assets. This includes paying off outstanding bills, loans, and other obligations. Additionally, you must file the final income tax return for your loved one and, if applicable, an estate tax return. Fulfilling tax obligations is crucial to avoid penalties or legal complications.

Stage 5: Distribution of Assets

Once all debts and taxes have been settled, you can distribute the remaining estate assets among the beneficiaries or heirs according to the terms of the will or North Carolina’s intestate succession laws. You will follow your loved one’s wishes, ensuring a fair and equitable distribution.

Stage 6: Final Accounting and Court Approval

At this stage, you will prepare a final accounting, which includes all financial transactions and distributions made during the estate administration process. You then submit the report to the Probate Court for review and approval. The court examines the accounting to ensure compliance with legal requirements and confirms that the estate’s affairs have been handled appropriately.

Stage 7: Estate Closure

Once the final accounting receives court approval, the estate can be officially closed. This means that you, as the Personal Representative, have completed your responsibilities and are discharged from your duties to the court. You can now complete remaining administrative tasks, such as transferring ownership of real estate, closing accounts, and filing discharge forms with the IRS. With the estate closed, the beneficiaries or heirs can enjoy their rightful inheritance.

Settling an estate in North Carolina involves navigating several distinct stages of probate. Each stage has its own requirements, responsibilities, and legal considerations. By understanding these seven stages—Qualification, 90-Day Inventory, Notice to Creditors, Disbursement, Distribution of Assets, Final Accounting and Court Approval, and Estate Closure—you can navigate the process more confidently. Seeking guidance from an experienced attorney specializing in probate is highly recommended to ensure compliance with North Carolina laws and to facilitate a smooth estate settlement.

If you are looking for guidance about probate in North Carolina, please call our office today. We will complete a free 15-minute Needs Assessment call with you to discuss your family’s situation. We will give you an overview of the legal process and how we assist our clients in navigating that process, discuss the next steps to working with our firm, and address any questions or concerns you might have.

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 for specific information about your North Carolina probate 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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