Determine if an estate plan exists.
Search through the personal papers of the person who has passed to see if you can find an original estate plan such as a will or trust.
Read the estate plan and determine who is in charge of the handling the estate.
Read the document enough to determine who is in charge of administering the estate and give them possession of the original documents so that they may take the necessary steps to handle the estate. You shouldn't read the will if you're not in charge of handling the estate. Don't share the will with anyone besides the person who was named to handle the estate.
Preferably contact a probate attorney or step into a legal land mine and try to handle the court process yourself.
Contact a probate attorney. I know you think you will save a lot of money, but likely you won't. Moreover, you are exposing yourself to legal liability.
Fill out all of the NC probate documentation which is required by the court house.
There are numerous forms and procedures which need to be filed before you have the legal authority to handle the estate. There are also numerous fees and steps. The personal representative may need to get bonded if the estate plan doesn't have a provision stating that this step isn't necessary.
Person in charge of the probate needs 10 to 15 copies of the death certificate.
Acquire the death certificate from the funeral home or the court house in the county where the person died. A certified death certificate is needed for most transactions.
File a notice to creditors in the newspaper one day a week for four consequtive weeks.
Use a local county paper to file the notice to creditors. The NC language and form must be filed precisely and you will need to get proof from the paper to submit to the court showing this was done. Creditors have 90 days to file claims with the estate. Determine which claims legally must be paid.
Open an account to hold the assets of the probate estate as the are collected.
This account needs special identification and must be specially monitored. It may not be used for any personal expenses. Most often, unless the will has specific provisions regarding the real estate this account may not be used to pay for the bills and upkeep of the property in NC, because this passes outright to the heirs in NC and it's their responsibility to pay the upkeep, taxes, mortgage and insurance. There are many, many rules and responsibilities. Again, not to beat a dead horse, but that's why an attorney is necessary. Don't take the chance of getting into trouble personally.
Contact all of the financial entities where the person who died had accounts and transfer the accounts properly.
Each different financial asset needs to be handled separately and carefully. Each asset has special characteristics. For instance, an IRA has special rules and shouldn't be cashed out in most instances. IRAs typically have beneficiaries. Joint accounts go to the surviving account holder, but need to be referenced on the inventory. This goes on and on and on... there are about a thousand things to be done in each estate.
Follow all of the court rules and deadlines, pay all expense, take all allowable fees for your work and close the estate.
After following all of the NC rules, file the final paperwork and wait for the court to advise you that the estate is now closed.