When dealing with the loss of a family member, financial matters are likely the last thing on your mind. Unfortunately, they must be addressed after someone close to you dies. Most often, that involves a process called probate.
Probate is essentially cataloging a person’s assets and debts, and then handling those assets under the terms of North Carolina law. It is possible to avoid probate with estate planning strategies ahead of time. An attorney can still be extremely helpful even if you are already entering the probate process after a death in the family, however.
Probate Administration Basics
It’s important to know assets that have a specific named beneficiary don’t always go through probate, as well as assets in a revocable living trust. Other property and funds must be handled by an executor.
If your loved one passed away without a will naming an executor of their estate, the court will name an administrator, such as an adult child or living spouse. That administrator goes through the process of:
- Cataloging assets
- Paying debts
- Resolving owed state or federal taxes
- Reporting findings to the court
Only after all of those payments are made can the remaining assets of the estate be distributed to beneficiaries.
How an Attorney Can Help With Probate
Probate is often a complex process that exposes you to potential legal problems if you are acting as executor of the estate. The process can become even more complicated in cases of large estates or situations where property is owned in multiple states.
On the opposite side, in some cases, you may be able to avoid the full probate process. If your loved one’s estate is valued under certain monetary thresholds, or if you are the spouse and the sole surviving beneficiary, probate can be avoided in favor of two simpler processes:
- Collection by affidavit
- Summary administration
A skilled North Carolina estate attorney can help you understand if you qualify for these differing probate methods or if they would be helpful for your situation.
Let Us Assist You in This Difficult Time
Due to the legal issues of handling a loved one’s money and ensuring all creditors are paid, an attorney should be consulted to ensure your deceased loved one’s wishes are honored while remaining within the bounds of the law.
If you’re planning for yourself, contact an elder law estate planning attorney as far in advance as possible to handle probate issues or even avoid probate entirely.