Probate or Estate Administration
After a death, under Georgia law the estate of a decedent normally goes through a process called probate. Probate refers to the legal process of accounting for a decedent’s assets, discharging liabilities, and distributing any remaining assets to the beneficiaries, if there is a will, or the heirs, if there is not a will.
Appointment of the Personal Representative
The first step in the probate process is the appointment of a Personal Representative, which must be approved by the probate court. If your loved one specified who should serve as the Personal Representative in a will, normally that person would be appointed. If your loved one died without a will, or if the person named in the will as a Personal Representative is unable or unwilling to serve in this capacity, someone else (usually a close family member) typically will volunteer to serve as the Personal Representative.
When a Personal Representative is appointed, we will continue to help you with the necessary filings with the court so that the probate process can proceed.
Serving as a Personal Representative
In most instances, the person serving as a Personal Representative will not have ever served in such capacity before. We understand. At the outset, if you are the nominated Personal Representatives, we will meet with you to review the estate of the deceased loved one, and to determine the actions that will need to be taken to complete the probate process.
Personal Representatives will typically have many questions concerning their duties and the actions that should be taken, particularly with respect to estate management and estate distribution. Our role is to undertake all of the legal aspects associated with the probate process, including advising Personal Representatives as to their duties and answering their questions.
Often such questions concern matters such as what should be done immediately with respect to the management of an estate (such as whether mortgage payments should continue to be made on a house and other maintenance issues), whether and how to pay for debts of the estate (including accessing bank accounts to pay such debts) and, ultimately, how estates should be distributed (particularly with respect to assets that have not been specifically provided for in a will). We help Personal Representatives not only with respect to these and other matters concerning the probate process, but also how to do so in a manner that will best protect them in the event of a will or probate contest by potential beneficiaries or heirs.
The Duties of Personal Representatives
Once appointed, the duties of a personal representative generally include the following:
Making an accounting for all assets in the estate. This will include tangible assets, real estate, financial accounts, stocks and securities, and any other interests of any kind (which can even include the right to file a lawsuit). Our firm helps the Personal Representatives prepare the necessary documents associated with an inventory and accounting of estate assets.
Protect and preserve estate assets. If, for example, the estate involves real estate (such as a house), the Personal Representative may need to ensure that the insurance is paid (if applicable) and that other routine household maintenance is undertaken. We are available to answer questions and to help Personal Representatives attend to these matters, including accessing bank accounts to secure the money to take care of these items.
Distribution of assets. We help Personal Representatives document the distribution of estate assets in accordance with the decedent’s will or intestate law. Often, it will be advisable to obtain a document signed by the heirs or beneficiaries agreeing to such distribution.
Filing court documents and closing probate. At the end of the process, we prepare and file the necessary documents to formally close the probate process.
Our Role – Minimizing Your Work
If you are undertaking the role as a Personal Representative, our role is to carefully guide you through this process. We will be there to answer your questions, advise you as to various matters that may arise, and to prepare and file all necessary documents.
Call Us Today to Get Started
Our firm offers a free, no obligation consultation so that you can learn about how we can help you through the probate process of your loved one. We invite you to call us today to schedule a meeting at your convenience.
Traditionally the most common method of transferring property upon death is a will. In a will the decedent states who will be in charge of his or her estate upon death (the executor) and who will receive his or her property (the beneficiaries). The will can also include language stating: (1) the decedent's wishes regarding burial or funeral arrangements; (2) who will be the guardian of any minor children; (3) who will receive specific gifts; (4) who will care for the family pet; and (5) identify individuals who are intentionally omitted from the will.
If the decedent owned a home or other real property which is not held in joint tenancy, then the will must be probated in order for title to the property to pass to the beneficiaries.
No Will or Trust
If a person dies without a will or a trust (the decedent dies intestate) then the decedent's property will pass to the decedent's closest relatives (heirs) in the following order: surviving spouse, children, parents, siblings, and more distant relatives. If the decedent owned a home or other real property which is not held in joint tenancy, then the decedent's estate must be administered in order for the property to pass to the heirs. The cost and the procedure to administer the estate of someone who dies without a will is similar for someone who dies with a will.
Power of Attorney
A Power of Attorney allows an individual to authorize someone else to handle his or her financial affairs. The power of attorney automatically terminates when the individual who created the power of attorney dies. A power of attorney typically becomes effective immediately upon signing. A power of attorney can be revoked at any time by giving proper notice.
Advanced Health Care Directive
An Advance Health Care Directive specifies who can make health care decisions in the event an individual is unable to make his or her own decisions. It also includes language regarding organ donation if any, and end of life care choices such as the use or non-use of artificial life support systems. It often includes a directive to administer pain medication to keep a terminally ill patient comfortable and allow the individual to die without the use of extraordinary medical procedures.
A Revocable Trust sometimes referred to as a Living Trust is an estate planning tool designed to avoid probate. Similar to a will, a trust states who will be in charge of a decedent's estate upon death (the trustee) and who will receive that property (the beneficiaries). The person making the trust (the trustor) transfers title to their home and other real property to the trust by means of a quitclaim deed. A "pour-over will" is also prepared at the time the trust is created. This specific type of will insures that any assets acquired after the creation of the trust, but not transferred to the trust, will be distributed in the same manner as those assets in the trust. In other words, the assets are poured over into the trust.