Wednesday, May 22, 2024

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Why is the estates division closed to the public on Monday?

QUESTION: Why is the estates division within the Alamance County Clerk of Superior Court’s office closed for in-person visits on Monday?

ANSWER: The estates division at Alamance County’s Historic Court House is closed to the public on Monday in order to allow clerks to work on reconciling annual and final accountings for estates and other proceedings, Alamance County Clerk of Superior Court Meredith Edwards said Monday in an interview with The Alamance News.

The estates division has been closed for walk-in traffic on Mondays for at least two years, Edwards said.

“Part of this is a facilities issue,” Edwards said Monday morning. “Accountings take a lot of concentration and attention to detail. When [the window at the front of the estates office] is open, it gets loud.”

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The marble and wood interior means sound carries easily through the Historic Court House, which houses the clerk’s office, cashier’s office, civil division, special proceedings, small claims court, and an upstairs courtroom.

“Our clerks have to have some quiet time,” Edwards said, adding that Alamance County’s estates division follows procedures similar to those used in other counties. “The final accounting has to match all of the audit documentation. We’re primarily looking at all of the checks written [on an estate or a guardianship account].

“It takes all hands on deck to get this work done,” Edwards said, adding that she also assists in completing the final accountings, which she said she’s also required to audit and sign off on. Once all of the documentation is audited, it goes into the estate file, and is then indexed in the court system database.

The annual and final accountings must be completed, audited, and indexed not only for estates, but also for guardianships/adult incompetency proceedings, court-ordered trusts, and cemetery trusts, Edwards said.

“Estates is the only area that is consistently growing in its filing [volume] because our county is growing,” the clerk of court said Monday. “Because that office is very small, it is difficult to do this kind of work when you’ve got attorneys and members of the public coming in and out.”

As part of the final accountings, clerks in the estates division work through an internal checklist, showing that dozens of tasks have been completed. For example, all fiduciaries have to be bonded; and if the assets in an estate increase, the clerk’s office has to make sure the amount of the bond increases in tandem, Edwards said. “All of this is heavily-regulated by statute,” she said.

Depending on the complexity and size (i.e., assets, liabilities, inventory, and disposition) of an estate, annual and final accountings often take days to reconcile, a deputy clerk of court said in a separate interview Tuesday. Clerks are also responsible for calculating capital gains and completing other accounting functions, the deputy said Tuesday.

For her part, Edwards noted that, under previous clerks of superior court, one of the clerks in the estates division had screened off her entire desk so that no one could approach her. “Under previous administrations, this was also an issue,” Edwards said Monday. “I’ve just made a policy decision as to how we would handle it.

“A lot of clerks’ offices have no public information window and are by appointment only,” Edwards added. “We are trying to accommodate all variety of needs by having that window and staffing [it]…There are decisions being made across the state about how to balance the workload that we’re seeing. Every clerk balances that differently.”

However, if someone from out of town comes to the estates division on a Monday when that office is otherwise closed, “We’ll help them,” Edwards insisted. “We’re not inflexible about it.”

Deputy clerks and assistant clerks throughout all of the other divisions within the clerk of court’s office are on hand to answer phone calls and emails from 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m.; the building opens to the public at 8:30 a.m. weekdays, Edwards told the newspaper Monday morning.

A state law that governs the hours of operations for clerks of superior courts directs the 100 clerks of superior court in North Carolina to observe “such office hours and holidays as may be directed by the Administrative Office of the Courts.”

However, the director of the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) “has not set specific hours for the clerk, but sets the holiday schedule,” Edwards said Wednesday in response to a subsequent inquiry by The Alamance News. “Clerks set their regular office hours, and this sometimes varies a bit,” she elaborated. “I am aware of one county that requires staff to arrive to work at 8:00 [a.m.] but does not open the office to the public until 8:30.”


THE PUBLIC ASKS: Have a question about a matter of public record? Call The Alamance News at (336) 228-7851; write to the newspaper at P.O. Box 431, Graham, NC 27253; or e-mail alamancenews@mail.com.

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