Probate Law in North Dakota

What Is a Probate Law?

A probate is a legal process that determines the validity and administration of a last will and testament. When an individual leaves behind assets, the court appoints an executor (if one is not named in the will). In either case, the appointed official collects all remaining assets, pays off any remaining liabilities, and disperses the remaining assets to beneficiaries listed in the will or to beneficiaries designated by the executor (if no will is present), all according to North Dakota probate law.

How Does North Dakota Probate Law and the Probate Process Work?

Locating the Will

In most cases, the decedent leaves clear direction regarding the location of the last will and testament or files one with a primary attorney. However, sometimes people have to go digging for one. In other cases, there is no will and the North Dakota court-appointed executor must handle all assets. 

It is also possible that the deceased created a living trust instead. A living trust is a document that places all assets into a trust and that transfer to a designated trustee upon death. Living trusts do not require any probation or courts. Many parties elect to go this route for the sake of convenience and avoiding drawn-out court battles. 

In North Dakota, the District Court has jurisdiction over matters of wills and estates. There are 8 Judicial Districts, with District Court Services in each of the state’s 53 counties. For example, if the decedent lived in Fargo, the will would be probated through the East Central Judicial District Court, serving Cass County.

Notifying the Court

Notifying the court to open the estate is the next step. The North Dakota probate law court clerk can handle this step, unless there is a named executor.

After the court receives notification, a scheduled hearing takes place. This officiates the executor appointee and grants him or her legal authority to operate on behalf of the last will and testament.

If there is no will and no designated executor, the court chooses the executor. Generally, the surviving spouse is first in line. After that, any adult children, parents, or siblings receive consideration.

Consolidating Assets

The executor must identify the decedent’s remaining assets. To do this, she or he reviews any related banking or financial documents and any other personal documents that could lead them toward recovering assets. Some examples of documents to collect are insurance records, titles, stock portfolios, and tax returns or filings.

To freeze and later close accounts, the executor must notify any financial institutions with outstanding accounts of the individual’s death. If there are any physical valuables in the decedent’s property, it is not uncommon for the executor to collect these items to prevent theft or damage.

The executor then determines the valuation of each item of the estate. This can be a lengthy process depending on the ease of locating all assets, including real estate, stocks, bonds, etc. Notifying creditors is the next step.

Notifying Creditors

Generally, the executor notifies creditors associated with the estate so they can make a claim if they have outstanding balances. Creditors have a specific time frame in which to file a claim, and this window can vary depending on state law.

If the executor properly publishes a Notice to Creditors, creditors have 3 months after the date of first publication to submit a claim against the estate. Under North Dakota law, the Notice must be published once a week for 3 weeks in a local county newspaper.  However, if the executor chooses not to publish a Notice, creditors have 3 years after the date of death to submit a claim.

Squaring Away Final Payments

The executor pays any funeral expenses (unless the family covers them) and any debts or taxes from the estate. The executor determines which creditor claims are accurate. Then, the executor squares away any outstanding debts to clear the estate of all obligations before being dispersed according to the will.

Proceeding With the Court

After valuing all the decedent’s assets and paying all outstanding debts, the executor submits a report detailing all estate spending to the North Dakota court. At this point, a judge reviews the materials. Assuming everything was done correctly, they render a decision to clear the executor to move forward with the final step.

Executing the Last Will and Testament

At this point, the executor disperses the assets to the designated beneficiaries laid out in the will. Depending on how detailed the will is, this could either be a simple process or it may divide the remaining family. A North Dakota probate law attorney can help you or a loved one avoid mistakes and counsel you on the best course in the event of a family estate battle.

North Dakota Courts stipulate that formal probate must be used if more than 3 years have passed since the date of death. As well, formal probate is required when the validity of the will is in question. Consequently, in-person court hearings are a required part of the formal probate process. As well, a bond may be required by court order at the time of appointment of an executor. Probate bonds guarantee that all estate debts and expenses will be satisfied.

The executor must locate, secure and value estate assets, notify and satisfy creditors, and pay estate taxes. Only then can the remaining assets be distributed to the appropriate heirs. Finally, the executor must file a verified statement to close the estate, which can also require a hearing.

If there is no last will and testament, the executor assigns beneficiaries in accordance with North Dakota state laws. Generally speaking, the surviving spouse is first in line to receive any remaining assets. After that, the decedent’s children come next. Any surviving siblings would be next. From there, the executor works down through the surviving family based on their direct relation.

Is Probate Law Necessary?

No. There are alternatives to probating a will, but this really depends on the circumstances surrounding the decedent. The larger, more complex estates require attention to detail and patience as the executor works through all the different assets. Smaller estates are straightforward, which means involving the North Dakota probate law court may not be necessary to settle the estate.

Not all North Dakota estates go through probate. If an estate is below $50,000 in value, it is considered a small estate and doesn’t require court supervision. In this case, an Affidavit for Collection of Personal Property can be completed 30 days after the date of death. This Affidavit is then presented to the holder of any personal property for transfer to the heir.

What Are the Differences Between a Living Trust and a Will?

Living trusts are a way to avoid probation. However, this is only one of the primary differences between a living trust and a will. Another main difference is that a living trust is only as good as the assets therein. This means that if you pass away without funding the trust with your assets, it is practically worthless. On the other hand, you do not have to fund a will, as you merely choose where to transfer your assets upon your death. It is important to note that there is no perfect solution for everyone.When deciding between a living trust and a will, bear in mind your risk of losing mental soundness or how close you may be to death. 

Setting up where your assets go after you die is an important decision. This is why you should consult with a North Dakota probate law attorney to make the correct decision.

Work With an Experienced Local Probate Law Attorney in North Dakota

Probate law attorneys assist with valuing your total assets and can provide insight into what the best move would be for you. Are you in need of a North Dakota probate law attorney who can help you and preserve the future of your family? We can even help you connect with an attorney across North Dakota state lines.

Submit a request online or call us today at (866) 345-6784 to get in touch with an experienced probate law lawyer in your area!

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