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Is probate mandatory in North Carolina?

On Behalf of | May 13, 2024 | Estate Planning

Handling paperwork and legal matters is often the last thing a family wants to deal with after losing a loved one. However, the government wants to ensure the deceased’s estate goes to the correct inheritors. It also wants to collect any taxes due.

To accomplish this, the state uses the probate process. This step can take a lot of time and energy. Still, there are often ways for a family to simplify matters and sidestep this process entirely.

When North Carolina requires probate

In North Carolina, the probate process becomes necessary when a person dies owning assets in their name alone. These assets might include real estate, bank accounts or vehicles that do not have a designated beneficiary or joint owner with rights of survivorship.

If the total value of assets beyond real estate exceeds $20,000, the estate must go through probate to legally transfer ownership to the inheritors. The process ensures that all debts and taxes the deceased owed get paid off before the remaining assets proceed to the heirs.

How to avoid the probate process

Families can take several steps to avoid the probate process. One common method is to ensure that major assets have a designated beneficiary or are jointly owned. For instance, bank accounts can become payable-on-death accounts where the owner names a beneficiary to receive the funds directly upon their death.

Similarly, adding a joint owner to real estate titles allows property to pass automatically to the surviving owner without going through probate. Another strategy involves creating a living trust where assets stay in trust and go to beneficiaries upon the owner’s death directly, bypassing probate.

While most people do not enjoy thinking about death, estate planning can significantly ease the burden on family members and prevent a lengthy and tiresome probate process. Taking the time to organize and plan an estate wisely ensures the honoring of one’s final wishes and that loved ones face fewer challenges during an already difficult time.