A recent emailed question from a client turned into a good opportunity to address the subject of reopening an already closed probate case in order to cash a check that turned up in the name of the deceased person. What has to happen if an additional probate asset turns up after probate is closed?

The process to reopen probate (as with regular probate) sounds simple, but the nuts and bolts work can be extremely burdensome. If something like an uncashed check pops up, the process is:

  • Fill out and file a Petition and Order to Reopen Estate form with the Estates Division in the county where probate was handled before. (North Carolina form AOC-E-908)
  • Follow the instructions in the signed order regarding additional paperwork that needs to be filed, which may include a new application, oath form, and possibly even posting a bond
  • Receive the renewed Letters Testamentary to officially collect the assets as well as open up a new estate account
  • Once the assets are collected/checks or money deposited into the estate account, and all fees and expenses paid, then the remaining money should be distributed to the beneficiaries
  • The Final Accounting then also needs to be amended and resubmitted accounting for the new assets, expenses, and distributions and finally filed with the probate court for approval.

Once the Final Accounting is approved, then the estate will be closed once again.

In the case of this particular client the check was worth around $200, and the widow was the only beneficiary. Because of this, it would have cost a lot more than $200 for us to handle the probate case, or it would pay her something probably less than minimum wage to handle this on her own. It just wasn’t worth it. Now if the check were for $20,000, then that would be a different thing altogether. In a lot of cases, these “found” assets end up being relatively minor compared to the work needed to reopen probate, and, as long as the beneficiaries agree, it might be better to just drop the whole thing.