Many individuals opt to avoid probate when planning their estate, since this process has a reputation for being time-consuming and expensive. If your loved one’s estate is subject to probate, however, experienced legal guidance can potentially ease the associated complications.

Here are some questions that may arise about the probate process in North Carolina.

When does North Carolina require probate?

Only assets owned solely by the person who has died must go through probate. Assets that do not require North Carolina probate and transfer directly to the person’s named beneficiary or co-owner include the following:

  • Real estate owned jointly with a spouse
  • Retirement accounts and other investment accounts with a named beneficiary
  • Life insurance and pension benefits with a named beneficiary
  • Assets held in a living trust

How does the process work?

In North Carolina, the person’s next of kin can apply to avoid probate when the estate’s value (not including real estate) is no more than $20,000 (or no more than $30,000 when his or her spouse will inherit everything). Complete the state’s Affidavit for Collection of Personal Property of Decedent form after it has been a minimum of 30 days since your family member’s death. File the form with the superior court clerk in the county where your family member lived. The court will provide a certified copy of this documentation so you can collect and distribute the person’s assets and settle debts.

When state law requires probate, the probate court judge authorizes the executor named in the will or chooses an administrator (usually the person’s surviving spouse) when he or she did not have a will. This personal representative then manages the assets in the estate and acts under court supervision.

If your family member did not leave a will, North Carolina’s intestacy laws determine who receives his or her assets. The court divides the assets between the spouse and children, or if your family member was not married and had no children, then the court distributes the assets to family members in this order: parents, siblings (or children/grandchildren of deceased siblings), grandparents, aunts and uncles.