Estate administration is the legal process of settling the affairs of a decedent. A personal representative appointed by the Superior Court is responsible for completing the day-to-day estate administration activities under the supervision of the Superior Court. Although there are many tasks that are completed during estate administration, the main goals are to make sure that the decedent’s creditors are paid and to make sure the decedent’s assets are passed on to the appropriate people.
Initiating Estate Administration in North Carolina
Estate administration begins when the person wishing to appointed personal representative files a petition with the Superior Court which in North Carolina serves as the probate court. G.S. § 28A-6-1. There is a Superior Court in each county of North Carolina. The proper venue for a specific estate proceeding is Superior Court in the county where the decedent resided at the time of their death. G.S. § 28A-3-1
If the decedent left a will, then the person named in the will to serve as the executor (aka personal representative) must file the will along with the death certificate and an Application for Probate and Letters. If there is a will, then the person wishing to serve as the personal representative must file an Application for Letters of Administration.
Qualification of a Personal Representative in North Carolina
If the decedent left a will, it is typically that person named in the will to serve as executor who seeks to qualify as personal representative. Otherwise, as stated in G.S. § 28A-4-1, the Clerk of Superior Court will grant letters of administration in the following order:
- The surviving spouse of the decedent
- Beneficiaries named in the will
- Intestate heirs
- Any next of kin
- Creditors of the decedent
- Any person of good character residing in the county who applies
Duties and Responsibilities of a Personal Representative in North Carolina
Notice to creditors. The process of paying creditors starts with the personal representative notifying creditors by publishing a notice in a newspaper once a week for 4 consecutive weeks. The personal representative must notify creditors by newspaper publication. The deadline for filing claims is 3 months from the date of the notice is first published. G.S. § 28A-14-1. In addition, within 75 days after the granting of letters, the personal representative must personally deliver or mail a notice about the claims period to all known creditors.
Inventory estate assets. Because the personal representative is responsible for paying debts and distribution of assets, they have the right to possesses estate property, manage it, and secure it. They must also create an inventory of the estate property that includes a description and fair market value at the time of death. The inventory must be filed by the personal representative with the Clerk of the Superior Court within 3 months of appointment. G.S. § 28A-20-1
Pay debts. The process for paying debts starts with personal representative notifying creditors. The date of the notification is the start of the claims period. Creditors must file claims within the claims period. The personal representative will pay all claims that are valid and that were filed on time only if there is enough money to pay them. If not, the personal representative will pay debts based on how they are classified. Some debt will not be paid.
Distribute assets. The payment of debt puts the estate in the position to distribute assets as the Superior Court will not allow asset distribution until debts and expenses have been paid. The decedent’s will provides the personal representative with instructions as to how to distribute assets. For example, it may direct that specific assets such as a house or vehicle go to specific people, and that everything else goes to other people. It may even leave assets to charities. If there is no will, the state law directs asset distribution. G.S. § 28A-22-1
Final accounting. Within a year of appointment, the personal representative must file a final accounting with the Surrogate’s Court. It must include the amount of revenue that came into the estate, the amount of disbursements from the estate, and what is left in the estate. It must include any other relevant information that will help understand the state of the estate. G.S. § 28A-21-3 and G.S. § 28A-21-1. Upon approval, the personal representative will be discharged.