Notice to File: What it is and What to do from here

As an Executor or Administrator of a North Carolina estate proceeding, there’s already enough information and details to stress about. But you just received a Notice to File [Inventory/Account] from the Clerk of Court and your anxiety just hit the roof. But, what is a Notice to File [Form AOC-E-501] and what do you do once you get one?

Something is Past Due

Estate Administrations and probate proceedings in North Carolina are very time sensitive, with very specific and defined time-based deadlines. Generally, a Notice to File is sent by the Clerk of Court where the estate is being administered to the Executor (if there was a will) or Administrator (if there was no will) (collectively, the “Executor”) because they failed to timely file an accounting of some sort.

Usually the Executor must file the “Inventory of Decedent’s Estate” [Form AOC-E-505], also known as the “90-Day Inventory”, within ninety (90) days of the date the Executor was issued Letters Testamentary (or Letters of Administration for Administrators).

If a year has passed since the Executor was qualified, the Executor must either submit a Final Account [Form AOC-E-506] to close out the estate, or an Annual Account [also Form AOC-E-506] if the estate is not ready to be closed. An Annual Account must be filed each year that the estate is kept open, on the anniversary of the Executor’s qualification.

If an Executor fails to file the Inventory of Decedent’s Estate or the Annual/Final Account by their respective due dates, the Clerk of Court will issue a Notice to File to the Executor. The Executor will then have up to 30 days to bring the estate back up-to-date or give cause for why the filing cannot be made within 30 days.

It’s Not the End of the World

Generally speaking, if you’re simply late in filing, the remedy to receiving the Notice to File is to make the filing or file a Motion to Extend Time to File to allow additional time to make the filing. If you’ve got a good reason for your tardiness, you shouldn’t have any issue receiving an extension. Most of the time the Executor just moves on to other priorities and forgets to make the filings in time.

But You Need to Get Up-to-Date

If the Executor does not bring the estate back up-to-date by filing the requested documents within 30 days of the Notice to File, the Clerk of Court will serve the Executor, via deputy sheriff service, with an Order to File. Still failing to file will result in the Clerk calling a “show cause hearing.” At the hearing, the Executor must demonstrate to the Clerk why they didn’t make the filing(s) and why they should not be removed from the Executor or Administrator position.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

Most people who receive a Notice to File are unrepresented and simply don’t know how to move forward. To make matters worse, the Clerk of Court and the employees at his or her office (the Clerk’s Office – Estates Division) are not allowed to give legal advise. With complex or lengthy estate matters, or if the Executor is not conveniently located in or near the county of jurisdiction over the administration, Executor’s will usually retain local counsel to help with the legal heavy lifting and compliance of the estate administration.

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