When a loved one passes away, it can have profound impacts on you and your family. Coping with the emotional aftermath of the event can be especially challenging when you also have to handle the legal implications that follow. Probate, a Georgia court process that may have to occur before you and your family can inherit your loved one’s possessions, can be a complex. It typically requires a great deal of effort to navigate correctly, so it is important that you’re aware of what the process entails in order to eliminate the element of surprise and avoid making costly mistakes.
Below are 10 things you should know about probate after a death in the family:
- The Decedent’s Will Plays A Key Role In The Process
When a decedent passes away, a will and other supporting documentation (such as the death certificate and more) must be filed with the probate court. Typically, the executor of the will is responsible for this. The executor’s role is to carry out the many steps of probate (which include inventorying the assets and distributing them to beneficiaries). The court will ultimately determine if the will is valid, and will appoint an executor if there isn’t one. If there isn’t a will involved, probate will still have to occur, but Georgia’s intestate laws will direct the process rather than the decedent’s wishes.
- Even With A Will, Probate May Still Be Necessary
A lot of people often think that a will is all they need to have in order to make sure their possessions go to the right people when they die. Unfortunately, a will alone isn’t enough to avoid the process; your loved one’s assets will likely still have to undergo probate even if they made a legal will. However, if the decedent didn’t leave a will, and the heirs agree on how to divvy up the decedent’s assets, and there are no outstanding debts or creditors objecting to the lack of a probate proceeding, the courts can grant a request to skip probate.
- Not All Assets Have To Go Through Probate
In Georgia, joint tenancy is when two people (typically a married couple) share ownership of property or other assets. They own equal shares of the property, so in the event that one partner passes away, the other partner or spouse automatically assumes ownership of the other’s half. This eliminates the need for such assets to through probate court, as the surviving partner now has sole ownership. If your loved one owned any assets in joint tenancy, probate won’t need to occur for those assets. There are also certain accounts, such as life insurance accounts with designated beneficiaries, that will likely not have to pass through probate.
- An Executor Can Be Compensated For Their Time & Efforts
In Georgia, and many other states, executors may be entitled to compensation for their services. In fact, many estate planning attorneys encourage their clients to use their will to set aside money for whoever will take on the role. However, if compensation isn’t specified in a will, Georgia code § 53-6-60, states that personal representatives (also known as executors) have the right to a few different options for compensation. Executors are not required to accept compensation for their time and efforts.
4) There Are Significant Costs To The Probate Process
There is no standard price when it comes to the probate process. Overall, the cost of probate depends on the size of your family member’s estate, the presence of a will or lack thereof, whether or not it is deemed valid by the courts, how many beneficiaries there are who stand to inherit, and additional court fees. However, probate can cost upwards of thousands of dollars. While most of that comes out of the estate itself, the more probate costs, the less you and your other family members will end up inheriting, which is why it is in your best interests to work with a probate lawyer who can minimize expenses and keep the process as efficient as possible!
- Disputes Can, And Likely Will Arise
Losing a family member can be an emotionally charged situation for everyone involved. There might be tension amongst you and your other family members when it is time to start dividing up assets. Unfortunately, distribution is often the part of probate where it’s extremely common for disputes to arise over who gets what, when you should be focusing on properly grieving your loved one. An experienced probate attorney can help mediate conflict or represent you in court if necessary.
- Probate Can Be Lengthy
Because there are so many required steps to probate, the process isn’t usually a quick one. In fact, it typically takes about 8 months to a year to complete the process in Georgia. That’s as long as no court battles arise, and there are no unusual assets or creditor claims that might delay the case. There isn’t a way around the time it takes to get through probate; the fact that it is time-consuming is simply a part of the process, though an attorney can often achieve a speedier resolution than estate executors can achieve on their own!
- Creditors Have To Be Paid Before Beneficiaries/Heirs
If a decedent has debts, creditors must be repaid before anything else can be distributed. Most claims are ordinary bills that executors have the authority to pay. Utility bills, car loans, mortgages, and more are all examples of bills that must be paid using the estate assets. Once these bills are taken care of, and a final tax return is filed, the remaining assets are able to be distributed to beneficiaries and heirs.
- The Process Is Public
Probate is public, so court records are accessible online. While some people are embarrassed by the process, or value privacy, this might not be an issue for you and your family.
- It’s Better To Work With A Skilled Probate Attorney
While you aren’t legally required to work with an attorney to complete probate, it can make the probate process function much more seamlessly, as they have extensive knowledge of probate law that gives them the ability to skillfully guide and advise you throughout the process. They can also protect the interests of everyone involved and assist if disputes or other conflicts arise.
How Fouts Law Group Can Help You
If you’ve recently lost a loved one, we want to first extend our condolences. We know how hard it can be to lose a family member, and how emotionally draining it can be to deal with a complicated legal issue like probate simultaneously. That’s why our lead probate attorney, Jeff Fouts, strives to make difficult times easier by helping you understand the confusing process of probate, and explaining the legal options you have available to you. He has 30 years of experience in estate and probate law, so he’s seen a variety of chaotic probate situations. Regardless of how difficult your circumstances may seem, he can help you get the best possible outcome! Call today to schedule a free consultation and learn more about what he can do to help you.