Probate is the term for the legal process used to distribute anything you own at your death (assets) that do not pass outside your estate. Many times people just use the term probate to refer to everything that passes after your death, but this is not a correct use of that word. Some assets that people get after you die are non-probate assets. These are things like life insurance proceeds, many types of real estate and any financial account that has a payable on death beneficiary. For example, when you set up your IRA account you usually name a beneficiary on that paperwork. The IRA account then passes directly to that person and does not go through probate. In North Carolina, probate begins when your executor files your will at the courthouse along with an application to be formally recognized as the personal representative for your estate.