Losing a loved one is devastating, and the process of settling their estate can be both emotionally and legally challenging. This process is commonly referred to as probate or estate administration. Probate is a court-supervised process that ensures the orderly distribution of a decedent’s assets and the payment of their debts. In North Carolina, probate is typically overseen by the Clerk of Superior Court in the county where the deceased person resided. This process should be viewed as a marathon and not a sprint. Generally, it takes about twelve (12) months to properly administer an Estate. However, if disputes or issues arise during the administration of the estate, the process can be delayed significantly. The attorneys at Collins Family & Elder Law Group are here to help you navigate the probate process. We can help ensure that your loved one’s estate is administered smoothly and as efficiently as possible.
The first step in navigating the probate process in North Carolina is to initiate it. This usually involves filing an application with the Clerk of Superior Court and additional supporting legal documents. If the deceased had a last will and testament, the original must be submitted with the application. If the deceased person did not leave a will, state law will determine how their assets are distributed. This is known as intestate succession.
Appointment of an Executor or Administrator
In cases where there is a valid will, the court will appoint the named Executor in the will, so long as the named individual qualifies as executor. If there is no will, the court will appoint an Administrator to administer the estate. From a practical standpoint, an “Administrator” is basically the same as an “Executor.” It is simply a slight legal distinction that reflects that this is an estate without a will that formally nominates an Executor.
By being formally recognized as Executor or Administrator, you have accepted the legal responsibility to act in the best interests of the estate and its beneficiaries. It can be an honor to be appointed to administer a loved one’s estate; however, it comes with a lot of responsibility and risk. If an Executor or Administrator breaches its fiduciary duty, they may be held personally liable. Even a simple error could result in a breach of one’s duty and harsh consequences. To help mitigate this risk, a bond may be required. Additionally, an Administrator or Executor has many deadlines that the Administrator or Executor is required to meet. Failing to meet these deadlines can also result in harsh consequences. These are reasons why it is important to hire an attorney to assist you with the probate process. The experienced attorneys at Collins Family & Elder Law Group are here to help you understand your responsibilities in administrating a loved one’s estate.
Inventory and Valuation of Assets
Once appointed, the Executor or Administrator must compile an inventory of all the deceased person’s assets. This includes real estate, personal property, bank accounts, investment acounts, etc. These assets must be valued as of the date of the decedent’s death. Gathering this information can take a lot of time and communicating with banks and other financial institutions is often difficult.
Collecting of Assets
Another step in the probate process is to claim and collect the deceased’s assets. Often, this part of the process is complicated and time consuming, especially when the deceased had numerous assets or complex assets, such as time shares or stocks. Additionally, this step can be complicated when claiming the asset involves retitling the asset. It can also involve a lot of confusing paperwork.
Payment of Debts and Expenses
The estate is responsible for settling any outstanding debts and expenses, including funeral costs, taxes, and creditors’ claims. The Executor or Administrator has a fiduciary duty to properly identify and notify creditors of the estate within a statutory period of time. North Carolina law provides a specific order in which these obligations should be paid, with priority given to certain expenses, such as funeral costs and estate administration expenses. The Executor or Administrator also has a duty to pay valid claims in the order of priority. Failing to pay the claims in the order specified can result in personal liability and other harsh consequnces. This is another reason why hiring an experienced attorney is important to the efficient, timely, and correct administration of your loved one’s estate.
Distribution of Assets
Once debts and expenses are paid, the remaining assets are distributed to the beneficiaries as outlined in the will or to the heirs according to North Carolina’s intestate succession laws.
The probate process requires a final accounting to be prepared and submitted to the court. The accounting must account for any assets or income received into the estate as well as the payments of debts and the distributions to beneficiaries or heirs. It must be exact to the penny and be supported by documentation. Often this is complicated and it can be easy to make errors. The court will reject accountings that contain errors, are not supported by paperwork, and are not exact. The attorneys at Collins Family & Elder Law Group will use their experience to help you prepare your accountings.
Closing the Estate
After all debts are paid, assets are distributed, and any necessary tax returns are filed, the Executor or Administrator can seek court approval to close the estate. Upon the court’s approval, the estate is officially closed, and the Executor or Administrator is relieved of their duties.
Losing a loved one is never easy, and dealing with the probate process in North Carolina can be complicated, adding an extra layer of stress. However, understanding the basic steps involved can help alleviate some of that stress. Remember, you do not have to go through this process alone – seeking the professional guidance from the attorneys at Collins Family & Elder Law Group will ensure that you fulfill your legal obligations and protect the interests of the deceased person’s estate and beneficiaries. We understand that a well-managed probate process can provide closure and peace of mind during this challenging time. Collins Family & Elder Law Group welcomes the opportunity to serve you in all of your probate needs.