Without thoughtful pre-planning, the grief of loss from the death of a loved one often clouds the next steps the family must take in order to close out the estate. Regardless of whether or not there is a Will or other financial planning instrument in place, there is a legal process for handling the deceased’s estate that focuses on the remaining assets and liabilities.
What probate is and what it does
Probate is essentially the legal process by which the deceased’s estate is settled according to state law. The probate process usually refers either to estate administration, in which the assets and debts of the decedent’s estate are settled, or to probating the will, in which the court verifies the authenticity of the Will. If there is no Will, the estate is intestate and an executor appointed by the court will oversee the process.
In North Carolina, smaller estates may go through a streamlined process by using the Affidavit for Collection of Personal Property of Decedent. By this process a surviving spouse or sole heir receives all property, and it is also used where there is only enough to cover funeral and burial costs.
The role of estate administration
Estate administration will process all probate assets including cash, stocks and bonds, as well as tangible property such as vehicles, furniture and jewelry. Property that does not go through probate includes assets held with rights to survivorship or that which has a named beneficiary, such as life insurances, annuities, IRA’s or joint bank accounts. Real property does not go through probate unless the sale of these assets is necessary in order to pay off debts against the estate.
A full estate administration process is usually handled through the specified clerk of superior court’s office, and involves the appointment of a designated personal representative who inventories assets and liabilities, gives public notice to creditors, pays debts, distributes assets to designated heirs and pays the remaining estate taxes.
The probate process can take a minimum of four months, but it can often go on much longer if there is a delayed response from creditors or heirs, as well as complications that can arise if a will is contested.
Because of the time and expense of probate, many people start estate planning early to simplify or minimize the probate process. Getting experienced estate planning advice in Cumberland County and across North Carolina can help you to make a plan to manage and protect your assets so that you can provide for your loved ones after you are gone.