What is probate like in Georgia?

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Posted on December 21, 2023

In many states, probate – the court-administered process by which someone’s property and debts are settled after death – can be complex, expensive, and worth significant effort to avoid. Georgia, however, is an exception to this. Georgia is an “easy probate” state. Georgia law streamlines the administration of most estates that go through probate and allows many estates to avoid probate altogether. In this article, we look at what makes Georgia probate easier than in many other states.

In Georgia, the probate process is only administrative unless a post-death dispute arises. The will, the Petition to Probate in Solemn Form, and (sometimes) the death certificate should be filed with the probate court in the county where the decedent lived. So long as all heirs are adults, consent to the Petition to Probate in Solemn, and do not dispute the will’s validity, the proposed executor swears to follow the terms of the will. After swearing, the probate court clerk provides the executor with Letters Testamentary, a document stating the individual is the estate’s executor. From there, the executor handles the estate administration without court oversight or filings. 

Even with a streamlined process, probate in Georgia typically takes several months. Complicating factors, such as a minor heir or a poorly-drafted Will, can slow the probate process. An experienced Atlanta estate planning attorney may be able to provide valuable insights on how to manage any potential disputes that may arise during the probate process.

Further, in Georgia, you may not need a will at all. Most states have a simplified probate process – called summary probate – for small and uncontested estates. The qualifications for summary probate vary by state and are often driven by the value of the estate. Georgia is one of the few states that allows heirs to skip probate altogether, so long as there are no outstanding debts, all heirs agree to the distribution plan, and there is no Will.

Notably, Georgia does not put an estate dollar value limitation on the availability of this process. So long as the three requirements above are met, the process only requires that a representative of the estate file a petition with the court attesting to the lack of need for administration.

This is a huge benefit for small, simple estates in Georgia. But for people with more complex estates, or who do not want to leave the disposition of their estate for others (or the state) to decide, comprehensive estate planning is advisable. You should discuss with an attorney whether your primary estate planning document should be a will or a revocable living trust. 

Contact an Atlanta Estate Planning Attorney at Trace Brooks Law to discuss whether a will or a revocable living trust is right for you.

Probate Process in Georgia Key Steps
Filing Documents Submit will, Petition to Probate in Solemn Form, and (sometimes) the death certificate to the county probate court where the decedent lived.
Executor Appointment Proposed executor swears to follow the will’s terms; receives Letters Testamentary from the probate court clerk, confirming their role as the estate’s executor.
Estate Administration Executor manages estate affairs independently, without court oversight or additional filings, if heirs are adults, consent to the probate petition, and do not dispute the will’s validity.

The Role of Probate Lawyers in Georgia

When faced with the death of a loved one in Georgia, navigating the legal terrain of probate court can be overwhelming. This is where probate lawyers step in, offering vital assistance to ensure that the deceased person’s affairs are resolved according to the law.

  • Assisting Executors and Beneficiaries: In Georgia, probate attorneys play a crucial role in guiding executors through the probate process, which includes validating wills, administering estates, and, if necessary, acting as intermediaries between executors and beneficiaries. This is particularly important when disputes arise or if there is a need for clarification of the deceased’s wishes.
  • Facilitating Estate Management: Probate lawyers also provide invaluable help in managing the practical aspects of settling an estate. This includes arranging the sale of property, ensuring the fair distribution of assets to beneficiaries, and addressing any outstanding debts or taxes tied to the estate. They can help ensure that all financial obligations are met, and the assets of the deceased are handled appropriately.
  • Legal Advice and Support: The complexity of probate laws in Georgia underscores the need for professional advice. Probate attorneys not only assist in legal proceedings but also offer counsel on avoiding potential pitfalls that can lead to delays or additional costs. They are adept at preparing necessary documents such as deeds, creditor notices, and tax returns, and can also advise on estate planning tools like living trusts to streamline the probate process.

Working with an Experienced Atlanta Estate Planning Attorney

Often, potential clients seek a revocable living trust to avoid probate. Probate in Georgia, with a well-drafted will that waives bond, inventory, and reporting requirements, and gives all the correct powers to act without ongoing court supervision, is not difficult. There are, however, other reasons to use a revocable living trust as your primary estate planning document.

It is important to note that the only assets subject to probate are those in your estate at death, and many assets can be transferred to your heirs upon death without a will or trust. For example, any asset that allows you to make a beneficiary designation (such as a bank account, life insurance, or retirement account) will transfer ownership to the designated beneficiary immediately upon your death. Similarly, any jointly-owned property will pass to the surviving owner. The probate estate consists of everything left over after these compulsory transfers occur.

Contact an Atlanta Estate Planning Attorney at Trace Brooks Law today to discuss your options and determine how probate might affect your estate.

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