When mourning the loss of a loved one, the last thing you want to worry about is the legalities of administering their assets. But this is a lawfully critical (read: time-sensitive) part of settling the decedent’s final affairs and distributing their assets to their intended beneficiaries.
If you have questions about what will happen to your loved one’s estate, how to settle their debts and taxes, or any other aspect of the probate process, a Forest City probate lawyer from our team can lead you through the entire process.
The Probate Process in North Carolina
Although North Carolina’s probate process is not complicated, it can be emotionally burdensome and time-consuming when you are already grieving the loss of a loved one.
The probate process is applicable to all decedents, whether or not they had a last will before death.
- If the deceased had a last will that expresses their wishes regarding their estate, the probate process will establish that will’s validity. Estate taxes will then be calculated based on the combined assets’ value. At this time, there will also be an opportunity for beneficiaries and creditors to contest the will’s validity.
- If the deceased did not have a last will, the Clerk of Court will appoint a personal representative who will take an inventory of the estate’s assets, notify creditors about the decedent’s passing, pay off debts and taxes, and then distribute the assets according to North Carolina’s inheritance laws.
Next Steps in the Probate Process
Below are the most common steps you can expect when proceeding with a probate process:
- Filing a probate petition: The process starts with the executor/personal representative filing a probate petition with the Probate Court.
- Identifying assets and heirs: If there is a valid will, it will dictate how the assets will be handed down. If the decedent died without a will, their property will be distributed according to North Carolina’s intestate inheritance laws.
- Notify creditors about the death: You must publish a probate notice in the local newspaper, so creditors are notified about the death and have the opportunity to file a claim against the estate.
- Manage creditor claims and litigate challenges: Creditors have 90 days to file a claim against the estate. Approved claims will have to be paid out of the estate. If a will is contested by a beneficiary or a creditor, it must be litigated first before the probate process continues.
- Pay taxes: Prepare a federal estate tax return and pay any owed gift or estate taxes.
- Distribute the assets: Once debts and taxes are paid off, the remaining assets can be transferred to their intended beneficiaries.
Keep in mind that the probate process comes with many nuances, and not all assets have to undergo probate. If you are the decedent’s spouse, you may be able to skip the full probate process. A Forest City probate lawyer from Farmer & Morris Law, PLLC will carefully examine the estate to identify non-probate assets and can help you through the probate process from start to finish.
Not All Assets Need to Go Through Probate
Probate is usually a time-consuming process. Thankfully, some assets can skip probate altogether and be directly transferred to their heirs. These include:
- Assets in a revocable trust
- Assets that the decedent co-owned with someone else
- Bank account with a payable-on-death (POD) designation that already has a beneficiary listed
- Accounts with transfer-on-death (TOD) designations
Your Decedent’s Estate May Be Eligible for Probate Shortcuts
North Carolina offers shortened probate processes for certain estate-related situations. These include:
- If the decedent owned a vehicle and it is their only asset, you can use DMV Form MVR-317 to transfer the title.
- If the decedent’s estate value does not exceed $30,000 and there is a surviving spouse (or $20,000 if there are other beneficiaries), you may be able to collect the assets using a simple Affidavit of Collection, per Art 25.§ 28A-25-1.
- If the spouse is the decedent’s only heir, they may be able to collect the estate using a Summary Administration Form. However, the spouse will be responsible for paying the estate-related debts and taxes.
Our probate lawyer can evaluate your case to determine if you qualify for a shortened probate process.
What Can a Forest City Probate Lawyer Do for You?
Knowing what probate is, how it applies specifically to your loved one’s estate, and what is expected from you as an executor or a court-appointed personal representative can help you get through the probate process with little to no delays or roadblocks.
Our Forest City probate lawyer can manage a variety of estate tasks, including:
- Filling out and filing probate-related paperwork
- Inventorying all assets of the estate
- Managing property appraisals
- Identifying non-probate assets
- Paying debts and inheritance taxes
- Notifying creditors of the decedent’s passing
- Handling any creditor claims
- Distributing assets to their intended beneficiaries
- Retitling the assets in the inheritor’s name
Wading through this unfamiliar legal terrain alone can be overwhelming, especially when you are already coping with a loved one’s death. Our team is here to lift the burden off your shoulders with our comprehensive probate services.
How Long does the Probate Process Take?
Every estate is different. The beneficiaries, personal administrators, and creditors involved – and their dynamic with each other – is also different for each estate.
The probate process typically takes anywhere from four months to one year because creditors have 90 days from receiving the decedent death notification to file claims. The larger, more valuable, and complex the estate is, the longer it will take to settle.
Hire Our Forest City Attorney to Manage Your Probate Process
You do not have to go through North Carolina’s probate process alone. If you choose to be represented by Farmers & Morris Law, PLLC, we can handle the entire probate process for you – everything from appraising assets to dealing with creditors to submitting important documents within the court-appointed deadline. Call us today at (828) 438-8418 to schedule a free case review.