Article 15.

Assets; Discovery of Assets.

§ 28A-15-1.  Assets of the estate generally.

(a)        All of the real and personal property, both legal and equitable, of a decedent shall be assets available for the discharge of debts and other claims against the decedent's estate in the absence of a statute expressly excluding any such property. Provided that before real property is selected the personal representative must determine that such selection is in the best interest of the administration of the estate.

(b)        In determining what property of the estate shall be sold, leased, pledged, mortgaged or exchanged for the payment of the debts of the decedent and other claims against the decedent's estate, the personal representative shall select the assets which in the personal representative's judgment are calculated to promote the best interests of the estate. In the selection of assets for this purpose, there shall be no necessary distinction between real and personal property, absent any contrary provision in the will.

(c)        If it shall be determined by the personal representative that it is in the best interest of the administration of the estate to sell, lease, or mortgage any real estate or interest therein to obtain money for the payment of debts and other claims against the decedent's estate, the personal representative shall institute a special proceeding before the clerk of superior court for such purpose pursuant to Article 17 of this Chapter, except that no such proceeding shall be required for a sale made pursuant to authority given by will. A general provision granting authority to the personal representative to sell the testator's real property, or incorporation by reference of the provisions of G.S. 32-27(2) shall be sufficient to eliminate the necessity for a proceeding under Article 17. If a special proceeding has been instituted by the personal representative pursuant to G.S. 28A-13-3(c), the personal representative may petition for sale, lease, or mortgage of any real property as a part of that proceeding and is not required to institute a separate special proceeding.

(d)       The crops of every deceased person, remaining ungathered at the person's death, shall, in all cases, belong to the personal representative or collector, as part of the personal assets of the decedent's estate; and shall not pass to the devisee by virtue of any devise of the land, unless such intent be manifest and specified in the will.  (1868-9, c. 113, ss. 14, 15; Code, ss. 1406, 1407; Rev., ss. 45, 47; C.S., ss. 52, 54; 1973, c. 1329, s. 3; 1975, c. 300, s. 5; 1985, c. 426; 2001-413, s. 2.1; 2002-159, s. 9; 2011-344, s. 4.)

 

§ 28A-15-2.  Title and possession of property.

(a)        Personal Property. - Subsequent to the death of the decedent and prior to the appointment and qualification of the personal representative or collector, the title and the right of possession of personal property of the decedent is vested in the decedent's heirs; but upon the appointment and qualification of the personal representative or collector, the heirs shall be divested of such title and right of possession which shall be vested in the personal representative or collector relating back to the time of the decedent's death for purposes of administering the estate of the decedent. But, if in the opinion of the personal representative, the personal representative's possession, custody and control of any item of personal property is not necessary for purposes of administration, such possession, custody and control may be left with or surrendered to the heir or devisee presumptively entitled thereto.

(b)        Real Property. - The title to real property of a decedent is vested in the decedent's heirs as of the time of  the decedent's death; but the title to real property of a decedent devised under a valid probated will becomes vested in the devisees and shall relate back to the decedent's death, subject to the provisions of G.S. 31-39.  (1973, c. 1329, s. 3; 2011-344, s. 4.)

 

§ 28A-15-3.  Nonexoneration of encumbered property.

When real or personal property subject to any lien or security interest, except judgment liens, is specifically devised, the devisee takes the property subject to the encumbrance and without a right to have other assets of the decedent applied to discharge the secured obligation, unless an express provision of the will confers such right of exoneration. A general testamentary direction to pay the debts of the decedent is not sufficient to confer such right. (1973, c. 1329, s. 3.)

 

§ 28A-15-4.  Encumbered assets.

When any assets of the estate are encumbered by mortgage, pledge, lien or other security interest, the personal representative may pay the encumbrance or any part thereof, renew or extend any obligation secured by the encumbrance, or convey or transfer the encumbered assets to the creditor in satisfaction of the creditor's lien, in whole or in part, whether or not the holder of the encumbrance has filed a claim, if it appears to be for the best interest of the estate; provided that payment of an encumbrance shall not increase the share of the distributee entitled to the encumbered assets unless the distributee is entitled to exoneration by express provisions of the will.  (1973, c. 1329, s. 3; 2011-344, s. 4.)

 

§ 28A-15-5.  Order in which assets appropriated; abatement.

(a)        General Rules. - In the absence of testamentary indication as to the order of abatement, or some other controlling statute, shares of devisees and of heirs abate, without any preference or priority as between real and personal property, in the following order:

(1)        Property not disposed of by the will;

(2)        Residuary devises;

(3)        General devises;

(4)        Specific devises.

For purposes of abatement, a demonstrative devise of money or property payable out of or charged on a particular fund or other property is treated as a specific devise; but if the particular fund or property out of which the demonstrative devise is to be paid is nonexistent or  insufficient at the death of the testator, the deficiency is to be payable out of the general estate of the decedent and is to be regarded as a general devise and must abate pro rata with other general devises. Abatement within each classification is in proportion to the amounts of property each of the beneficiaries would have received, had full distribution of the property been made in accordance with the terms of the will.

(b)        Abatement; Sales; Contribution. - When property which has been specifically devised is sold, leased, or mortgaged, or a security therein is created, by the personal representative, abatement shall be achieved by ratable adjustments in, or contributions from other interest in the remaining assets. The clerk of superior court shall, at the time of the hearing on the petition for final distribution, determine the amounts of the respective contributions and whether the same shall be made before distribution or shall constitute a lien on specific property which is distributed. (1973, c. 1329, s. 3.)

 

§ 28A-15-6.  Federal income tax refunds - joint returns.

Upon the determination by the United States Treasury Department of an overpayment of income tax by a married couple filing  a joint federal income tax return, one of whom has died since the filing of such return or where a joint federal income tax return is filed on behalf of a husband and wife, one of whom has died prior to the filing of the return, any refund of the tax by reason of such overpayment, if not in excess of five hundred dollars ($500.00), shall be the sole and separate property of the surviving spouse. In the event that both spouses are dead at the time such overpayment is determined, such refund, if not in excess of five hundred dollars ($500.00), shall be the sole and separate property of the estate of the spouse who died last and may be paid directly by the Treasury Department to the executor or administrator of such estate, or to the person entitled to the possession of the assets of a small estate pursuant to the provisions of Article 25 of this Chapter. (1955, c. 720; 1957, c. 986; 1973, c. 1329, s. 3.)

 

§ 28A-15-7.  Federal income tax refunds - separate returns.

Upon the determination by the United States Treasury Department of an overpayment of income tax by any married person filing a separate return, any refund of the tax by reason of such overpayment, if not in excess of two hundred fifty dollars ($250.00),  exclusive of interest, shall be the sole and separate property of the  surviving spouse, and the United States Treasury Department may pay said sum directly to such surviving spouse, and such payment to the extent thereof shall operate as a complete acquittal and discharge of the United States Treasury Department. (1961, c. 643; 1973, c. 1329, s. 3.)

 

§ 28A-15-8.  State income tax returns.

Upon the determination by the Secretary of Revenue of North Carolina of an overpayment of income tax by any married person, any refund of the tax by reason of such overpayment, if not in excess of two hundred dollars ($200.00) exclusive of interest, shall be the sole and separate property of the surviving spouse, and said Secretary of Revenue may pay said sum directly to such surviving spouse, and such payment to the extent thereof shall operate as a complete acquittal and discharge of the Secretary of Revenue. (1961, c. 735; 1973, c. 1329, s. 3.)

 

§ 28A-15-9.  Excess funds.

If the amount of any refund exceeds the sums specified in G.S. 28A-15-6, 28A-15-7 or 28A-15-8, the sums specified therein and one half of any additional sums shall be the sole and separate property of the surviving spouse. The remaining one half of such additional sums shall be the property of the estate of the decedent spouse. (1973, c. 1329, s. 3.)

 

§ 28A-15-9.1:  Repealed by Session Laws 2011-326, s. 6, effective June 27, 2011.

 

§ 28A-15-10.  Assets of decedent's estate for limited purposes.

(a)        When needed to satisfy claims against a decedent's estate, assets may be acquired by a personal representative or collector from the following sources:

(1)       Tentative trusts created by the decedent in savings accounts for other persons.

(2)       Gifts causa mortis made by the decedent.

(3)       Joint deposit accounts with right of survivorship created by decedent pursuant to the provisions of G.S. 41-2.1 or otherwise; and joint tenancies with right of survivorship created by decedent in corporate stocks or other investment securities.

(4)       An interest in a security passing to a beneficiary pursuant to the provisions of Article 4 of Chapter 41 of the General Statutes.

Such assets shall be acquired solely for the purpose of satisfying such claims, however, and shall not be available for distribution to heirs or devisees.

(b)        Where there are not sufficient personal and real assets of the decedent to satisfy all the debts and other claims against the decedent's estate, the personal representative shall have the right to sue for and recover any and all personal property or real property, or interest therein, which the decedent may in any manner have transferred or conveyed with intent to hinder, delay, or defraud the decedent's creditors, and any personal property or real property, or interest therein, so recovered shall constitute assets of the estate in the hands of the personal representative for the payment of debts and other claims against the estate of the decedent. But if the alienee has sold the personal property or real property, or interest therein, so fraudulently acquired by the alienee from the decedent to a bona fide purchaser for value without notice of the fraud, then such personal property or real property, or interest therein, may not be recovered from such bona fide purchaser but the fraudulent alienee shall be liable to the personal representative for the value of the personal property or real property, or interest therein, so acquired and disposed of to a bona fide purchaser. If the whole recovery from the fraudulent alienee shall not be necessary for the payment of the debts and other claims against the estate of the decedent, the surplus shall be returned to such fraudulent alienee or the fraudulent alienee's assigns.

(c)        Where there has been a recovery in an action for wrongful death, the same shall not be applied to the payment of debts and other claims against the estate of decedent or devises, except as to the payment of reasonable burial and funeral expenses and reasonable hospital and medical expenses incident to the injury resulting in death and as limited and provided in G.S. 28-18-2 [G.S. 28A-18-2].  (1973, c. 1329, s. 3; 2005-411, s. 2; 2011-344, s. 4.)

 

§ 28A-15-11.  Debt due from personal representative not discharged by appointment.

The appointment of any person as personal representative does not discharge any debt or demand due from such person to the decedent. (1868-9, c. 113, s. 40; Code, s. 1431; Rev., s. 51; C.S., s. 58; 1973, c. 1329, s. 3.)

 

§ 28A-15-12.  Actions to recover property of decedent.

(a)        Repealed by Session Laws 2011-344, s. 4, effective January 1, 2012, and applicable to estates of decedents dying on or after that date.

(a1)      A personal representative or collector shall have the right to bring an action to sue for and recover any property of any kind belonging to the estate of the personal representative's decedent, by action filed in the Superior Court Division of the General Court of Justice and shall be entitled to such other provisional remedies as provided for under Subchapter 13 of Chapter 1 of the General Statutes.

(b)        Repealed by Session Laws 2011-344, s. 4, effective January 1, 2012, and applicable to estates of decedents dying on or after that date.

(b1)      A personal representative, collector, or any interested person shall have the right to bring an estate proceeding seeking the examination of any persons reasonably believed to be in possession of property of any kind belonging to the estate of the decedent including a demand for the recovery of such property. An estate proceeding brought under the provisions of this subsection shall be instituted by the filing of a verified petition and shall be conducted in accordance with the provisions of Article 2 of this Chapter. The court may enter orders requiring the examination of persons consistent with this subsection and, if the court determines that a person is in possession of property of the estate of the decedent, shall have the authority to order recovery of that property. Orders issued by the clerk of superior court shall be enforceable by proceedings as for contempt of court.

(c)        The party against whom the final judgment is rendered shall be adjudged to pay the costs of the proceedings hereunder.

(d)       The remedies provided in this section shall not be exclusive, but shall be in addition to any remedies which are now or may hereafter be provided.  (1937, c. 209, s. 1; 1973, c. 1329, s. 3; 2011-344, s. 4.)

 

§ 28A-15-13.  Opening and inventory of decedent's safe-deposit box.

(a)        Definitions. - The following definitions apply to this section:

(1)        Institution. - Any entity or person having supervision or possession of a safe-deposit box to which a decedent had access.

(1a)      Deputy. - A person appointed in writing by a lessee or cotenant of a safe-deposit box as having right of access to the safe-deposit box without further authority or permission of the lessee or cotenant, in a manner and form designated by the institution.

(2)        Letter of authority. - Letters of administration, letters testamentary, an affidavit of collection of personal property, an order of summary administration, or a letter directed to the institution designating a person entitled to receive the contents of a safe-deposit box to which the decedent had access. The letter of authority must be signed by the clerk of superior court or by the clerk's representative.

(3)        Qualified person. - A person possessing a letter of authority or a person named as a deputy, lessee or cotenant of the safe-deposit box to which the decedent had access.

(b)        Presence of Clerk Required. - Any safe-deposit box to which a decedent had access shall be sealed by the institution having supervision or possession of the box. Except as provided in subsection (c) of this section, the presence of the clerk of superior court of the county where the safe-deposit box is located or the presence of the clerk's representative is required before the box may be opened. The clerk or the clerk's representative shall open the safe-deposit box in the presence of the person possessing a key to the box and a representative of the institution having supervision or possession of the box. The clerk shall make an inventory of the contents of the box and furnish a copy to the institution and to the person possessing a key to the box.

(c)        Presence of Clerk Not Required. - The presence of the clerk of superior court or the clerk's representative is not required when the person requesting the opening of the decedent's safe-deposit box is a qualified person. In that event, the qualified person shall make an inventory of the contents of the box and furnish a copy to the institution and to the person possessing a key to the box if that person is someone other than the qualified person.

(d)       Testamentary Instrument in Box. - If the safe-deposit box contains any writing that appears to be a will, codicil, or any other instrument of a testamentary nature, then the clerk of superior court or the qualified person shall file the instrument in the office of the clerk of superior court.

(e)        Release of Contents. - Except as provided in subsection (d) for testamentary instruments, the institution shall not release any contents of the safe-deposit box to anyone other than a qualified person.

(f)        No Tax Waiver Required. - No tax waiver is required for the release of the contents of the decedent's safe-deposit box. (1998-212, s. 16.14(a); 2003-255, s. 1.)