When you have a will, the state must honor it as long as it is valid under the law. If you have a will when you die, you die testate, and your family must file the document with the Clerk of Superior Court, according to the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts.

If you do not have a will or if nobody files one on your behalf, the court will investigate to ensure there is not a will. If there is not one, then you die intestate.

The court

When you die intestate, the court steps in to start making decisions. Its first order of business is to appoint a personal representative. This person is someone who will manage and oversee your estate. He or she is typically someone who is familiar with you and your property. It could be your spouse or other close relative or a professional. The court will issues letters to this person giving him or her authority over your estate.

The duties

The personal representative must still seek approval from the court to do anything with your estate, such as selling property. The court continues to oversee the process and ensures your personal representative carries out his or her duties, including publishing a notice to creditors.

The personal representative will have to follow the court’s rulings on debts and paying creditors. He or she must also file an inventory of your assets with the court. Once the court and representative tie up all loose ends, the remaining estate may go to your heirs according to succession laws.