If you're here, you've likely been named the executor of an estate and are wondering "now what?" The burden of determining and delivering on someone else's wishes can be heavy, but the process is relatively simple. As such, today we'll discuss what to expect from the probate process if you've recently been named as the executor of an estate in North Carolina.
What is Probate?
Probate is the legal process of transferring property upon someone's death by following the deceased person's wishes outlined in their final Will according to state law. While the process is relatively straightforward, we recommend working with an estate lawyer in Raleigh, NC, especially if you've never worked through the probate process before.
One of the first steps in the process is to validate the deceased person's Will as legitimate. In order for the Will to be legitimate, we look for four key things:
- Are the deceased person's wishes in writing?
- Is the Will the decedent's final Will?
- Is the Will signed and dated by the person who created it (the deceased person)?
- Is the Will signed by a witness or witnesses?
While these questions are being answered, oftentimes a personal representative (often called an executor or administrator) is named as well. If no one has been named in the decedent's Will, the court can appoint someone.
Who is an Executor?
An executor of an estate is the individual responsible for managing the affairs of a deceased person's estate. Since a deceased person (also known as a decedent) can no longer own property, everything owned at the time of that person's death must be legally transferred to any living beneficiaries.
While it's an honor to be someone's executor, you should know that it's also a lot of administrative work. Therefore, if you're unable to fulfill the executor duties for any reason (time constraints, illness, etc), be sure to inform the court of your decision as soon as possible so that the court can appoint an alternate executor. There is no legal obligation to accept the role.
Immediate Concerns to Address as an Executor
The most immediate concern for an executor is to manage any funeral or burial arrangements. For most executors, you are already well aware of your role in the probate process (even before being legally named), but the formal process of settling the estate doesn't usually start until after funeral formalities.
Settling the Estate
After the funeral, the executor can start settling the estate. Again, we suggest that you navigate this process with an estate lawyer in Raleigh, NC. as they can file most of the paperwork on your behalf. You'll start by obtaining a certified copy of the Will and filing it with your local probate court. This typically needs to be done within one month of finding the Will. You'll also obtain your letter of testamentary that gives you legal authority to go about executing the will and finalizing the estate.
Formal probate proceedings may not be necessary depending on the total value of the deceased person's personal property. However, if there are substantial assets that were solely owned by the deceased with no beneficiary named, they may be considered probate assets and the executor may be required to begin formal probate proceedings. Your Raleigh estate attorney can advise you either way.
To learn more about the probate process, assistance on how to serve as an executor, or for more details on how to administer an estate, stay tuned for our next article. In the meantime, be sure to contact one of our estate lawyers in Raleigh NC, at Eldreth Law Firm PC. We are estate planning lawyers that can aid in helping you and your family makes the right choices for your loved ones.