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When is Probate Required?

When is Probate Required in North Carolina?

Hickory attorney advises on estate administration issues

With a few exceptions, most estates are settled through the probate process. If you are unsure as to when probate is required in North Carolina, the firm of Donald R. Fuller, Jr., PLLC in Hickory can help. One exception to standard probate exists when the total value of a decedent’s personal property (excluding real estate) does not exceed $20,000. In these cases, the property can be collected by executing an affidavit. There is also a process called summary probate which can be used when all of a decedent’s property goes to a surviving spouse. Otherwise, assets must be dispersed through the regular probate system. My firm offers knowledgeable, personalized counsel to people drafting, executing and challenging wills regarding a full range of probate issues.

What is the purpose of probate?

When someone dies, property that they owned must be distributed. Probate is the legal process by which the assets and debts in a decedent’s estate are allocated. In some circumstances, probate runs smoothly, especially when there is a clear, valid will in place. However, problems can arise when no testamentary document exists, where the language is unclear or where there are multiple wills with contradictory terms. There could also be issues if the decedent had substantial debts or the heirs named in the will are minors or incapacitated. My firm handles a full range of probate administration matters, helping estate representatives handle key tasks efficiently.

What happens if someone dies without a will?

The property of someone who dies without a will is distributed according to the North Carolina Intestate Succession Act. Under this statute, a decedent’s estate is divided based on the family members who survived them. For example, all of the property of someone who is married but has no living children or parents goes to the surviving spouse. However, if the decedent has children, they get a share of the estate. Without a will, the court appoints someone to serve as administrator of the estate, and depending on the particular circumstances, probate could take a long time, especially if an estranged relative is entitled to an inheritance under the intestacy law.

What property goes through probate?

Many types of property are allocated through the probate system, including real estate, vehicles and tangible items solely owned by the deceased. Investment accounts and other financial holdings might pass to beneficiaries in this manner as well unless there is a “payable on death” or contingent beneficiary designation.

What assets don’t go through probate?

Several types of assets are not distributed through the probate process, including:

  • Jointly owned property, such as a marital home, which becomes the exclusive property of surviving spouse
  • Property placed into a living trust
  • Life insurance proceeds
  • Bank accounts and investments that include contingent beneficiaries or have payable on death provisions

When you work with my firm, I will assess your holdings and explain which specific assets would be excluded from your estate when you pass away.

Avoiding probate in North Carolina

As an experienced North Carolina wills lawyer, I advise on various options that exist for those who want to minimize or eliminate the probate process. By establishing joint ownership or naming a contingent beneficiary, you can ensure that assets, including real estate holdings, go to your surviving spouse or someone else upon your death. My firm also establishes revocable trusts, which fall outside the probate system. Another option is to shift some of your wealth to life insurance policies because the benefits are paid directly upon proof of the insured’s death.

Contact a North Carolina probate lawyer to schedule a consultation

Donald R. Fuller, Jr., PLLC in Hickory assists North Carolina clients with various issues relating to the state’s probate process. You can make an appointment by calling 828-639-8188 or contacting me online.

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  • Hickory Office
    225 4th Street N.W.
    Suite 200
    Hickory, North Carolina 28601
    Phone: 828-578-6400
    Fax: 828-578-6403
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