As the years go by, dealing with the death of a loved one is an unfortunate experience that we all face at some point. Whether it’s a parent, spouse, or sibling, these are always trying and emotional times. The last thing we want to deal with is the legalities involved following our loved one's passing, but it is nonetheless an important part of what happens when someone dies.
Does the Decedent Have a Will in Place?
Administering an estate fulfills the final wishes of the deceased, as well as any outstanding financial obligations, such as taxes, asset distribution, or debt. To start the process of estate administration, the first step is to know if the decedent left a will or not. Depending on whether or not a will is in place at the time of death will determine the next course of action to follow.
So, the first question to be answered is whether or not the person had a will, trust, or any other estate plan in place.
Testate Estate: What Do You Do When Someone With a Will Dies?
The North Carolina General Statutes provide a definite set of rules that must be followed in order to administer estate procedures.
Documents you will need to get started:
- Last Will and Testament
- Application For Probate And Letters
- Death Certificate
- Letters of Testamentary
Step 1: Locate the Last Will and Testament
A properly drafted Last Will and Testament will identify an Executor who is legally responsible for making sure that the will and the estate are properly handled. In these kinds of estates, the Executor must locate the original Last Will and Testament. If the original Last Will and Testament document is lost, a copy may be able to be used, but the original is generally required.
Step 2: Complete Application for Probate and Letters
The Executor named in the will then fills out an Application For Probate And Letters and takes these along with an original death certificate to the Clerk of Superior Court in the county where the decedent lived at the time of death.
Step 3: Submit Documents for Review
Upon submission of satisfactory documents, the Clerk of Superior Court will issue to the Executor a document known as Letters of Testamentary. These Letters are required in order that the Executor can begin to address the affairs of the deceased person and administer the estate.
This is the beginning of a process where the Executor is required to follow the laws and ultimately handle the estate of the deceased according to the provisions of the will.
Intestate Estate: What Do You Do When Someone Dies Without a Will?
In situations where the person died and did not have a will, the estate is administered through intestate succession.
Documents you will need to get started:
- Application For Letters Of Administration
- Death Certificate
- Letters of Administration
Step 1: Complete Application for Letters of Administration
In the situation that no will was left behind, you must fill out an Application For Letters Of Administration and apply to the Clerk of Superior Court for a document known as Letters of Administration. The statutes stipulate the priority of people who are qualified to apply. Refer to "Qualification as Personal Representative" in the Estate Procedures handout to see who qualifies.
Step 2: Submit Documents for Review
Once the Application for Letters of Administration along with a death certificate is submitted to the Clerk of Superior Court, the Administrator is then empowered and obligated to follow the laws and administer the estate of the deceased in a manner similar to an Executor, but instead of following a will, the Administrator handles the estate according to the law of intestate succession.
What if the Estate Isn't Very Large?
Small Estate Administration
Some estates with a value of less than $20,000 can be handled by way of small estate administration. In these instances, an affidavit is submitted by a Collector to deal with the assets and debts of the deceased.
Important Terms and Resources
After a loved one dies, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with some of the legal terminologies you will come into contact with along this journey. Knowing the legal jargon used will enable you to make sense of and understand the discussions and documents surrounding asset distribution.
Here are some important terms used during the estate administration process:
- Decedent - the person who died.
- Estate - all of the money and property owned by the person at the time of death.
- Will - the legal document specifying how and to whom your assets are distributed after death.
- Trust - a legal document outlining how assets are to be managed and distributed after death, by use of a trusted third party who acts in the best interest of the decedent.
- Testate - when someone has a will in place at the time of death.
- Executor - the person named in the will to carry out the wishes of the deceased after death.
- Letters of Testamentary - Official documents provided by the Clerk of Superior Court that grants the Executor the authority to carry out their responsibilities as executor of a will.
- Application For Probate And Letters - Form (AOC-E-201) submitted by the Executor to apply for the Letters.
- Intestate - when the decedent died without a will in place.
- Administrator - the person who takes charge of the estate if no will is left at the time of death.
- Letters of Administration - Official documents provided by the Clerk of Superior Court that grant the Administrator authority to carry out their responsibilities as administrator of an estate.
- Application For Letters Of Administration - Form (AOC-E-202) submitted by the Administrator to apply for the Letters.
- North Carolina Estate Procedures - for more procedural information for the state of North Carolina, visit Estate Procedures for Executors, Administrators, Collectors By Affidavit, and Summary Administration
Speak to an Experienced Estate Administration Attorney
If you are the one responsible for handling the deceased’s estate, having access to quality legal services for estate administration is invaluable. We serve areas including Raleigh, Apex, Wake Forest, Cary, and their surrounding communities.
Please fill out the form below or call The Doyle Law Offices P.A. today at (919) 228-4487 and let us help guide you through the Estate Administration process.