The death of a family member is a trying and difficult time. Family and friends face the daunting task of moving forward without their loved one. The community must be notified, and funeral arrangements must be initiated. Along with the stress and grief that naturally accompany this process, family must also confront a host of financial issues regarding the property of their family member. Debts and obligations must be settled and assets and property must be distributed to rightful beneficiaries or heirs. This process, supervised by the Court, is known as probate.

The principal advantage of the probate process is that it protects all parties involved. This is primarily due to court oversight. First the court takes appropriate steps to ascertain whether the decedent left a legally valid and authenticated will. If a valid will is provided, the court will appoint a representative to administer the estate. This representative, when appointed by the will, is referred to as an “executor.” If a valid will is unavailable, a relative, friend, or other interested party may petition the court for the right to act as the “administrator” of the estate.

Upon proper application, the court grants the personal representative of the estate legal power to identify and take control of the decedent’s assets. The assets must be inventoried and an accurate value must be assigned to the entirety of the property. Further, the representative is required give notice to estate creditors and debtors, to pay taxes, and to address all valid claims that may be brought against the estate.

After the representative has satisfactorily completed the above detailed steps, estate property is distributed to heirs as is provided in the decedent’s will, or if there is no will, according to the rules set forth by the state of North Carolina. Upon distribution of all estate assets and completion of all remaining statutory requirements, the representative may apply to the Court to be relieved of all duties and to close the estate.

Losing a loved one is a painful and stressful experience which may be further complicated by a variety of difficult issues that may arise while dealing with assets, debts, creditor claims, and distributions. Retaining an attorney to help you through such a trying time can be invaluable.