North Carolina Restrictions on Who Can Serve as Executor

Learn the rules about who can be your executor in North Carolina.

One of the most important reasons to make a will is to name your executor -- sometimes called a “personal representative” in North Carolina. After your death, your executor’s primary job is to protect your property until any debts and taxes have been paid, and then transfer what’s left to those who are entitled to it.

Every state has some rules about who may serve as the executor of an estate that goes through probate. Here are the requirements in North Carolina.

Basic Requirements for Serving as a North Carolina Executor

Your executor must be:

  • at least 18 years old, and
  • of sound mind -- that is, not judged incapacitated by a court.

(N.C. Gen. Stat. § 28A-4-2.)

Many states prohibit people who have felony convictions from serving as executor. In North Carolina, you cannot name an executor who has been convicted of a felony under any state or federal law if that person’s “citizenship has not been restored.” This means that the person must have completed any criminal sentence and all terms of parole or post-release supervision, or received an unconditional pardon. (See N.C. Gen. Stat. § § 13-1, 28A-4-2.)

Special Rules for Executors in North Carolina

In addition to the restrictions above, a North Carolina probate court will reject a potential executor found to be illiterate or “otherwise unsuitable” by the clerk of superior court. It’s highly unlikely, but if a question arises about the qualifications of the person you’ve named as your executor, the court will hold a hearing in front of everyone with an interest in your estate -- such as your spouse, heirs, creditors, and other potential executors. At the hearing, a judge will determine who is best suited to serve as your executor and terminate any appointment found to be improper. (See N.C. Gen. Stat. § § 28A-4-2, 28A-9-1.)

Furthermore, your executor cannot be someone who has lost his or her right to serve. This means that a court will not appoint:

  • your divorced or separated spouse, or a spouse who “knowingly contracts a bigamous marriage,” or
  • a person convicted of your murder.

(N.C. Gen. Stat. § § 28A-4-2, 31A-1, 31A-4.)

Finally, a court will not appoint a person to serve as an executor who declines the position, either in writing or by failing to qualify within 30 days after your estate goes into probate. (N.C. Gen. Stat. § § 28A-4-2, 28A-5-1.)

Rules for Corporate Executors

North Carolina statutes permit you to name any trust institution licensed by the state Commissioner of Banks to serve as your executor. You can also name a corporation based outside of North Carolina, as long as it is authorized to transact business in the state and appoints a resident agent to receive your estate’s legal papers. (See N.C. Gen. Stat. § § 28A-4-2, 53-159, 55-15-05.)

That said, think carefully before appointing a corporation to represent your estate. It’s almost always best to name an individual; consider an institution only if you don’t know anyone you trust enough to serve or your estate is very large and complex.

North Carolina Restrictions on Out-of-State Executors

For practical reasons, it’s smart to name an executor who lives near you. Your executor may have to handle day-to-day matters for weeks, months, or sometimes longer. If you must appoint an executor who lives far away, you should know the requirements North Carolina imposes on out-of-state executors.

In North Carolina, a nonresident executor must appoint someone who lives in the state to act as an agent. Your executor’s in-state agent will accept legal papers on behalf of your estate. (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 28A-4-2.)

Learn More

If you want to know more about an executor’s duties and responsibilities in North Carolina, the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts offers a guide for executors.

For more information about choosing your executor and making your will, see the Wills section of Nolo.com.

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