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Basic Estate Planning Questions 8 – What is Probate in North Carolina?

In today’s blog post in our ongoing series on basic estate planning questions, we’re going to look at probate in North Carolina, what it does, and why it is important. A lot of people first talk to an estate planning attorney because they are faced with a probate situation and have little to no understanding of what is required of them. This is entirely understandable. Probate is not an area of the law that you are likely to come into contact with unless some specific events take place in your life. So, to help you better understand this poorly-understood legal field, let’s take a closer look at probate in North Carolina by asking some key questions.

What is probate in North Carolina?

The to put it simply, probate is a legal process that arises after someone has died. When people die they leave behind a lot of unanswered questions. For example, if that person owned property, the questions of what happens to that property, and who becomes its new owner, inevitably arise. So, in order to answer these types of questions in a fair and uniform manner, every state has developed a set of laws known as probate laws, or the probate code. Probate laws establish a system of rules, legal steps, and procedures that have to take place after someone dies.

Is there more than one type of probate in North Carolina?

Yes. Probate is not one single process, but an array of processes that can apply to different situations.

For example, North Carolina has two separate forms of probate that apply to people who leave behind what are known as “small estate.” In these situations, a person dies leaving behind an estate that does not have a lot of property, or any serious conflicts associated with it. Depending on the factors present, it is possible for these kinds of estates to go through a simplified probate process that allows the deceased person’s relatives to more easily, and quickly, claim whatever inheritances they might be able to receive.

On the other hand, a formal probate case is a lengthier, more rule-intensive process that typically applies to more complicated estates. In a formal probate case, the probate court, known as the Clerk of the Court in North Carolina, will have a more intensive supervisory role than in small probate cases.

What is living probate in North Carolina?

Probate laws also cover what happens to people after they become incapacitated. In these situations a court will often have to step in and name someone who will have the legal responsibility to care for the incapacitated person. Because the person of the heart of these kinds of cases is still alive, these are informally referred to as “living” probate cases.

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