What is the probate process in North Carolina?

Probate Assets and the Probate Process in North Carolina

Here is a brief, general discussion of the probate process and probate assets. Please see the North Carolina estate administration brochure for a more detailed discussion.

Typical Probate Steps

Unless an abbreviated form of probate is available for a small estate, typically, when probating a Will or a person dies intestate without a Will, the executor of the Will or the administrator of the intestate estate (the “personal representative”) will take the following steps to collect and distribute assets:

  • Open the Estate. The personal representative will open the estate by filing an Application for Probate with the probate office of the county in which the deceased person was domiciled at the time of their death. The Court will issue Letters authorizing the personal representative to collect assets and take actions on behalf of the estate.


  • Notice to Creditors. The personal representative will publish a Notice to Creditors in a newspaper circulated in the county in which the estate is probated. The Notice to Creditors give creditors three months in which to come forward and present claims against the estate.


  • Open an Estate Account. The personal representative will obtain a tax ID number for the estate and open an estate bank account. The personal representative will transfer assets in any probate accounts to the estate account.


  • 90-Day Inventory. The personal representative will file an Inventory with the Court within ninety days of the personal representative’s appointment. The Inventory lists the date of death value of probate and certain non-probate assets.


  • Account. The personal representative will file an Account with the Court within one year of the personal representative’s appointment. The Account lists all assets received since the date of death, all expenses paid, and all distributions made to heirs or devisees during that time period. The accounting will be a final account, unless the Court approves a request to extend the administration period.


What is a Probate Asset?

A probate asset is personal property (as opposed to real property) that is titled in the decedent’s name, is not titled with another individual as joint tenants with right of survivorship and does not have designated beneficiaries. If the decedent named a beneficiary or beneficiaries for a life insurance policy, retirement account, bank account or brokerage account, that asset is not a probate asset. If two people own an account or vehicle as joint tenants with right of survivorship, that asset is not a probate asset. Real property (as opposed to personal property) is not technically a probate asset (it transfers automatically to the heir or devisee on the date of death), BUT, if the person inheriting the real property wants to sell that property within two years of the date of death, the NC statute requires that the personal representative sign the deed and, therefore, probate will be required to transfer the property. If a decedent owned real property in a state other than North Carolina, the personal representative will likely need to also open an ancillary probate estate in the county in which that property is located.