To someone who has never lost a loved one, the probate process in North Carolina can be confusing and scary, but it doesn’t have to be. The goal of this article is to help you start to understand the probate process.
The first thing you need to understand is that the “probate court” is not actually a court in North Carolina. In reality, the Clerk of Superior Court serves as the judge of probate. In Wake County, the Clerk of Superior Court is located at 316 Fayetteville Street in downtown Raleigh.
What Should You Do if a Loved One Has Passed Away?
As someone who recently had to cope with the death of his Mother, I understand that there are no words that will make you feel better about your loss. But, unless you traveled a great distance to get to North Carolina, you don’t have to manage every detail of your loved one’s estate right away.
It is ok to take some time to grieve.
However, if you are like me, then you may want to start working on their estate as a way to get your mind off of their death. At times, managing these affairs can be healing and cathartic. I know that this was how I felt about the process.
The Initial Steps…
That being said, there are a few things that will need to happen relatively quickly so that you can prepare for your loved one’s funeral. The most important thing you need to do is ascertain whether your loved one wished to be buried or cremated. If you don’t know what your loved one wanted, then you will need to find a copy of their will, which may say what they intended.
Order a Death Certificate
The second thing you will need to do is order a death certificate, also called a certificate of death. These are required for insurance companies to pay out on policies, for a bank to release funds held in “payable on death” or “P.O.D.” Accounts, and to transfer other property that the deceased owned prior to their death.
We recommend that you obtain two copies of the death certificate, plus an additional copy for every institution where your loved one had property prior to their death. So if your loved one had five bank accounts at two different banks, then you would need two certificates.
If at anytime you need more certificates, then can be obtained by submitting this form with the requisite fees ($24 for the first certificate, $15 for each additional certificate) to the North Carolina Department of Health at 1903 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, North Carolina 27699-1903.
Locating the Will
The next most important thing you need to do is locate the will. If you don’t know where it would be, or even whether or not there was one, then you should attempt to find out whether your loved one had an attorney that they were working with. Sometimes, the will could be stored at the attorney’s office. Other places where the will could be include a safe deposit box, or with other personal papers at your loved one’s home.
Obtaining a Guardian for Minor Children
It is my sincere hope that every family has emergency guardianship paperwork in place such that there will never be a question about who has the legal authority to watch over a minor child if both their parents are deceased or unable to care for them. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.
If your loved one left any minor children at home, then an application to appoint a guardian must be filed as quickly as possible. Like the probate case, this will be filed with the Clerk of Superior Court in the county where the deceased and the children resided.
Contact a North Carolina Probate Attorney
There are many more steps to the probate process than what was covered in this short article, and we will continue to add to and supplement this article in the future. In the meantime, if you have questions, please feel free to contact our office at (919) 460-5422 for an initial consultation to discuss your probate options.