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Overview of Probate in North Carolina

If you’ve suffered the loss of a loved one, chances are you’ll experience some form of probate or estate administration. Sometimes this can be a very straightforward process, but at other times it can be rather complex and time-consuming. It is helpful to understand some of the various types of probate in North Carolina.

First, you’ll need to determine whether or not the person died with a will (“testate”) or without a will (“intestate”). Next, oftentimes much depends on whether there is a surviving spouse. When there is a surviving spouse, he or she should prepare to do an Application for Year’s Allowance. This will insulate a certain sum of money from any creditor claims. Also, surviving spouses may utilize simplified procedures such as Summary Administration which will allow for quick probate if the surviving spouse assumes all debts of the deceased spouse. A surviving spouse should consult with an experienced probate attorney before choosing this option.

For smaller estates, there is another simplified procedure available called Collection by Affidavit. If the value of the decedent’s personal property does not exceed $20,000 ($30,000 if the surviving spouse is the collector and sole heir) and regardless of any real property value, you can consider this option which will result in a much quicker process.

Another option for administering an estate is something called Probate Without Qualification. If the deceased did not own any personal property titled solely in his or her individual name and there is no need to have a personal representative or executor appointed, the family may choose to simply file the will and do this simplified probate method. The will is validated by the court and this will effectively transfer title to any real property. However, if the beneficiaries of any real property owned by the deceased plan to sell the property within three years, it is recommended to do full probate to clean up title to the property.

Lastly, many cases will require a full probate or estate administration. This involves having a Personal Representative appointed (Executor if there was a will or Administrator if there was not a will). The Personal Representative will have to give an Inventory of all property owned by the decedent, give notice to all creditors, pay all creditor claims and administrative expenses, make distributions to beneficiaries or heirs, and give a final accounting to the court.

If the deceased lived in another state but owned property in North Carolina, an Ancillary Probate may be required. This is generally a shorter process than the full probate, but is necessary to effectively transfer title to real property within this state, and may also be necessary for other property the deceased owned here.

Make sure you carefully identify probate and nonprobate assets. Nonprobate assets are those which pass outside the will through beneficiary or survivorship designations (e.g., life insurance, retirement accounts, joint accounts, jointly owned real property, etc.). Nonprobate assets typically are not listed on any probate or estate filings.

If you need assistance with estate administration or estate planning, please contact an experienced estate administration attorney. Reznik Law, PLLC is available to assist individuals with estate administration in Wake County, and estate plan drafting for residents of Durham County, Wake County, and throughout the triangle area. Contact us at


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