Wills & Probate in North Carolina

By Beverly Bird

If a will is valid and there are no objections to it, and if the estate owes no taxes to either North Carolina or the IRS, probate in the state can take as little as three months. North Carolina offers abbreviated probate processes for estates where the entire value of assets is no more than $10,000 or when a surviving spouse inherits the deceased’s entire estate.

Will Requirements

Wills may be printed, handwritten or oral in North Carolina. Printed and oral wills require two witnesses but handwritten, or holographic, wills require none. A witness may be a beneficiary in the will provided that there is one more witness in addition to that person. Otherwise, the deceased’s bequest to the witness becomes null and void. Self-proved wills, accompanied by a notarized statement by the testator and her witnesses that the will is authentic, are accepted. You can disinherit a child in North Carolina, but not a spouse.

Appointment of Executor

Probate opens when the court approves the will’s choice of an executor to oversee the distribution of the deceased’s estate. The executor must be at least 18 years of age, literate and clear of any felony convictions. If the named executor doesn’t live in North Carolina, then the court appoints an additional agent within the state to act as a liaison between the court and the executor.

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Payment of Estate Debts

One of the first duties of the executor is publication of a notice to creditors in a newspaper in the county where the estate is being probated. She must also send direct notice to all creditors she knows about. If the estate doesn’t have enough money to to pay all creditors who make a claim after receiving notice, debts secured by collateral are paid first, followed by funeral expenses of the deceased and taxes. Unsecured claims are either not paid or the remaining funds are apportioned equally between them. The deceased’s immediate family is also permitted a year’s allowance to live on. This money can come from the estate’s cash or the liquidation of personal property, but not from real estate.

Organization and Distribution of Assets

Within three months of taking office, the executor must file an inventory of the estate’s assets with the court, listing each item and its approximate value. After payment of the deceased’s debts, estate taxes and the allotment of any family allowance, the executor may disburse the remaining money and property in the estate to the beneficiaries named in the will. If any real estate has a mortgage against it, the mortgage transfers to and becomes the responsibility of the beneficiary getting the property.

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Who Gets Paid First Out of a Deceased's Estate?


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What Happens When You Inherit Money?

If someone dies after having established a living trust, the trust assets won't go through probate. Assets, including any money that you've inherited, can be immediately distributed by the trustee under the terms of the trust deed. On the other hand, when someone dies and you inherit money under a will, you probably won't get the money immediately. The will must first go through probate, a process that determines whether the will is valid and allows interested parties to contest it.

What Does Probate for a Will Mean?

Probate is the process of transferring legal title to property from a person who has died to that person's heirs or beneficiaries. The probate process is supervised by a court and can include paying any taxes or debts that are owing, gathering and accounting for assets, determining the validity of a will, settling disputes over who is to inherit and distributing assets. The legal term for the probate process is testate proceedings.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Beneficiary's Inheritance?

It’s not uncommon for the beneficiaries of a will to become impatient with estates' executors as the probate process drags on and on. However, the executor may not be moving slowly. She must complete several tasks before she can make the decedent’s bequests to his beneficiaries. If she jumps the gun and distributes bequests too soon, the court holds her personally responsible if she runs out of money to pay the decedent’s taxes and debts.

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