Proactive Probate

Proactive Probates: Guide To Prepare For A ND Probate

March 31, 2023

We can’t take wealth with us when we die. Well, some people have been buried with their prized possessions, but they are of no use to us once we leave Earth. Upon your death, the totality of what you owned while alive is called your estate. In North Dakota, if your estate is worth more than $50,000.00 or you own real property, your estate is required to go, at least, through informal probate within 3 years of your death. Depending on the circumstances, probates can be formal if they commenced outside of the three-year time period or if there is a disagreement between heirs or interested parties. Uniform Probate Code N.D.C.C. § 30.1-12-08.

If you created an estate plan, you likely named a personal representative or executor to administer your estate. Usually, this person is a spouse, adult child, or another person you trust. Sometimes it’s a professional or corporate entity. If you did not create an estate plan, an heir can seek to distribute your assets with the help of the laws of intestacy N.D.C.C. § 30.1-04. A lawyer can be very helpful in navigating probates. Most of us know that nothing is certain besides death and taxes. Therefore, why not be proactive when it comes to your estate, so the individuals left behind will be able to manage your estate efficiently. It will be hard enough handling the grief of your loss, which comes with fuzzy thinking, and a brain so overloaded with thoughts of sadness, loneliness, and other feelings that it leaves limited room for everyday tasks.

The term proactive means to act in anticipation of future problems needs or changes. No one wants to think of death, let alone being classified as a “decedent”; however, planning ahead will make the inevitable future event of your death more bearable for your heirs. This interactive guide can help you get started.

Step 1: Visualization

Imagine a cardboard box labeled with the word “probate”. When you die, hypothetically and in reality, this box contains your tangible, real and personal property such as land, a house, cabin, camper, boat, cars, furniture, and physical things inside and outside of a house. Also stored in this box are things you own but cannot physically touch such as checking and savings accounts, investments, life insurance, and retirement earnings. Caveat: If any of these items have a beneficiary designation, or joint ownership with right of survivorship, they are considered a non-probate asset, and can go directly to that person without going through probate.

Step 2: Organization

To keep the probate box tidy and useful, it is best to include a checklist with notes. Your personal representative will work with an attorney and paralegal to decide what to do with the contents. In order for this task to run efficiently, barring a contested probate, make sure to copy & paste this checklist and document your:

  • usernames and passwords, including the password or code to a safe if your estate plan has been kept in a safe;
  • Social Security number;
  • bank account information;
  • employment pay stubs;
  • statements for stocks, bonds, retirement accounts, and insurance;
  • real estate documents (i.e., deeds, mortgage note);
  • title(s) to vehicle(s);
  • farm and/or business information;
  • accountant’s name and contact information;
  • creditor(s) name(s) and contact information;
  • the location of a key and the bank used for your safety deposit box;
  • personal identifying information of your spouse and children or closest relatives who could be beneficiaries/heirs of your estate, including names, addresses, Social Security numbers, dates and places of birth and death (if applicable);
  • a list of services you use (i.e., security, streaming, utilities, deliveries, snow removal, lawn care).

*Keep this information in a safe place known to your personal representative.

Step 3: Communication

Choosing a capable personal representative to manage everything in your “probate box”  is one of the best decisions you can make for your future estate. Inform the person they will have duties to complete upon your death and verify they are up to the task. Serving as a personal representative involves contacting professionals, such as attorneys, real estate agents, appraisers, auctioneers and/or accountants. The personal representative will need to contact businesses to cancel your subscriptions and services. The role also requires handling money and opening an estate bank account. Further, it requires trust and ethical actions.

Step 4: Reimbursement

Other than federal student loans, we do not take our debt with us when we die. Giving notice to creditors and satisfying creditor claims comprise a large part of the probate process. Make sure to keep track of credit cards, accounts, loans, and individuals you are contracted to reimburse. However, any debt that was co-signed will fall on the co-signer to pay back. Your personal representative may also keep track of the hours spent on the probate for compensation.


One of the final checkboxes you should add to your probate box checklist is to:

  • Call SW&L Attorneys Estate Planning & Probate team at 701.297.2890 or email at

Proactive probate planning does not need to be complicated or scary. Grab that accordion folder, pen, and paper, and get started!

The information contained in this article and on this website is for informational purposes only. Do not rely on the information on this website as legal advice. Please refer to the full disclaimer here.