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What Happens to Assets That Are Not Included in the Will in Georgia?

Posted by Joel Beck | Mar 15, 2024 | 0 Comments

At Peach State Wills & Trusts, our commitment to comprehensive estate planning extends to addressing what happens to assets not explicitly included in the will. Understanding the fate of such assets is crucial for ensuring a seamless distribution process. Learn more about the nuances of unmentioned assets and how they are managed below.


Unspecified Assets and Georgia Probate Laws

Unspecified assets refer to the property or assets of a deceased person (testator) that have not been explicitly mentioned or allocated to a beneficiary in their will. In the context of Georgia probate laws, how these unspecified assets are handled can significantly impact the distribution of the estate. Like many jurisdictions, Georgia law recognizes the importance of a residuary clause in a will. A residuary clause is a provision that addresses the distribution of assets and property that are not explicitly mentioned elsewhere in the will. Essentially, it serves as a catch-all section, ensuring that any probate assets not individually allocated by the will are still distributed according to the testator's overall intentions rather than being left to default state laws governing intestate succession (the process used when someone dies without a will, or for assets not covered by a will).

In cases where the Will includes a well-drafted residuary clause, most, if not all, unspecified assets will be distributed according to the terms outlined in that clause. This means that these assets will not be subject to intestate succession laws, which would otherwise dictate how assets are distributed without a will or without specific instructions within a will. Instead, the residuary clause provides a mechanism for these assets to be included in the estate's overall distribution plan, ensuring they are allocated consistently with the testator's wishes as expressed in the will. As you might imagine, a residuary clause is something that absolutely should be contained within a well written will. 


The Role of Beneficiary Designations

Assets such as life insurance policies, retirement accounts, other investment accounts and bank accounts provide a unique opportunity for individuals to specify beneficiaries, allowing those assets to pass to the designated beneficiaries outside of the will. This intentional designation allows for a streamlined transfer of these assets, avoiding the complexities and delays associated with the probate process.  Depending on a person's wishes, as well as the age and maturity of their loved ones, beneficiary designations on such accounts might be a good idea. 


Understanding Beneficiary Designations in Georgia

  • Life Insurance Policies: When you purchase a life insurance policy, you can designate one or more beneficiaries who will receive the death benefit upon your passing. This direct assignment ensures that the funds are swiftly disbursed to the intended recipients without being subject to probate.

  • Retirement Accounts (IRAs, 401(k)s): Retirement accounts often allow for the naming of beneficiaries. Whether it's an individual retirement account (IRA) or a 401(k), specifying beneficiaries ensures that the account assets seamlessly transfer to the chosen individuals, avoiding the probate process altogether.

  • Bank and Investment Accounts: Many bank and investment accounts offer the possibility of designating beneficiaries. By doing so, the account assets can be directly transferred to the named individuals upon the account holder's death. This expedites the transfer process and provides the beneficiaries with timely access to the funds.


Benefits of Beneficiary Designations

  • Efficiency and Speed: One of the primary advantages of beneficiary designations is the expedited transfer of assets. Since these assets bypass probate, beneficiaries typically receive the funds faster than if they were part of the probate estate. This can be crucial for providing immediate financial support to loved ones.

  • Privacy and Confidentiality: Probate proceedings are a matter of public record, meaning that the details of asset distribution become accessible to the public. By utilizing beneficiary designations, individuals can maintain a level of privacy, as the transfer occurs outside the probate process and remains confidential.

  • Flexibility in Designations: Beneficiary designations offer flexibility in choosing recipients. Individuals can name specific family members, friends, or even charitable organizations as beneficiaries. This flexibility allows for a more tailored and personalized approach to asset distribution.


While there are possible benefits of using beneficiary designations, it may not be appropriate in every situation. We recommend that beneficiary designations be made very intentionally to ensure proper coordination with your overall estate plan. You must take into account not only your wishes, but also the ability of a beneficiary to receive and manage such assets outright; in some situations leaving assets to a beneficiary outright may be unwise for a variety of reasons. 


Jointly Owned Property and Right of Survivorship

Assets owned jointly with rights of survivorship automatically pass to the surviving owner(s) outside of probate. Real estate, bank accounts, or other properties held jointly will not be subject to the distribution process outlined in the will.

While this can be attractive, it can also come with unintended consequences. For example, adding a child to a property deed to avoid probate may result in significantly higher capital gains taxes, as well as exposing your property to the creditors and unsatisfied court judgments against your child. Before adding someone as a joint owner of assets, evaluate your options and make informed decisions after consultation with an experienced estate planning attorney. 


Planning for Unmentioned Assets

To avoid uncertainties and ensure your assets are distributed according to your desires, comprehensive estate planning is essential. Here are steps to consider:

  • Regularly Review and Update Your Will: Life circumstances change, and so should your will. Regularly review and update your will to reflect changes in assets, relationships, or preferences.

  • Consider a Living Trust: A living trust allows for the seamless transfer of assets without the need for probate. It provides more flexibility and control over asset distribution.

  • Update Beneficiary Designations: Keep beneficiary designations up to date, especially after major life events such as marriage, divorce, or the birth of children.

  • Consult With an Experienced Estate Planning Lawyer: Seeking guidance from an estate planning lawyer can ensure your plan aligns with Georgia laws and minimizes the potential for disputes.

By taking these proactive steps, you can ensure that assets not explicitly mentioned in your will are managed according to your wishes.

Peach State Wills & Trusts - Your Trusted Estate Planning Partner in Georgia

At Peach State Wills & Trusts, we understand the intricacies of estate planning in Georgia. Our dedicated team is here to assist you in navigating the complexities of asset distribution and ensuring your estate plan reflects your unique circumstances.

Contact Peach State Wills & Trusts at 678-344-5342 or online to learn how to plan for the distribution of all your assets in Georgia today. If you have any questions about estate planning in Georgia, you can download our free guide here, no strings attached. We're committed to providing friendly, professional, and approachable legal services to help you with all your estate planning needs.

About the Author

Joel Beck

Joel Beck founded The Beck Law Firm, LLC in 2007. His firm focused on business law and estate planning needs of clients, two areas that he was drawn to based upon personal and business experiences in his life, including a ten-year career at NASD (now known as FINRA).


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