If you are the beneficiary to a will, you may wonder if the executor is doing their duty as the fiduciary. Are they properly handling the estate’s inventory process? Settling an estate in probate court can be a long and drawn-out public process. But does an executor have to show accounting to beneficiaries? Let’s look at the duties of an executor.

Who Goes Through Probate?

Probate is the process of settling an estate and distributing any inheritances. If an estate is worth more than $20,000 (individual) or $30,000 (for a couple), it goes through probate court. Avoiding probate court is only possible if a trust holds all assets.

The clerk of court for the county in which the decedent resided rules over the probate court. The first order of business is finding the valid will. The clerk of court then “probates” the will, declaring it as valid. 

The term “personal representative” is the name used for the executor named in the will or an administrator named by the clerk of court. This person has a fiduciary duty to act in the estate’s best interests by keeping accurate records and filing accurate accounts. 

The personal representative inventories the decedent’s real estate, bank accounts, stocks, bonds, motor vehicles, and other personal property. Their first job is to estimate the estate’s assets and liabilities.

How to View Records of Estate Cases

Once the court declares the decedent’s will valid, it becomes a public record. Any person may view a public record or request a copy of a public record for a fee. North Carolina’s public record law describes public records as people’s property. Records maintained by the clerk of court under the Administrative Office of the Courts rules are public. (1)

You can access estate case information in the North Carolina court system on the public self-service terminals in the clerk of court’s office in any county. You can view files by visiting the clerk of court’s office in the county where the decedent resided. Staff can provide copies of documents in court files for a fee. (2)

When Does the Executor File Accountings?

Within three (3) months, the personal representative must file an accurate inventory of the estate, giving descriptions and values of all real and personal property at the time of the death.

The personal representative also must provide copies of signature cards and deposit contracts associated with any joint accounts from the depository financial institution and submit them with the inventory. Clerks may also require the personal representative to provide supporting documentation for the information provided on the inventory. 

Before a personal representative can sell any real estate to generate cash to pay debts of the estate, they must petition the Clerk of Court for permission to sell. However, if the will expressly directs the executor to sell the real property, the executor can sell without permission.

At the following accounting, the personal representative may include all estate income, property acquired by the estate after the decedent’s death, or asset conversions (sale of real estate or stock, foreclosure, etc.)

What Do Estate Accountings Contain?

The probate court expects a great deal from the personal representative of an estate. They must make accountings that contain proof of each transaction, including canceled or imaged checks and other proof of all disbursements, distributions, and balances held or invested.

The personal representative must sign all accountings filed with the Clerk of Superior Court under oath. Accountings contain:

  • The period which the account covers and whether it is an annual accounting or final accounting;
  • Amount and value of the property of the estate according to the inventory and appraisal
  • Manner and nature of any investments
  • Amount of income and additional property received during the accounting period
  • All gains or losses from the sale of any property or otherwise
  • All payments, charges, losses, and distributions;
  • Property on hand constituting the balance of the estate, if any
  • Any other facts and information necessary to an understanding of the account.

Personal Representative Liability

The personal representative of an estate takes an oath to carry out their duties faithfully and honestly. These fiduciary duties are not as simple as passing out inheritances. Before they can hand out any inheritance, there are other duties to accomplish. There are many responsibilities involved in settling an estate. A personal representative:

  • collects assets
  • pays creditor claims
  • makes all disbursements necessary to settle an estate
  • distribute the assets in an orderly, accurate, and timely manner

We Can Help

At Hogan, Edwards, and Blue, we work with estate administration issues that prevent beneficiaries from receiving their inheritance. We also help estate administrators who need guidance working through the essential details of settling an estate. Working with the clerk of court to settle an estate in probate is no small matter. Sometimes, heirs or disgruntled family members make the process difficult for everyone else. Talk with us and find out how we can help streamline the process and move forward. Contact us today for answers.

Footnotes:

  1. GS 7A-109 Page 1 § 7A-109. Record-keeping procedures. (a) Each clerk shall maintain such records, files, dockets and indexes 
  2. Obtaining Court Records | North Carolina Judicial Branch