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Probate Attorney In Lithonia, Georgia

During our many years of practicing family law in Georgia, clients often come to us after a loved one has died with questions about probate, a term you may have heard of but may not fully understand. If you have been named as the personal representative or a beneficiary in a will, E.N. Banks-Ware Law Firm, LLC, can provide you with crucial advice and guidance.

What Is Probate?

Probate is an estate proceeding typically overseen by a probate judge. It’s often for managing an estate holder’s assets and distributing them to their beneficiaries. Although this may seem straightforward, probate can be a daunting and complex legal proceeding, depending on the estate.

Being named a personal representative (often referred to as an executor) is a serious responsibility. In this role, you are considered a fiduciary and can be liable for any mistakes or misdeeds. Moreover, managing a loved one’s estate can become more complex if the will’s validity is questioned. This is why it is critically important to have proper legal representation.

When Is Probate Necessary In Georgia?

Generally, when a decedent dies and has a will, their estate may need to go through probate. However, specific property is excluded from the process, including:

  • Jointly owned property that the decedent’s widow has a right to keep
  • Retirement assets and life insurance policies
  • Property the decedent has in a revocable living trust
  • Any banking or investment accounts that have a “pay on death” designation

However, if there is no will and the estate is worth less than $10,000 (the small estate threshold), any heir can petition the court for an order stating that no administration is necessary. The court will grant the request if all the heirs agree on dividing the assets and no debts or creditors raise objections.

How Probate Typically Works In Dekalb County, Georgia

The probate court oversees and handles probate cases of the county where the decedent lived. The individual named the personal representative typically must fulfill the wishes of the decedent stated in their will and hand out estate assets to the decedent’s beneficiaries.

The first step is to ask the probate court to be appointed. A hearing will be held at which the personal representative will take an oath. The court will then issue “Letters Testamentary,” a legal document that authorizes the personal representative to carry out his or her duties. These duties include:

  • Informing named heirs and beneficiaries in the will
  • Handing out assets to designated heirs and beneficiaries
  • Paying/filing any remaining taxes on the estate
  • Accounting for and determining the value of estate assets
  • Working with creditors to settle remaining estate debts

If there is no will in place, the person is said to have died “intestate.” If the estate exceeds the small estate threshold, one of the heirs must petition the court to become the estate administrator. The court then usually issues Letters of Administration and opens the proceeding. The duties of an estate administrator are similar to those of a personal representative. The main difference is that the estate administrator must adhere to Georgia’s intestacy rules rather than the individual wishes of the decedent. This typically means that the administrator must distribute assets to the decedent’s next of kin, including their spouse, children, siblings, or even their parents. This can all depend on the decedents, as well as their families’ legal circumstances.

How Long Does Probate Take? What Does It Typically Cost?

The amount of time and money that probate can take depends on multiple factors, such as the size of the estate and the assets included in it. Generally, probating a will in Georgia can take between 8 months and 1 year unless the estate consists of real estate that must be sold, which can prolong the process. In addition, the costs associated with probate include executor fees, legal fees, promises to pay any debts, and valuation expenses.

Do People Ever Challenge Wills In Court?

Sometimes, beneficiaries or others may challenge the validity of a will, which can lead to disputes that can result in estate litigation. This is also known as a will contest. Because a will contest can result in a protracted legal battle, It’s often better for parties to reach a negotiated settlement.

Contact Our Lithonia Probate And Estate Administration Counsel

Taking on the role of a personal representative is a significant responsibility, especially while you’re grieving the loss of a loved one. Moreover, administering an estate when there is no will can pose challenges. Attorney Banks-Ware can help lift those burdens by patiently guiding you through probate’s ups, downs, challenges and obstacles.

Well-versed in the state’s probate laws and the rules of procedure in probate court, she will take the time to explain the process, assist you with administering the estate, and make sure your interests are protected. Attorney E. Noreen Banks-Ware also works with beneficiaries and heirs to protect their inheritance rights.

Knowing that many individuals have never encountered the legal system, she will stand by you every step, offering you the knowledge, compassion, and practical advice you need. Please get in touch with the office today to discuss your situation.