Planning for the future can feel frustrating, uncomfortable, and intimidating, so let us help take the guesswork out of it. If you are acting as executor of a small estate or need to know if you estate qualifies for small estate administration, this legal guide will help explain it. If you need help with estate planning or just have a question, do not hesitate to contact us for an initial consultation (don’t worry—it’s free).

What is “Small Estate” Administration?

Not everyone dies with a significant amount of personal property, assets, or money or, in some cases, has much left in the estate after putting it all in a trust. Small Estate laws were put into place to let these smaller estates either skip probate completely or go through a shorter process so heirs and beneficiaries can get their inheritances faster. Whether a will exists or not, if your estate fits the “small size,” you are usually better off taking advantage of these shorter small estate settling procedures.

What is a “Small Estate”?

North Carolina considers “small estates” to be any estate valued at less than $20,000.00 (or $30,000.00 if the only beneficiary is a surviving spouse). You do not have to count real property or certain retirement accounts and life insurance policies if they already include a named beneficiary. Basically, you will total the value of any money accounts, personal property, and assets and subtract the value of any liens or encumbrances on those items.

How do I Settle a Small Estate?

Settling a small estate in North Carolina involves paying a court fee and filling out a number of legal forms that are provided by the state. The two ways to quickly resolve a small estate are outlined below. Which route to take depends on whether a spouse is going to inherit everything or if there will be other beneficiaries of the estate.

  1. Summary Administration - if the spouse inherits everything

    If the only beneficiary of the estate is a spouse, the spouse can file a petition for summary administration so he or she can quickly receive the entirety of the estate. There are specific requirements and information that must be provided to the Court.

    Click here to start the process and download the required forms.

  2. Collection by Small Estate Affidavit - if there is more than beneficiary

You will apply to be a “Collector” with the Clerk of Court in the county where your loved one resided. In order to apply, you will need to produce a death certificate, will (if one exists), and a general inventory of money, assets, and personal property in the estate and their values. As the “Collector” you will be responsible for paying all of the debts of the estate if any exist. After the Clerk of Court approves your application, you will then pay off the estate debts, distribute any remaining funds, personal property, and assets the estate beneficiaries either as specified in the will or according to North Carolina law if there is no will.

Click here to start the process and download the required forms.

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