Probate Shortcuts in North Carolina

Save time and money when you wrap up an estate in North Carolina.

Updated by , Attorney · University of Arkansas School of Law

North Carolina offers some probate shortcuts for "small estates." If your loved one died and left property behind, you might be able to transfer that property using simplified probate procedures or without any probate court proceedings at all. If so, you'll be able to save some of the time, money, and hassle associated with regular probate.

A "small estate" might be one with a small value (defined by state law), or one that is particularly uncomplicated. Below, learn the rules for qualifying for one of North Carolina's probate shortcuts, and find out whether you can ultimately skip or speed up probate.

Claiming Property With a Small Estate Affidavit

North Carolina offers a simple procedure (called "small estate administration" or "administration by affidavit) that allows inheritors to skip probate altogether when the value of all the assets left behind (after subtracting liens and debts) is less than $20,000. If the surviving spouse is inheriting everything in the estate, then that spouse can use small estate administration to collect property in an estate whose value is $30,000 or less. (N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 28A-25-1 and following.)

Aside from the limit on the size of the estate, there are a few other limitations:

  • After the death, there is a 30-day waiting period before you can use this procedure.
  • This affidavit procedure can't be used to collect real estate.

When you use small estate administration to collect property, you simply prepare a short document, which states, among other facts, that you're entitled to a certain asset. This document, signed under oath, is often known as a small estate affidavit. You can get a fill-in-the-blank affidavit form to fill out.

After you've filled out the small estate affidavit, you'll take the following steps:

  1. Sign the document
  2. Get it notarized
  3. Attach a copy of the will (if there is a will)
  4. File the completed affidavit with the local probate (superior) court in the North Carolina county where the deceased person lived
  5. Present the affidavit to the person or party holding the deceased person's property (such as the bank where the deceased person had an account).

Simplified Probate in North Carolina: Summary Administration

There's one other probate shortcut available in North Carolina, called "summary administration" or "summary probate." However, it's an option only if:

  • the surviving spouse of the deceased person is inheriting everything, and
  • the deceased person did not use a trust to leave property.

(N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 28A-28-1 and following.) In other words, if there's a will, it must name the spouse as the sole inheritor. If there's no will, the spouse must inherit everything under North Carolina's intestacy laws. And if there's a living trust, you're out of luck; summary administration is not available.

With summary administration, you won't skip probate entirely, but you will be able to bypass a large portion of it. In other words, the probate process will be faster, and the costs of probate will be lower.

To use this procedure, you'll file one of two documents:

Note that the surviving spouse might be assuming liability for all debts of the estate, up to the value of the property the spouse receives.

    Getting More Help With North Carolina Probate

    For more information on probate in North Carolina, also see the following Nolo articles:

    Nolo also offers several resources and tools to help with North Carolina probate. If you're an executor or personal representative of an estate and tasked with wrapping up a loved one's property, you can consult a probate attorney or the comprehensive book The Executor's Guide, by Mary Randolph (Nolo), for further help.

      On the other hand, if you're interested in actively planning now to minimize probate costs for your loved ones after your death, consider these next steps:

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