I frequently have clients who recently lost a loved one and who find themselves in the position of needing to oversee the administration of the decedent’s estate. Handling the probate of an estate while simultaneously grieving the loss of a loved one can be difficult. I strongly urge my clients to work with an experienced probate attorney to make the process easier and reduce the likelihood of a costly mistake. Nevertheless, I also thought I would take the time to offer a probate checklist for anyone acting as the personal representative of an estate in North Carolina.
What Is the Point of Probate?
Before you get started, it helps to understand what the purpose and the goal of probate is to help you better navigate the process. Your loved one left behind an estate comprised of all assets owned by him/her at the time of death. One goal of probate is to identify and secure those assets and determine their value. If a Last Will and Testament was left behind by the decedent, probate also validates the Will, and the terms of the Will are used to distribute estate assets. Finally, if the decedent had creditors, they must be notified and allowed to file claims against the estate during probate. At the end of probate, the remaining assets need to be legally transferred to the new owners.
Probate Checklist for North Carolina
Because every probate is unique, there may be additional things you need to do during your role as the personal representative and some of the following may not apply in your case. The idea, however, is to get you started and give you a checklist to work from while probating the estate.
- Locate the Will. You will need an original copy of the decedent’s Last Will and Testament. If you do not have one, check with a spouse, adult child, or the decedent’s estate planning attorney. Also look for files that might include the Will and/or additional estate planning documents such as a trust agreement, life insurance policies, and business documents.
- Make a list of assets and secure them. Start making a list of known assets. Obvious things include a home, vehicles, collectibles, and bank accounts. Look for records for investment accounts, life insurance policies, real property other than the primary residence, securities, and anything else of value. As the personal representative it is your job to secure all assets. That may entail doing things such as closing bank accounts, rounding up keys to property and vehicles, or putting valuable collectibles in a locked storage unit.
- Order a death certificate. Order several certified copies of the decedent’s death certificate from the North Carolina Department of Vital Records. You will likely need a copy when you initiate probate and when you try to access bank records or undertake other probate tasks.
- Contact the appropriate court about filing for probate. If you are working with an attorney, your attorney will handle the documents necessary to initiate probate. If you are attempting to handle probate without an attorney, you may be able to find helpful resources on the North Carolina Judicial Branch website.
- Contact appraisers for valuable assets. If the decedent owned valuable assets, such as real property, antique vehicle, or a potentially valuable collection of art, you should start contacting appraisers to get an idea of the value of the assets.
- Make a list of known beneficiaries, heirs, and creditors. Ultimately, all beneficiaries, heirs, and creditors must be notified about probate. Unknown creditors can be notified via publication; however, it is best to notify known creditors personally so you can get an idea what debts the estate is facing as soon as possible.
Contact our Chapel Hill Trust Attorneys
If you have additional issues questions or concerns about how to probate an estate in North Carolina, please contact the Chapel Hill Trust Attorneys at Clarity Legal Group by calling us at 919-484-0012 or contact us online.
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