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Probate Timeline

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North Carolina Probate Timeline

Women discussing probate proceedings in North Carolina

The probate process in North Carolina has numerous forms to complete and deadlines to meet. Even though a loved one’s will may be read after a funeral, the heirs do not receive any inheritance or gifts from their loved one until the estate is settled. That can be confusing and stressful to individuals who are trying to handle a loved one’s estate, deal with other family members and are unfamiliar with the probate process.

At Brady & Cobin, we’ve created a probate tool to help you understand some of the specific filing requirements and deadlines. If you are unfamiliar with the process, it’s a good idea to ask for assistance. A knowledgeable estate planning attorney can guide you through the probate process and avoid missteps and delays.

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Attorneys You Can Count On

For more than 35 years, our dedicated Raleigh probate attorneys at Brady Cobin Law Group, PLLC have helped individuals and families in North Carolina navigate the process of probating wills and handling the orderly distribution of family possessions.

Whether you need help wrapping up the affairs of a loved one who has died, planning for what will happen to your assets or protecting your interests in a probate or trust dispute, our experienced attorneys at Brady Cobin Law Group, PLLC can assist you.

Our attorneys focus on probate issues, wills and elder law matters. Our founding attorney R. Daniel Brady also is a Certified Public Accountant and a CPA’s financial acumen to tax issues arising from probating an estate. We can help you with the probate process to ensure all deadlines are met and property transferred correctly.

What is Probate?

Probate is the court-supervised process of distributing the property of a deceased individual to his or her heirs. Probate is not required in every situation. But in many situations, the court must appoint someone, typically a close family member, to take stock of the deceased person’s assets, pay taxes and debts and transfer assets to those who inherit them.

If a person dies without making a will, the law describes that as dying intestate. In that situation, the court makes the decisions about the transfer of the deceased possessions. The probate court will look to the North Carolina laws of intestate succession to decide who should inherit the deceased’s property if he or she did not have a will.

What is involved in the probate process in North Carolina?

To help you understand the probate process and the deadlines you must observe, we’ve created the probate timeline tool below. Start by entering your loved one’s date of death:

Probate Timeline


The first step is determining whether the person who died left a valid will and also to gather other relevant documents of the deceased. The family of the deceased should look through the person’s papers and possessions in search of a will, recent bank and brokerage statements, stock certificates and deeds to property.

The family should also try to determine whether the person had a safety deposit box. Wills are often kept in safety deposit boxes along with other valuables. If a will or codicil is discovered in the safety deposit box, North Carolina law requires that the original will be filed with the Clerk of Superior Court, in the county where the person resided before death. In addition, you will need to provide a death certificate and a completed application form along with a preliminary inventory of the deceased’s assets.

The clerk of Superior Court will issue a written authorization for the person named as executor to fulfill the duties of personal representative of the estate.

Complete and File all necessary paperwork to become Personal Representative — Deadline:

Publish Notice to Creditors

After appointment as personal representative, the designated individual should immediately publish a Notice to Creditors in the local newspaper, notifying those who were owed money by the deceased to step forward and make a claim. The advertisement will be published once a week for four consecutive weeks, and gives a deadline of .

All claims against the estate must be presented to the personal representative of the estate by the date listed in the notice. If they are not presented by the deadline, they are barred.

You also will need to cancel the deceased person’s credit cards and open an estate account to hold monies of the estate.

90 Days from

File Detailed Inventory

Within 90 days of appointment as executor or estate administrator, you are required to file a detailed inventory listing the deceased person’s real and personal property, at his or her time of death including:

  • bank accounts
  • brokerage accounts
  • stock certificates
  • life insurance policies, annuities
  • titles to vehicles
  • deeds to property
  • value of household furnishings
  • promissory notes owed to the deceased.

The inventory should include the estimated value of the items, which may require getting property appraisals. If the inventory is filed late, the personal representative could be fined and disqualified by the court from handling the estate.

  • Advise spouse of elective share rights —
  • Accept or reject claims —
  • Sell estate assets if needed
  • File notice to creditors affidavit

April 15 Taxes Due

The personal representative must prepare final state and federal tax returns for the deceased person, which are due on April 15 of the year following the death.

The estate, if it receives income, also may have to file an estate income tax return.

If there is no will

If there is no will, the surviving spouse or other heir will need to contact the Superior Court Clerk and apply to be appointed administrator to handle the estate along with a preliminary inventory of the assets of the estate. The surviving spouse has priority to be named as administrator of the estate.

Many smaller estates may qualify under North Carolina law to be settled through simpler alternative processes instead of formal probating off the estate. Property that is held jointly such as joint bank accounts and property owned with right of survivorship typically does not go through the probate process.

The clerk of superior court will issue documents designating a personal representative to take charge of the estate.

Receive Letters

There will be additional contents here.

Within First 30 Days of Appointment

Identify all of decedent’s assets
File for Federal Tax Identification Number (EIN)
Apply online for your Federal EIN .

  • Notify IRS of fiduciary relationship
  • Gather all of decedent’s probate assets
  • Open estate checking account
  • Inventory safe deposit box
  • Obtain prior year’s tax return
  • Meet with a tax advisor
  • Investigate wrongful death claim (if any)
  • Pay year’s allowance (if any)
  • Terminate (or activate) government benefits
  • Establish receivership for any ongoing business or farm

6 Months from

  • Personal representative’s deadline to renounce commission-
  • Deadline for illegitimate children to bring claim against estate

9 Months from

  • Pay decedent’s debts
  • File death taxes (if necessary)
  • Deadline for beneficiaries to renounce all or part of decedent’s estate

Within One Year

Within one year of the person’s death, an application for a year’s allowance for the surviving spouse and/or dependent children may be filed with the court clerk. The clerk will hold a hearing on the application. If granted, the allowance is paid from the cash or personal property of the estate and has priority over other claims.

The personal representative should not pay any claims until the deadline for making claims against the estate has passed. The personal representative then must determine if the estate has adequate proceeds to pay all of the creditors. After paying the year’s allowance and the costs of administering the estate, the personal representative shall pay the claims in a specific order of priority listed in North Carolina law. The personal representative must settle the debts before distributing the assets to the heirs.

Final Accounting of Estate If all claims against the estate have been satisfied, the personal representative must file a final accounting within one year of being appointed to handle the estate in order for the estate to be closed. If the court has granted an extension, then an annual accounting must be filed.

Annual Accounting of Estate The personal representative of the estate must file an annual accounting with the court within a year of appointment to oversee the estate if the estate has not been settled. The accounting should include canceled checks, bank statements and dispersal of assets of the estate

How long does the probate process take?

Probate is a complicated and time-consuming process with many moving parts. The length of time it takes to get through probate in North Carolina varies, depending on the size of the estate and the familiarity of the person handling the estate. As a rule of thumb, the larger the estate, the longer the probate process takes.

You should expect it to take a minimum of six months to a year to settle an estate because of the legal notice requirements and time that creditors have to submit claims against the estate. Creditors have 90 days from the first publication date of the notice of probate. In more complex cases, it can take more than a year.

Settling an estate can be frustratingly slow and complicated if the personal representative is unfamiliar with the probate process and misses deadlines.

While small estates may not require an attorney’s assistance, larger and more complex estates generally require a lawyer’s assistance. Working in collaboration with an experienced probate attorney can keep the process moving forward toward conclusion.

It is important to seek the help with an experienced and compassionate estate planning attorney who can offer trusted guidance and help you get it right from the start.

Where is probate conducted?

The probate process is conducted in the Office of the Clerk of Superior Court in the county where the person whose estate is being administered resided before death. In all 100 counties in North Carolina, the Clerk of Superior Court serves as the judge of probate.

The probate court will be involved in the administration of any estate. Our knowledgeable attorneys can help you petition the court, get a will admitted and obtain the letters testamentary that will allow you to fulfill your duties as personal representative of the estate.

Our experienced attorneys know how to navigate the issues that arise during the probate process and craft workable solutions.

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