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ESTATES DIVISION

• Administration of last wills and estates
• Appoint guardians

The Estates Division is located in Room #1 on the First Floor of the Pender County Courthouse. Our hours are 8:30 AM until 5:00 PM, Monday through Thursday, and Friday's by appointment only. No appointments are required; however, we operate on a first come – first serve basis, if you do not have an appointment, so you should allow some time for waiting. To allow time for processing and payment, please be in our office no later than 4:00 PM. You should contact our office before coming in, so that you will have all required information before making the trip to Burgaw. An Estate Information package is available upon request, which would assist you in determining the type of estate you may need.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS:

1. A family member (friend, etc.) has just passed away and I was advised to contact the Clerk of Court about handling their estate. What does this involve?

Handling a person’s estate can be as simple as transferring title to a vehicle or so complicated that you would need legal counsel. If there is a will, it should be filed with the Clerk of Court.

In general, handling an estate means:

• Determining assets at date of death, which would include personal property and real property;

• Dealing with creditors of the estate;

• Notifying parties entitled to share of estate;

• Paying debts of the decedent;

• Filing accountings with the Clerk of Court;

• Distributing balance of estate per the will or by intestacy.

2. I need a Letter of Testamentary; what is this and how do I get one?

A “Letter” is a court document giving a personal representative the authority to handle a decedent’s estate. You would need to contact the Clerk of Court of the county where the decedent lived to determine if you actually need a “Letter”; or, if the assets to be transferred can be handled in another way (Small Estate, Year’s Allowance, etc).


3. I have the Power of Attorney; why can’t I use that?

A Power of Attorney is no longer valid after the death of the person who gave it, and the authority given is terminated.


4. I have information that there may be a will held in your vault for safekeeping; how can I get a copy?

First of all, we do not release any information on wills held for safekeeping. If the party has died, the executor should come into the Clerk’s Office with a death certificate. At that time we would remove the will and file it in the Clerk’s Office; we would not release it. The executor would then decide how to proceed with an estate if necessary. If the decedent resided in another county at their death, we would send the will by certified, registered mail to the Clerk in that county. The estate would be administered there.


5. What does probate mean?

Court procedure by which a will is proved to be valid or invalid. The purpose of probate is to distribute a person’s estate after their death according to the will.


6. Is probate necessary?

If the person who died did not have any property to transfer, probate may not be necessary; however, if the will leaves real property to a beneficiary, the will should be probated. Furthermore, a certified copy of the probated will should be filed in any other county where real property is located.


7. Is there a cost or fee to handle a person’s estate?

Yes, depending on the type of estate there may be fees and costs.


8. What do I need to do to begin handling a person’s estate?

Again, it depends on a number of factors, but in general you must have the authority to handle the estate. The Clerk of Court can provide the forms you request to begin the process. However, the Clerk of Court is the Judge of Probate and cannot practice law or give advice. Accordingly, the Clerk’s staff cannot help you in filling out any forms which may be required. For any assistance, you should contact an attorney.

 

GUARDIANSHIP

1. What is the purpose of a guardian?

• Guardianship is a legal determination under which a person, corporation, or agency is appointed by the Court to make decisions and act on behalf of another, such as an incompetent person or minor child (the ward). There are three different types of guardians that may be appointed for an incompetent person or minor child:

• Guardian of the Person – Has the authority to decide medical treatment, placement, and all decisions relating to the physical care and control of the Ward.

• Guardian of the Estate – Has the authority to control financial matters only. The guardian must protect the Ward’s assets from mismanagement or fraud, and would be responsible for filing Annual Accountings with the Clerk of Superior Court.

• General Guardian – Acts as both a Guardian of the Person and Guardian of the Estate, and makes all decisions for the Ward. They would also be responsible for filing Annual Accountings with the Clerk of Superior Court.

2. How does one become a guardian?

Guardianship of a Minor Child:

Generally, parents are the natural guardians of a minor child. However, if a minor is to receive a settlement, inheritance, etc., a Guardian of the Estate must be appointed to manage the minor’s estate until they are of majority age.

Guardianship of an Incompetent:

Adults are presumed legally competent to handle their own affairs. For a person to lose the right to make basic decisions for themselves, that person must first be adjudicated incompetent in a hearing held before the Clerk of Superior Court. This proceeding is filed as a Special Proceeding.

After having been appointed as guardian of a minor child or incompetent , the named guardian would apply to the Clerk of Superior Court to be granted letters of authority to act on the ward’s behalf. Guardianship is an important responsibility and all guardians should consider seeking competent legal counsel for additional information on the duties.

For more information, please visit Administrative Office of the Courts, Frequently asked Questions.