What do I do now?

When a death has occurred, there is usually a need of administering the estate of the decedent. In North Carolina this process is handled through the office of the Clerk of the Superior Court. Not all estates will require the same administrative duties; some small estates, under particular circumstances, will not even require administration. However, some estates will require a great many duties. But in summary the following is intended to be a check list of duties, not necessarily in chronological order, in handling an estate. Of course, legal counsel should be sought for advice on specific matters. The Clerk will provide many of the forms that are required.

1. Collect important papers, such as the Will, death certificate, insurance policies, bank account books, automobile titles, stock certificates, etc.

2. If there is no Will, determine who will be the administrator. Determine the heirs.

3. Make arrangements with a representative of the Clerk's office for an inventory of the safe deposit box, if applicable.

4. Prepare the application for "letters" (the authority of the estate representative to act). An inventory must be prepared, and values must be assigned to the property.

5. Take the Will (if any) and application for letters to the Clerk's office. (The Clerk may be asked to help prepare this application.) The Clerk gives an oath to the "personal representative" who is to handle the estate and issue him or her letters. Several copies of the letters should be obtained for use in transferring certain property, such as bank accounts and securities.

6. Fill out a form to obtain a tax waiver from the Department of Revenue. This is necessary in order to withdraw some bank accounts, bonds, etc.

7. Prepare a notice to creditors and have it published in a newspaper. This notifies creditors that they must present their claims within three months. Obtain an affidavit of publication from the newspaper and file it with the Clerk. Mail this notice to all known creditors of the decedent, and fill out and file an affidavit form.

8. Open an estate account with a bank for use in paying debts of the estate, administrative fees, etc.

9. Determine the value as of the date of death and transfer ownership of stocks and bonds. Transfer title of motor vehicles. File insurance claims.

10. If the decedent was a veteran, he or she may be entitled to a VA burial allowance. A certified copy of the death certificate and Form DD214 (discharge paper) is required for this claim. Two or three days following the funeral, you should call the local Social Security Office to file your claim for the Lump-Sum death benefit if eligible.

11. Notify IRS of the personal representative's existence and address. IRS will then send any information concerning the decedent's taxes to the personal representative.

12. Notify IRS that no further payments of the decedent's estimated tax will be made.

13. File IRS Form SS-4 to obtain a taxpayer ID number for the estate. The number is needed for the estate account and also if a fiduciary income tax return is to be filed.

14. Have an appraisal made of property, as necessary.

15. File a 90 day inventory of property with the Clerk.

16. File the income tax return of the decedent by April 15 of the year following the year of death.

17. Within three and a half months after the end of each fiscal year of the estate, file fiduciary income tax returns, both federal and state. An estate is a taxpayer on income which accrues to the estate, such as interest and dividends, while it is in the process of administration. It is usually helpful to seek the services of an accountant in giving advice and in preparing the fiduciary returns.

18. File the federal estate tax return and the North Carolina inheritance tax return, if required. (for some estates a Certification form is filed in lieu of an inheritance tax return.)

19. File an annual account with the Clerk within 30 days after the expiration of one year from the date the personal representative qualified and annually thereafter until the final account is filed. Produce canceled checks or paid receipts.

20. Make distribution of property to those entitled. Unless the Will provides otherwise, each person is responsible for inheritance tax on his share. But the personal representative normally files the tax returns and forwards the tax. The personal representative should obtain the tax amount from the persons receiving the property or else withhold sufficient cash from them to pay the taxes. Obtain written receipts for property distributed.

21. File petitions with the Clerk requesting approval of fees for attorneys and commissions for the personal representative.

22. File the final account with the Clerk. Produce canceled checks or paid receipts. (Usually this will be filed before an annual account is due, making the final account unnecessary.)

23. Notify IRS that the personal representative's duties have ended. Notify the surety on any bond that the estate is closed.

24. Close the estate bank account.