Do I Need to Probate My Loved One’s Estate?

The passing of a loved one is painful. After the funeral and memorial services, one of the next steps is to probate the person’s estate. However, you may be asking yourself if probate is essential. The answer depends on what type of property the deceased had when they died.


What is Probate?

Probate is the legal process of distributing a deceased person’s property to their heirs, beneficiaries, and creditors.


What Property Requires Probate?

Not all property requires probate. Generally, probate is only needed if the deceased person owned the property solely in their name. Many people own property jointly with another or have provisions that provide for transfer upon death. These types of properties do not require probate. Examples of properties that do not require probate include real estate jointly held with survivorship rights, life insurance policies, retirement accounts with beneficiary designations, motor vehicles owned jointly with survivorship rights, and bank accounts owned jointly or with pay on death provisions. Each of these properties transfers to someone on death automatically and avoid probate.


Small Estates

North Carolina has special rules for small estates that allow the avoidance of a full probate, even if the deceased owned some property solely in his or her name. Generally, you can avoid a full probate if the property to pass through probate is less than $20,000 ($30,000 if everything is going to the surviving spouse). Avoiding full probate saves both time and money and can also save the added stress.


Do I Need an Attorney for Probate?

In North Carolina, you do not need an attorney to probate an estate. However, an attorney can be extremely beneficial in helping walk through the probate process. An attorney can also help determine if probate is necessary in your case.


Can My Estate Plan Help Avoid Probate?

A proper Estate Plan can certainly help avoid probate! In fact, probate avoidance should be one of your main goals. Probate can be confusing and stressful on your loved ones, not to mention the costs associated with probate. An attorney can help you create living trusts (if needed), coach you on how to title your assets properly, and discuss best practices for beneficiary designations for life insurance and retirement accounts. Each of these help to minimize or eliminate the need for probate.



Probate is often a necessary part of distributing the deceased assets. However, there are alternatives to probate in some cases and ways to plan so your loved ones do not have to go through the probate process. If you have questions about probate, want help administering your loved one’s estate, or if you would like to create an Estate Plan that minimizes probate, schedule a time to talk with me.