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Understanding North Carolina’s Simplified Probate Process for Small Estates

Probate is a judicial proceeding used to settle the affairs of a person who died (the decedent). The traditional probate process can be expensive and time consuming and, with many required steps and often several hearings, many may want to look into a simplified version of the process whenever it is applicable.

Some states, including North Carolina, have lessened the burden of probate by way of streamlined or simplified probate procedures for smaller estates. For those that qualify for small estate probate, the process is easier, more efficient and less costly than regular administration. Alternative administration also allows the beneficiaries to receive the assets relatively quickly.

North Carolina defines a small estate as one with a value under $30,000 if the only beneficiary is the surviving spouse, or $20,000 if there is more than one beneficiary. Not all assets are included in the estate valuation. Real estate and most retirement savings plans are excluded. Any outstanding liens or debts are subtracted from the asset value. An experienced estate planning attorney can advise you on whether or not probate is required in your situation and provide detailed information on the various small estate qualifications.

Qualifying small estates can be administered outside of the probate system. After waiting at least 30 days from the decedent’ s death, an individual may file a small estate affidavit, which lists basic information about the decedent, the property in their estate and their will, if any. The court then appoints the filing party as the collector for the estate and gives them the authority to transfer the decedent’s assets to the rightful heirs. Real estate cannot be transferred by small estate affidavit.

Some North Carolina estates are eligible for a process called “summary administration.” This abbreviated probate process applies only when the surviving spouse is the sole beneficiary. A case is not eligible for summary administration if the decedent made a will leaving any property to someone other than the surviving spouse. An estate in which the decedent left property in a trust is also ineligible for summary administration. Real property can be transferred by way of summary administration, and the surviving spouse is responsible for most outstanding debts and obligations.

Located in New Bern and Morehead City, North Carolina, attorney Tommy Kellis is one of the central coast’s premier estate planning and probate lawyers. Feel free to contact us online or call 252-636-3737 for an initial consultation.

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