Estate attorney and executor discussing the timeline of probate

When a loved one has passed on, what happens to their assets and debts? Probate, also known as estate administration, is the process of managing and distributing a person’s assets after their death. The probate process can be lengthy and complicated, including numerous steps to inventory the decedent’s (person who died) assets, notify their creditors, pay any remaining debts, and distribute the property according to the will. 

However, knowing the probate timeline ahead of time can help prepare you for the steps involved once you assume responsibility for a loved one’s estate. Read on to learn more about the probate process and how the probate lawyer team at Carolina Family Estate Planning can guide you through the process. We also put together an Understanding Estate Administration guide that can help. This guide will give you an overview of the probate and estate administration process in plain English. 

North Carolina Probate Timeline

According to state law, after a person passes away, their executor or estate administrator must complete certain tasks within a specific number of days.  Additionally, some tasks make more sense to complete in a specific order. 

This timeline includes both necessary tasks and the tasks we recommend completing. If you are named as executor in the will or appointed by the probate court as the estate administrator for a loved one if there was no will, here are the timeline requirements our wills lawyers recommend adhering to during the probate process: 

1. First 60 Days After Death

Within the first 60 days after the decedent passes away, you will need to file all of the necessary paperwork to become the executor of the person’s estate. If the decedent listed you as the executor in their will, this process will be relatively straightforward. If not, the probate court will be responsible for appointing the estate administrator, which is the title used when there’s no will naming an executor.  

During this time, you will also need to obtain the death certificate and will, if there is one. Then, you’ll need to meet with the probate clerk to open the decedent’s estate. 

2. First 30 Days After Appointment as Executor

Once you officially become the executor of the estate, you’ll need to complete the following tasks within 30 days:

  • Give public notice to the decedent's creditors, typically in the newspaper in the county of residence. 
  • Inventory the decedent’s assets. 
  • Notify the IRS of your fiduciary relationship with the decedent. 
  • Meet with a tax advisor to discuss the decedent’s tax returns. 
  • Create an estate checking account. 
  • Closing/consolidating the decedent’s accounts.

3. First 90 Days After Appointment as Executor

Along with completing the above tasks within 30 days, you’ll also need to make sure to accomplish these steps within the first 90 days:

  • Pursuant to North Carolina General Statutes Section 28A-14-1, you need to publish a Notice to Creditors (Notice) to notify all persons, firms, and corporations having claims against the decedent to make claims to you within three months of the first day the Notice is published. The Notice must provide your mailing address. The Notice must be published once a week for four consecutive weeks in a newspaper qualified to publish legal advertisements in the county of the estate administration. You should check with the newspaper to confirm it is qualified to publish legal advertisements.
  • Review and accept or reject any claims against the estate. 
  • File a 90-day inventory and Affidavit of Notice to Creditors. This Affidavit is confirmation that you complied with the Notice requirements mentioned above.

The 90-day inventory of the decedent’s property and assets includes the date of death, along with an estimated value of each item. This inventory should include:

  • Tangible property, such as vehicles, jewelry, and artwork
  • Bank accounts, including their amounts
  • Investments
  • Real estate property

4. First 9 Months After Appointment as Executor

Within the first nine months, you’ll need to finish two essential tasks: paying the decedent’s debts and filing a death tax return. 

As the executor, you can use the funds from the decedent’s bank accounts to pay their debts. If necessary, you can sell their assets or property to acquire enough funds to settle their debts.

Paying debts from an estate can be tricky, especially if the decedent owed significant bills and loans. If you’re struggling to manage this aspect of being an executor, we recommend seeking legal counsel from an estate attorney to assist you. 

Filing a death tax return can also get complicated. This tax return must include all of the income the decedent made up to the date of death. Additionally, if the decedent failed to file income tax returns in the years leading up to their death, you may also need to file these returns. If the IRS owes the decedent any tax refunds, you can claim those to add to the estate. 

5. 12 Months After Death

Every year that the estate is still open, you will need to file an annual accounting with the Clerk of Superior Court in the county where the decedent lived. To close the estate, you must complete these tasks: 

  • Distribute the final assets to the beneficiaries
  • Complete the final accounting with the Clerk of Superior Court

Once you finish these steps, your duties as the executor will be complete. 

How Carolina Family Estate Planning: Your “Probate Attorney Near Me” Can Help

Failing to complete any of the above tasks within their designated time restrictions can make the probate process even more drawn-out and complicated. However, seeking help from a qualified will lawyer can ensure that you follow all the necessary steps to close the estate. 

At Carolina Family Estate Planning, we go above and beyond to ensure that our clients have all the resources they need to feel confident managing their decedents’ estates. You can trust our team to deliver knowledgeable guidance and care throughout your probate process. We help our clients by taking on the detailed, challenging work of estate administration so that you can focus on your own life and family, with the peace of mind of knowing that you are respecting your loved one’s wishes.

If you recently became an executor or are preparing for upcoming estate responsibilities, we can help. Contact one of our Carolina Family Estate Planning probate lawyers today at (919) 443-3035 or you can schedule a needs-assessment call.


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The information in this blog post (“post”) is provided for general informational purposes only and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information in this post should be construed as legal advice from the individual author or the law firm, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting based on any information included in or accessible through this post without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s state, country or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.

Jackie Bedard
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Attorney, Author, and Founder of Carolina Family Estate Planning