Probate is the legal process of estate administration that takes place when a person, called the decedent, passes away. The administration of probate settles the debts and taxes of the decedent’s estate and distributes designated inheritance and gifts.
With or without a will, probate will take place unless there are exceptions regarding the size of the estate or other factors determined by state law. Georgia probate laws allow family members to expedite the process of closing an estate valued at less than $10,000 by filing a small estate affidavit.
Georgia law also allows heirs to request that an estate not go through probate where there is no will if they can agree upon the division of assets, as well as the payment of outstanding debts.
The probate process
Probate in Georgia generally can take eight months to a year. If the estate is testate, or there is a will, the designated personal representative (PR) will file a request for appointment by the court in which the decedent resided. If it is intestate, or has no will, the court will appoint an administrator, who will function in the same capacity. The PR may have to post bond in order to serve in this function.
When the PR or administrator is sworn in, the court issues Letters Documentary, which gives them the authority to take inventory on the estate and appraise the assets, manage the repayment of debts as necessary and distribute remaining assets before closing the estate.
There are many estate planning tools available to help individuals to minimize the time and expense of probate administration. An experienced Georgia estate law attorney can help guide you through options for avoiding or minimizing probate.
Some estate-planning steps individuals can take include:
- Setting up a trust in which you are the named beneficiary, which allows you to have access to your assets and your estate to avoid probate administration in the future
- Joint ownership of property such as the family home, investments and bank accounts, which will transfer these assets usually to a surviving spouse
- Beneficiary designations on life insurance policies, annuities or retirement accounts that will funnel assets out of the estate upon death and directly to the beneficiaries
- Setting up an irrevocable or revocable living trust in which the trust is the beneficiary
Finding the best plan that suits the individual’s needs and those of their loved ones is an essential part of comprehensive estate planning. Starting early will give you and your family peace of mind in the future.