Are Wills Public Record? Essential Info for NC Residents
are wills public record

When you think about planning for the future, creating a will is an important step you can take. But what happens to that will after a person dies? Are wills public record? How does this affect you and your family members?

Understanding how to protect your will from becoming public knowledge ensures privacy. Keeping your will out of the public eye helps ensure your wishes are followed.

So let’s explore how you can protect your estate and prevent your will from becoming a public record. We’ll discuss alternative estate planning documents and strategies that can keep your wishes private and protected.

Whether you’re estate planning for the first time or updating your existing estate plan, navigate the legal landscape with confidence.

How Do Wills Become Public Record in North Carolina?

When a person dies, their last will and testament generally becomes a public record. This means that the document can be accessed by anyone, typically after it is filed with the probate court. To avoid this exposure, there are several steps you can take.

We will cover the ways you can help your estate avoid the probate process. But first, let’s look at how probate works and why to avoid it.

What is Probate Court? How Does the Probate Process Work?

Probate court is a specialized court that handles the administration of estates for deceased persons. This court oversees the distribution of a deceased person’s assets according to their will. If there is no will, the court follows the laws of intestate succession.

When a will is filed with the probate court, it becomes a public record. This makes it accessible to anyone who wishes to view it. This public access is why many people look for ways to avoid probate, ensuring their estate remains private.

How Does the Probate Process Work?

The probate process begins when someone files the will with the county clerk of court where the deceased resided. If there is no will, the court follows NC’s intestate succession laws to determine how the estate will be divided among the family members.

Step 1: Filing the Will

The person holding the deceased person’s will, often the named executor, must file it with the probate court. This filing makes the will a public record.

If you need to obtain a copy of a will, you can go to the courthouse, pay a small fee, and request a certified copy from the clerk. In some counties, online access to probate records may be available, allowing you to view and obtain copies of documents from the comfort of your home.

However, this public record is also available to scammers and creditors who can make claims on the estate. This is one of the biggest reasons individuals avoid letting their wills become public records!

Step 2: Appointment of the Personal Representative

Once the will is filed, the court appoints a personal representative, also known as an executor or administrator.

This person is responsible for managing the deceased person’s estate, which includes gathering assets, paying debts, and distributing property to the beneficiaries. If no executor is named in the will, or if there is no will, the court will appoint an administrator.

Step 3: Inventory and Appraisal

The personal representative must create an inventory of the deceased person’s assets and have them appraised. This inventory is then filed with the probate court, where it becomes part of the public record.

The inventory includes all property, bank accounts, investments, and other assets owned by the deceased.

Step 4: Paying Debts and Taxes

Before distributing any assets, the personal representative must pay the deceased person’s debts and any taxes owed. This step ensures that the estate is settled properly and that no creditors can claim against the beneficiaries later.

Step 5: Distribution of Assets

After debts and taxes are paid, the personal representative distributes the remaining assets according to the will’s instructions or, if there is no will, according to intestate succession laws.

The probate court monitors this distribution process to ensure it follows legal requirements. Many individuals also do not want their appointed executor to undergo a cumbersome and often expensive probate process. Instead, they avoid this lengthy and court-supervised process for their loved ones.

Avoiding Probate

Many people seek to avoid probate to keep their estate plan private and to expedite the distribution process.

Working with an estate planning attorney, you can explore alternatives like setting up trusts or using beneficiary designations on accounts and properties. These methods can transfer assets directly to beneficiaries without the need for probate, keeping your estate out of the public record.

Ways to Avoid Your Will Becoming Part of Public Records

Setting Up a Trust

One effective method to avoid the court supervision of the probate process and the public nature of it all is to use a trust instead of a will.

With a trust, you can place your assets in the trust. Your appointed trustee then distributes your assets. Unlike wills, trusts do not go through probate and remain private.

Working with an experienced estate planning attorney can help you explore options like setting up revocable or irrevocable trusts, which can keep your estate plan out of the public eye. These trusts allow you to manage and distribute your assets without the need for probate, ensuring that your wishes remain confidential.

Pour Over Wills

A common strategy used with trusts is to create a pour-over will. A pour-over will transfers all remaining assets into your trust at the time of your death. This allows you to keep some assets in your trust while keeping other assets outside of your trust until you pass on.

The most common and easiest trust to create is a living trust. This type of revocable trust allows you to act as your own trustee. At the time of your death, the successor trustee you name manages your trust, including the distribution of assets to your named beneficiaries.

Non-Probate Assets

Another strategy to avoid probate is to utilize other estate planning documents that transfer specific assets directly to beneficiaries without passing through probate.

For instance, you can name beneficiary designations on retirement accounts, life insurance policies, and payable-on-death accounts. These designations bypass the probate process and do not become public records.

Storing Your Estate Planning Documents

It’s also wise to consider how you store your estate planning documents. Keeping your original will and other important papers in a secure location, such as a safe deposit box, can add an extra layer of protection.

Discuss these storage options with your estate planning attorney to ensure that your documents are safe and accessible only to those you trust.

Don’t Handle Estate Issues On Your Own

Navigating the world of estate planning can feel overwhelming, but you don’t have to do it alone. Consulting with an estate planning attorney or a law firm specializing in estates can provide you with the guidance you need to make informed decisions.

By understanding the process and knowing what steps to take, you can ensure that your estate is handled according to your wishes and that your loved ones stay protected.

Protecting your privacy and your estate requires careful planning and the right legal advice. By considering alternatives to traditional wills and using effective estate planning strategies, you can keep your estate private and secure.

We Can Help

At Capital City Estate Planning, we understand that avoiding probate is crucial for protecting your privacy and ensuring a smooth transfer of your assets.

We are here to guide you through the estate planning process, helping you create a plan that keeps your affairs out of probate courts.

We offer a range of services designed to help you avoid probate and manage your estate efficiently:

Comprehensive Estate Planning

Creating a detailed estate plan is essential for avoiding probate and protecting your assets.

We work with you to develop a personalized estate plan that includes wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and healthcare directives.

We ensure your assets are distributed according to your wishes without the need for court appearances or public records of your last will.

Trusts and Beneficiary Designations

Trusts are effective tools for managing and distributing your assets while keeping your affairs private. We help you set up revocable and irrevocable trusts tailored to your specific goals.

Additionally, we advise on beneficiary designations for retirement accounts, life insurance policies, and payable-on-death accounts, allowing you to transfer assets directly to beneficiaries without going through probate.

Asset Protection

Protecting your assets from creditors, lawsuits, and other risks is a key aspect of estate planning. We provide strategies to safeguard your wealth, ensuring that your assets remain intact for your beneficiaries.

And we assist with setting up family-limited partnerships, LLCs, and other protective structures.

Personalized Guidance

Every family is unique, and so are their estate planning needs. At Capital City Estate Planning, we take the time to understand your specific situation and tailor our services to fit your requirements.

Whether you’re setting up your estate plan for the first time or updating it to reflect changes in your life, we’re here to provide personalized, compassionate support.

Get Started Today

Don’t wait until it’s too late to plan for the future. Contact Capital City Estate Planning today to schedule a consultation.

Together, we can create a comprehensive estate plan that protects your assets, ensures your wishes are honored, and provides peace of mind for you and your loved ones. Let us help you navigate the complexities of estate planning with confidence and clarity.

Keep your affairs private, reduce stress for your family, and ensure a smooth transfer of your assets. Let Capital City Estate Planning guide you through the process, so you can have peace of mind knowing your estate is in good hands.


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(984) 299-5160

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4030 Wake Forest Rd
Suite 300
Raleigh, NC 27609

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