What happens in the probate process

People in North Carolina who have been appointed executors of a loved one's estate as well as those who have lost loved ones might wonder what the probate process is like and how long it will take. Although this can vary a great deal based on the complexity of the estate and any legal challenges, there is a basic structure that many estates will follow.

Several things happen in the first six months. First, the will must be presented as part of a petition for probate, and all heirs and beneficiaries must be identified. There will be a court hearing, and several documents might need to be issued including letters of testamentary and letters of administration. A probate bond may be issued, and creditors will be notified.

In the next six months to a year, the estate must be inventoried and appraised. Bills and taxes must be paid, and creditor claims will either be denied or accepted. Other paperwork might need to be issued depending on certain circumstances.

Tax clearance letters are then issued, and there will be a petition, court hearing and order on final distribution and accounting. Assets will then be distributed to heirs, and there will be a final discharge order and distribution of funds. The entire process under normal circumstances will take around nine months to two years.

The person who is the executor or otherwise in charge of estate administration is not obligated to have the legal and financial expertise to do all these tasks. Attorneys and other professionals may assist with trust and probate administration. If the person who prepared the estate plan has discussed the plan with family members and left documentation that can be easily found and understood, the likelihood of challenges could be reduced, but they might still happen. If this occurs, an attorney may be of assistance.

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