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When a person dies, a search should be done to locate the original will, if there is one. If there is a will, the person is said to have died “testate.” If a person dies without a will, the person is said to have died “intestate.” If there is a will, the clerk of superior court, upon application, issues “letters testamentary” to the person who qualifies as personal representative (executor) of the will. If the person died without a will, “letters of administration” are issued by the clerk of superior court, upon application. A personal representative (executor or administrator) is authorized to collect assets, pay claims and make all disbursements necessary to settle an estate and distribute the assets in an orderly, accurate and timely manner.
After the letters are issued, the personal representative must advertise for creditors’ claims against the estate. A “Notice to Creditors” is advertised in a newspaper of general circulation in the county where the decedent (the person who has died) was a resident. This notice must be published once a week for four consecutive weeks. The decedent’s creditors, if any, will have three months from the date of first publication within which to present their claims to the personal representative. The estate cannot be closed prior to the expiration of this three-month time period.

As a general guide for personal representative(s), there are (a) non-tax matters and (b) tax matters involved in settling an estate.

Non-tax matters include the filing of several accounts with the clerk of superior court.

  1. 90-day Inventory: Within three months from the date of qualification, the personal representative must file with the clerk of superior court’s office an accurate inventory of the estate, giving descriptions and values of all real and personal property of the decedent as of the date of death.
  2. Annual Account: This account lists all receipts and disbursements made by the personal representative during the one-year period.
  3. Final Account: After all debts, taxes and expenses have been paid, and all assets have been distributed to the beneficiaries, you must file a final account.

Tax matters include filing individual income tax returns for the decedent. Effective January 1, 1999, the state of North Carolina no longer collects inheritance tax on distributions to heirs of decedents dying on or after that date. Instead, an estate tax is imposed on certain estates.

This is a general outline and should be viewed primarily as a frame of reference. If you have questions, consult with a qualified attorney.