Probate Attorneys in Concord, North Carolina
Losing a loved one is a heart-shattering experience. When this happens, also being named as an executor or administrator of your loved one’s estate can add even more stress to an already emotionally-taxing time. A probate attorney can make the process much easier, guiding you through the probate process to ensure that you complete your duties and prudently manage your loved one’s estate. If you need help managing a loved one’s affairs, call us at Ferguson Hayes Hawkins, PLLC in Concord, North Carolina.
What Is Probate?
Probate is the legal process that validates a will through the court and settles the estate’s debts before the final distribution of the rest of the estate’s assets to the intended recipients (if there is a will) or to those who inherit by state law (if there is no will). If there is a will, the estate’s personal representative, called an “executor,” will be in charge of managing the estate throughout the probate process. If someone dies without a will, the estate still goes through probate, but the court appoints someone to act as the estate’s personal representative—in this case, called an “administrator.”
Anyone who is inheriting property from an estate with a will is called a “beneficiary,” while anyone inheriting property from an intestate estate is called an “heir.”
For Experienced Legal GuidanceCONTACT US TODAY
Which Assets Generally Go Through Probate?
Many assets, including cash, bank accounts, vehicles, jewelry, art, and furniture, are subject to probate. Exceptions include:
Real estate assets (houses, land, etc.), which are not typically probate assets in North Carolina unless the sale of the real estate is required to pay estate debts
Assets (such as life insurance policies, joint bank accounts, and retirement accounts) that the decedent owned jointly with “right of survivorship,” meaning that the asset will pass to the next owner who is living
Property placed in a living trust before the decedent’s death
How Will Probate Affect My Surviving Loved Ones?
Probate is often a costly and time-consuming process. The expenses incurred by probate—including lawyers’ fees—typically come out of the estate’s assets, and the estate can languish in court for a long time if there are many claims on the estate or if there are disagreements about the disposition of any property. Some estates can get stuck in probate for a year or more.
Hiring a probate attorney can work in your favor as they will possess knowledge of the probate process and will know how to negotiate with and defend against creditors with claims on the estate. This expertise can reduce the amount of time the estate is tied up in probate court.
You may be able to submit a Small Estate Affidavit to avoid probate on your loved one’s estate if the estate, after all claims on it have been subtracted, is worth less than $20,000 (or $30,000 if the spouse is the only surviving beneficiary). You can also avoid probate by filing a Summary Probate petition with the court if you are the spouse of the decedent and are the only surviving beneficiary.
What Is the Probate Process in North Carolina?
Applying for Letters
First, the estate’s personal representative (the executor or administrator) must locate the will, death certificate, and assets of the decedent. Then, the personal representative contacts the Clerk of Court in the county where the decedent was domiciled when they died or in any county in which the decedent left property if they were not domiciled in North Carolina when they died. The personal representative will then make an appointment with the Clerk of Court, during which they will present the will, the death certificate, a preliminary inventory of the estate’s assets, and an application for letters testamentary or letters of administration.
The clerk of court will give the personal representative “letters testamentary” (if the estate had a will) or “letters of administration” (if there was no will). These letters give the executor or administrator authority to manage the estate. These letters are needed in order to correspond with institutions, such as banks and insurance companies, about the estate.
The executor will usually transfer cash in the estate’s existing bank accounts to one account that they create for the estate. The executor, after publishing a notice of the probate proceeding and mailing notices to all known creditors, will begin paying off the estates’ debts and taxes from the estate’s funds. If it is necessary to sell real estate in order to pay estate debts, the personal representative needs the permission of the Clerk of Court (unless a decedent directed an executor to sell the real estate in the will or left the property to them in the will).
If there isn’t enough money in the estate fund to pay debts, debts will be paid in priority order. First, any liens must be settled, followed by funeral expenses of up to $3,500, followed by taxes, and finally any other expenses.
Closing the Estate
Once the estate’s debts and taxes have been paid (and final tax returns for the decedent filed), the personal representative can distribute the property to the beneficiaries or heirs. Before closing the estate, the personal representative then files a final accounting (or a summary of their management of the estate, complete with lists of all transactions made). Executors and administrators can collect up to 5% of the estate’s assets as payment for their services.
Probate administration can be a long and involved process. If you are an executor or administrator of your loved one’s estate, our attorneys are here to help you manage its assets according to your loved one’s wishes and assist you in addressing any issues that may arise.
Probate Attorneys Serving Concord, North Carolina
From properly inventorying assets and paying bills and taxes to arguing in court for your family’s best interests, our attorneys are prepared to meet your family’s specific needs. Call us today at Ferguson Hayes Hawkins, PLLC, serving Concord, North Carolina, and other areas in Rowan, Stanly, and Cabarrus counties.