The aftermath of a loved one’s death is a period of time that is filled with grief and sorrow. Unfortunately, many family members are also faced with the burden of the probate process as the decedent’s estate goes through a court-supervised period in which assets are identified, debts are settled, and inheritances are distributed to surviving heirs. For most people, the last thing they want to do in the midst of their grieving period is deal with issues related to their loved one’s estate and last wishes. Many Georgia residents try to alleviate the added stress that this can cause by relying on an Atlanta probate lawyer for their probate needs.
What is Probate?
It’s important to understand why probate is necessary for such a large portion of estates. Probate is the legal process that provides a court-supervised settlement of many decedents’ estates. The process provides a clear step-by-step system to enable the executor of a will to gather all of the decedent’s assets and secure their value, so that creditor debts can be identified, evaluated for merit, and paid before the deceased’s last wishes are carried out by distributing everything to his heirs.
Of course, this process is only used to deal with assets that have no other way of transferring ownership. For example, properties that are owned through joint tenancy can avoid probate, because the assets pass directly to surviving tenants when one of the owners dies. The same holds true for transfer-on-death accounts, as the bank account is passed on to the designated beneficiary when the account holder dies. Other examples of ownership transfers that can avoid probate include life insurance beneficiary designations and trusts. Assets that cannot be transferred using those types of methods, however, end up being subject to probate.
Why You May Need Assistance
You might be wondering why you would ever need a probate lawyer, since there is a process in place to handle probate matters. The answer is simple: probate can be a simple process in many instances, but it can sometimes be extremely complex. In some cases, disgruntled heirs may decide to challenge a will in an attempt to have it declared invalid. In other instances, named executors find that they need assistance dealing with legal and financial issues related to the probate process. Sometimes executors just want to work with an attorney to ensure that their own personal interests are protected from liability related to possible errors that they might otherwise make.
Sometimes, the issues involved can be as simple as an heir refusing to cooperate with an executor, or challenging his or her decisions. Or perhaps you are the one who feels that your loved one’s Last Will and Testament should be declared invalid. Maybe you have evidence that demonstrates that the decedent was coerced into making certain decisions about the dispensation of his assets, or that he lacked the mental capacity to make any decisions related to the estate. If you have suspicions or evidence of any of those things, you need the advice and assistance of a competent probate attorney before you pursue matters any further.
Finally, a probate attorney can be invaluable when you’re called upon to deal with probate matters in Georgia, but live in another state. In that instance, an attorney can help to ensure that your interests are secured without you taking up residence in the state for any extended period of time.
Help for Executors
If you’re a named executor, you should consider retaining an attorney to guide you through the probate process and assist with some of the most common but time-consuming tasks. Your lawyer can help you to track down assets and get them appraised and secured, notify both creditors and beneficiaries, review debts and ensure that they are promptly paid, and interpret the deceased’s last wishes as reflected in the will.
He or she can also offer important advice to help you meet your fiduciary responsibility to the estate while protecting yourself against the personal liability that could attach to you if you make mistakes. Like a trustee, you are charged with ensuring that the estate assets retain their value, and you are expected to protect them against foreseeable loss. In some cases, you may have assets in your care that need to be properly invested to allow them to grow in value. Any mistakes in this area could be costly.
An attorney can also assist with the drafting of court filings, organizational concerns, and the retention of specialized services for things like appraisals, taxation concerns, and property liquidation. While you could try to do all of these things yourself, it’s likely that your busy schedule and outside responsibilities will prevent you from handling everything on your own.
Help for Beneficiaries
As helpful as attorneys can be for estate executors, they can be equally useful to the beneficiaries of any will. If you’re a named beneficiary and suspect that you’re somehow being denied your due inheritance, there is really only one option: contest the will. Unfortunately, will challenges are difficult to win, and even more difficult without legal aid. You’ll need to demonstrate that the decedent was incompetent, unduly influenced, or fraudulently tricked into signing the will. Those are difficult allegations to prove, so you should consult with an attorney to evaluate the merits of any case prior to bringing a formal challenge.
Get the Right Probate Attorney
It’s not enough to simply retain an attorney. To accomplish your probate goals, you need to have the best Atlanta probate lawyer you can find. At Fouts Law Group, LLC, our team will work with you to handle all your probate concerns in a way that protects your interests while honoring the memory and legacy of your loved one. If you’d like to learn more about how our commitment to probate excellence can help to simplify the process for you and your loved ones, then contact us online or give us a call at (678) 242-8344 today.
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