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The Probate Process in Georgia

E. Noreen Banks-Ware Nov. 17, 2021

Probate is a legal process for settling your estate when you pass on. It comes into play whether you leave a will dictating the distribution of your assets or you die intestate, which is legalese for dying without a will or other inheritance documents in place, such as a living trust.

Probate proceedings take place in a court with a judge presiding. If you die with a will that names a personal representative for your estate, that person will then be appointed executor of your estate during probate proceedings. If you pass on intestate, the court will appoint someone to fulfill that role, known as an administrator.

Depending on the size of your estate, probate can take anywhere from eight months to a year or more. In the meantime, your beneficiaries will be facing a waiting game for your assets to be distributed.

If you’re the loved one of someone who has just passed away and you’re facing probate, you probably want to know what it entails and what you can do to help the process conclude successfully and quickly.

E.N. Banks-Ware Law Firm LLC has been helping individuals and families with probate concerns in and around Lithonia, Georgia, including nearby Decatur, Conyers, and Covington, for three decades now. Attorney Noreen Banks-Ware will help you navigate the probate process, whether as a loved one of the deceased or as a personal representative named in the deceased’s will.

Overview of Probate in Georgia

As mentioned briefly above, probate is a mandatory legal process to settle the estate of anyone who dies with or without a will. Estate is a broad term, but for probate purposes, an estate consists of property and assets held solely in the deceased’s name. Property or assets with the right of survivorship and with named beneficiaries are excluded from probate.

For instance, a residence with joint tenancy and the right of survivorship will pass to the joint tenant without the need for probate. Likewise, a life insurance policy or retirement account with a designated beneficiary transfers immediately outside of probate. So does a joint bank account, but a checking or savings account held solely in the deceased’s name would be subject to probate, as would any other personal possessions of value, such as cars, jewelry, artwork, even heirlooms.

However, if the value of the assets totals $10,000 or less, the family or relatives can petition for a probate exemption.

The Probate Process

The executor of the deceased’s estate, whether named in a will or appointed by the probate court, will have to survey and collect all assets. Some assets may have to be sold to satisfy creditors or taxes due, which is pretty much the first order of business – paying off outstanding obligations.

After creditors and tax collectors are satisfied, the executor can then distribute assets according to the will. If there is no will, the court will use a statutory family hierarchy structure to determine who gets what. For example, if there is both a surviving spouse and children, by state law they will share the estate’s assets.

Obstacles can arise during the process, especially if would-be or hopeful beneficiaries challenge the will. This can delay proceedings and may likely necessitate the help of outside counsel if matters get too complicated.

The personal representative takes an oath to conduct all transactions as a person with fiduciary responsibility. Thus, he or she may be required to submit various reports to the court concerning:

  • A detailed inventory of estate assets, showing their estimated market value

  • An annualized accounting statement showing what the estate received and spent

These reports must be provided to heirs and beneficiaries as well. These reports can be skipped if the will so specifies.

The court will get involved as necessary to ensure the dictates of the will are carried out, and if there is no will, that state laws are applied correctly. The court will also verify whether the will is valid and preside over appeals by creditors or heirs about their rights to the estate. It will also have to give final approval before assets are distributed to beneficiaries.

Probate Experience You Can Rely On

Attorney Noreen Banks-Ware has the knowledge, experience, and resources to provide you with solid legal counsel and guidance when it comes to probate court proceedings. This can be vital if you are the personal representative who is confronted with challenges by creditors or heirs or who is feeling overwhelmed by the amount of paperwork and research involved.

If you’re located in or around Lithonia, Georgia, and involved in a probate proceeding, bring your questions and concerns to E.N. Banks-Ware Law Firm LLC.