How Much Does an Estate Have to Be Worth to Go to Probate?

Losing someone you love is never easy. In the midst of grief, the legal complexities surrounding a loved one’s estate can feel overwhelming. Questions arise about assets, debts, wills, and the probate process. 

You may wonder – how much does an estate have to be worth to go to probate?

This is a common question for grieving families. Probate can be time-consuming and expensive, so it’s natural to want to avoid it if possible. The value thresholds to trigger probate vary by state and depend on the assets involved. But with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney, you can navigate probate confidently.

What is Probate, and Why Does it Matter?

Probate is the legal process for reviewing a deceased person’s assets, paying any outstanding debts, and distributing what’s left to the beneficiaries. It takes place under the supervision of the probate court and requires appointing an executor to handle the estate administration.

The probate process brings several key disadvantages:

  • It’s public – Wills and details about the estate assets become part of the public court records.

  • It takes time – Most probate proceedings take 9-12 months on average to complete. Complex estates can take even longer.

  • It costs money – Attorney fees, executor fees, court costs quickly add up. Probate costs often total 4-7% of the entire estate value.

With those downsides in mind, most people want to avoid probate if possible. But when is it actually required in North Carolina?

When is Probate Required in North Carolina?

In North Carolina, probate is required if the estate’s assets that would pass by will or intestacy exceed $20,000. There are some exceptions:

  • If the surviving spouse inherits the entire estate, the threshold increases to $30,000.

  • If the estate qualifies for summary administration, the threshold is $20,000 for a surviving spouse and $10,000 for other heirs.

The key is determining what assets are part of your probate estate. Not all assets go through probate.

What Assets Are Exempt from Probate in North Carolina?

Certain assets can pass outside of probate, either by beneficiary designation or some other form of joint ownership. These assets won’t count toward the estate value for probate purposes.

  • Joint tenancy assets – If real estate or financial accounts are owned in joint tenancy with the right of survivorship, the surviving owner automatically inherits the deceased owner’s share. No probate is needed.
  • Assets with designated beneficiaries – Life insurance, retirement accounts, and “payable on death” bank accounts pass directly to the named beneficiaries. They are exempt from probate.
  • Assets in a living trust – Property transferred to a revocable living trust during life avoids probate entirely. The trust assets pass to beneficiaries without court involvement.
  • Tenancy in common assets – For real estate or accounts owned as tenants in common, the deceased owner’s share must go through probate, not the surviving owner’s share.

How to Estimate Your Probate Estate Value

Figuring out if your estate must go through probate takes some legwork. Here are the steps:

  1. List all assets – Include real estate, bank/investment accounts, personal property, vehicles, etc.

  2. Determine ownership – Note which assets are individually owned or joint tenancy.

  3. Value the assets – Get appraisals for real estate, account statements for financial assets.

  4. Identify exempt assets – List which assets have beneficiary designations or are in a living trust.

  5. Subtract exempt assets – Removing these from the total leaves you with the estimated probate estate value.

  6. Compare to threshold – See if remaining assets exceed the $20k/$30k threshold for mandatory probate.

This exercise can help give you an idea of whether your estate would require probate currently.

What to Do if Your Estate May Need Probate

If it looks like your estate would exceed the threshold, probate may be inevitable without some planning. Here are some options:

  • Add beneficiaries – Designate beneficiaries for bank, investment, and retirement accounts.

  • Convert accounts to joint ownership – Add a joint owner to individually owned accounts.

  • Transfer assets to a living trust – Deed real estate to a revocable trust and transfer accounts.

  • Gift assets – Give away some assets now to reduce estate value.

  • Update estate plan – Create or update your will and powers of attorney.

An estate planning attorney can help analyze your situation and implement the best solutions to avoid probate. If some probate is unavoidable, the attorney can assist your loved ones with efficiently administering the estate.

Planning ahead is wise, as options become much more limited once someone passes away. Contact a qualified estate planning lawyer now to discuss your situation.

Let Us Help You Plan for the Future

Losing someone close to you is painful enough. Getting hit with a long, expensive probate process makes a hard time even more stressful. But with proper planning, many people can avoid probate entirely or at least streamline the process.

Estate planning can seem complicated, but an attorney experienced in these matters can make it much more manageable.

The attorneys at Cary Estate Planning have worked with hundreds of families to minimize probate and create plans that work. They offer an initial consultation to review your situation and explain your options.
Reach out today to schedule a meeting and get a head start on protecting your family’s future.

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