Probate in North Carolina: Key Deadlines and Timelines

As explained by the North Carolina Judicial Branch, the term ‘probate’ is used as another word for estate administration. When a person dies, their property and assets may need to go through the probate process. Although probate is not always required in North Carolina, an estate generally does need to go through probate if the decedent only owns property solely in their own name.

At Arnold & Smith, PLLC, our law firm has extensive experience handling probate and estate administration issues. We want to make sure you and your family have the information you need to move forward. In this article, our Mecklenburg County estate administration lawyers provide an overview of some of the key deadlines/timelines in North Carolina’s probate process.

Estate Administration in North Carolina: Five Key Deadlines to Know 1. Open an Estate and Become Personal Representative

If your loved one passed away and you are responsible for serving as the executor of the will or their personal representative, you must file the paperwork to open the estate. The general rule is that an estate should be opened within 60 days. It does not happen automatically. If no action is taken by any party, then an estate will not be “opened” and the probate process will not start. Depending on the circumstances, another party (potentially including a creditor) may file to start the North Carolina probate process.

2. Submit a Small Estate Affidavit (If Eligible)

Our state offers simplified, time-efficient alternative procedures for small estate. Under North Carolina law (NC General Statutes § 28A-25-1), you can opt to use a small estate affidavit instead of probate if the total value of the assets covered by probate are less than $20,000 or less than $30,000 if the spouse is the only heir. You must wait at least 30 days from the date of a person’s death to claim property using a small estate affidavit. If you have any questions or concerns about using an affidavit to claim property outside of the traditional probate process, an experienced North Carolina estate administration attorney can help.

3. Provide Notice to Creditors

Once letters of administration have been issued to the executor/personal representative, that individual has a legal responsibility to notify all implicated creditors. Under North Carolina law (NC General Statutes § 28A-14-1), formal notice should be sent to creditors “within 75 days after the granting of letters.” Make sure that you strictly comply with all creditor notification requirements. Failure to properly notify creditors could cause serious problems, potentially slowing down the probate process and subjecting the estate to additional legal liability.

4. Complete an Inventory of Property, Assets, and Liabilities

The personal representative/estate executor is in charge of completing an inventory of the decedent’s property, assets, and debts. Under North Carolina law (NC General Statutes§ 28A-20-1), an inventory should be completed and returned to the appropriate county probate court “ within three months after the qualification of that personal representative or collector.” In many cases, an inventory can be completed well before the three month deadline—especially if the estate is relatively simple and/or is well organized. In other cases, this timeline may not be practical. A probate court can grant additional time to complete the inventory if deemed necessary.

5. File a Caveat (Contest the Will)

All parties interested in an estate have the right to contest a will. In North Carolina, challenging a will is officially referred to as filing a caveat’. Under NC General Statutes § 31-32, a caveat can be filed “ at the time of application for probate of any will, and the probate thereof in common form, or at any time within three years thereafter.

Although three years may seem like plenty of time to challenge a will, it would be a serious mistake to wait too long to take action. As a general rule, it is easier to contest a will in the earlier stages of the probate process. If property/assets have already been distributed, it can be far more difficult to get them back—even if you still have time to file a caveat to the will.

Contact Our Charlotte, NC Estate Planning Attorneys Today

At Arnold & Smith, PLLC, our North Carolina estate planning lawyers have the skills and knowledge to handle the full range of probate law matters. If you have any questions about the key deadlines in the probate process, we can help. Call us now or contact us online to set up your confidential initial consultation. We handle probate law matters in Mecklenburg County and throughout the surrounding area, including in Union County, Iredell County, Stanly County, and Gaston County.