After your death, family members will typically need to go through a process called probate to settle your estate. Going through probate is the last thing anyone wants to deal with when they're grieving, but you can make this process a bit easier for loved ones by having a will.
What is probate in Georgia, and how does it work? We aim to help demystify the process so you can plan for the future.
Probate With a Will
You may think that you can help your family avoid probate court by drawing up a will. That's not true, as wills by their very nature are probate instruments. If there are assets in your name that need to pass through your will, that will happen in the probate process, but having a well-drafted and current will does make the process easier. And, of course, it lets your wishes be known and followed.
Probate starts with the will being filed with the court, and someone you've named in your will being appointed as your executor. Think of an executor as your personal representative. They're responsible for collecting your assets, paying your bills, and then distributing your assets, so choose your executor wisely.
The court will look over your will to make sure it's valid under Georgia law. During probate proceedings, heirs may try to contest your will asserting that it was made while you were under duress, or you were defrauded into making it, or that you lacked capacity to make a will, meaning you did not understand what you were doing. But if your will is determined to be valid by the court, the executor distributes your assets per your wishes after your bills have been paid.
Probate Without a Will
How does probate in Georgia work if you don't have a will?
It's a common fear that if you die without a will, your assets will go to the state. But this isn't true unless you have no heirs.
If you die with no will, Georgia says you've passed away intestate. In this case, the probate court appoints an administrator whose role is similar to that of an executor.
The administrator distributes your assets according to Georgia intestacy laws after paying your bills. Usually, the court will split your estate equally between your surviving spouse and children, provided the spouse gets at least 1/3 of the probate estate.
If you're unmarried and have no kids, your estate may go to your parents, siblings, or grandparents. And if none of those have survived, we look then to determine who you closest living relatives are based under state law. Only if the administrator can't find any heirs at all, would there be a situation where your assets would pass to the state.
This is why it's so important to make a will before you pass away. Without one, you'll have no control over asset distribution or who is in charge of settling your estate. If you intend to leave assets to a friend or someone else who's not related to you, contact an estate planning lawyer to create your will as soon as you can, as those persons would never inherit from you without a will.
When to Hire an Estate Planning Lawyer
Do you have more questions about estate planning and probate in Georgia? We understand. Probate is often a complicated and messy process for loved ones, but it doesn't have to be that way, and it is made much simpler, or even avoided all together, with estate planning tools that experienced estate planning attorneys can prepare for you.
If you'd like help creating a will or need some advice on the probate process, call Peach State Wills & Trusts at (678) 344-5342 today.