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Atlanta Probate Lawyer: S-Town as an Example of the Importance of Making a Will

As an Atlanta probate lawyer, I am very familiar with the consequences that can follow when a person dies intestate (i.e., without a will). The process of divvying up assets without a will to guide the process can become long, messy, and painful. A culturally relevant example of the unfortunate consequences of not preparing a will is the very popular podcast S-Town. S-Town follows the story of John B. McLemore, a resident of a small town in Alabama who owned acres upon acres of land, cared for his mother with dementia, and was rumored to have a large sum of money to his name in the form of gold bars. Following the death of McLemore by suicide, and the realization that McLemore had no will, his assets (and what was to become of his mother) were up in the air. During his life, he had verbally promised gold, money, property, etc. to friends. But without a will, these promises were not legally binding. S-Town explores the difficulties experienced by both the distant family members and McLemore’s friends in probating the estate without a will to guide the court. Although not every estate’s tale is quite so dramatic, it is important to have a… [Read More]

Atlanta Probate Attorney: Guess Who Gets Assets When There Is No Will

As an Atlanta probate lawyer, I am always representing clients who must administer an estate without a Will.  In Georgia, when a person dies without a Will (i.e., dies intestate), the state legislature has decided how her estate will be divided.  The legislature passed a statute that identifies the heirs-at-law of an intestate decedent and the amount each heir-at-law is entitled to.  The following persons are entitled to a share of the intestate decedent’s estate in the following shares: If the decedent was married without children: entire estate to spouse. If the decedent was married with children: estate divided evenly among spouse and children*, except that spouse receives no less than 1/3.  To illustrate, if the decedent was married and had one child, the spouse and child each would receive 1/2 of the estate, but if the decedent was married and had three children, the spouse would receive 1/3 of the estate, and the three children would split the remaining 2/3 of the estate. If the decedent had children but was not married (was either single, divorced, or widowed): estate divided equally among children. If the decedent was not married and had no children: estate divided among living parents. If… [Read More]

Georgia Probate Attorney: Understanding Probate vs. Administration

In my experience as a Georgia probate attorney, I’ve noticed many people are confused by the terms “probate” and “administration” because they often are used interchangeably, even by legal professionals, but their meanings are different.  The reason for the confusion likely is caused by the two most common methods for opening an estate: (1) a petition to probate a Will and (2) a petition for letters of administration.  Both petitions result in the appointment of a person to manage an estate, but they are very different in nature. Probate is the process by which a Last Will and Testament is proved to the probate court.  When a deceased person leaves a Will, an interested party usually will file a petition to probate the Will in the probate court in the county where the deceased resided at the time of death.  Typically, the person nominated as executor in the Will does this. The petition to probate the Will is actually a request made to the court to declare the Will valid.  Before the court will do so, it will notify all heirs-at-law of the deceased that the petition has been filed so that the heirs-at-law have an opportunity to review and… [Read More]

Georgia Administrators and Annual Returns – What’s in a Waiver? Part II

A Georgia estate attorney naturally is asked a lot of questions about the obligations of personal representatives.  In my previous blog post, I addressed the personal representative’s obligation to file an inventory and annual returns with the probate court, the ability of the heirs or a Will to waive those obligations, and the confusion created by the applicable Georgia statutes.  In this part, I explain that, despite waivers in a Will or by the heirs, the personal representative is almost always obligated to report to the heirs at least annually. As I wrote in my previous post, O.C.G.A. § 53-7-68 and 53-7-69 provide for a waiver of the personal representative’s requirement to provide annual returns to either the heirs or the court, or both.  I also noted there that similar statutes apply to inventories but may actually waive the inventory obligation entirely.  Therefore, it is possible for a personal representative to avoid the obligation of providing any information to the heirs.  But as a practical matter, I rarely see a Will waive an executor’s obligation to report to the heirs, and I never see heirs waive the same.  The language of a waiver in a Will is almost always restricted… [Read More]

Georgia Administrators and Annual Returns – What’s in a Waiver? Part I

As an Atlanta estate lawyer, I get a lot of calls from heirs complaining that the personal representative (a.k.a. executor or administrator) refuses to disclose any information to them. Usually, the caller is unaware that the law in Georgia is very lenient on executors and administrators with respect to their duty to report.  By default an executor and administrator is required to file an inventory with the probate court within 6 months of her appointment and an annual return not later than 60 days after the first anniversary of the appointment, and then annually thereafter until the estate is closed. It’s difficult enough for an heir to have to wait an entire year to receive a report on an estate.  Still, each individual heir can waive his right to receive a copy of the inventory and return, and all of the heirs can consent unanimously to the waiver of the personal representative’s obligation to file an inventory and returns with the court at any time.  It’s surprising to me how often heirs do this.  Also, a Will can relieve the executor from the inventory and return filing obligations regardless of what the heirs wish to happen. When this happens, the… [Read More]

Georgia Estate Attorney on Home with Mortgage: Sell It or Scrap it?

As an Atlanta probate lawyer, I’ve dealt with dozens of Georgia estates that include a home with a mortgage on it. How to handle the home and mortgage in Georgia can be difficult to determine, especially if the mortgage loan balance is close to the value of the home. The following is a basic guide to follow, though I urge any person facing this question to contact a Georgia estate attorney before following through on any decisions as each situation has specific facts that may not fit neatly into any of the scenarios below. Also, the guide below only takes into consideration financial considerations of the estate and heirs, not any sentimental attachments that an heir may to a home, which should be taken into consideration when determining how to proceed. If a Georgia estate holds a home in good condition with a mortgage, and the mortgage loan is significantly less than the fair market value (“FMV”) of the home (by at least 10%), it usually is best to continue to make payments on the mortgage and plan on either distributing the home to the heirs or selling the home directly from the estate as quickly as possible to relieve… [Read More]

Georgia Probate: What Does That Mean?

In Georgia, probate means the proving of a Last Will and Testament by a court of law.  When a person who has made a Will (a.k.a. testator) dies as a resident of a county in Georgia, his Will must be presented to the court and proved to be valid.  Once a Will is “admitted to probate,” or proved, the probate process is completed.  The next steps are the appointment of the executor nominated in the Will and then administration of the estate of the testator according to the terms of the Will.  The term probate no longer has any practical relevance once the Will is proved. A probate court in Georgia handles a variety of matters in addition to the probate of Wills.  It oversees the administration of both testate and intestate estates, the appointment and removal of personal representatives of estates (a.k.a. executors and administrators), claims made against personal representatives, guardianship and conservatorship matters, marriage licenses and wedding ceremonies, and weapons carry licenses. If you are having any problems with an estate or other matter before a probate court in Georgia, email me or call me at 404-467-8611 to find out how we can help you.  Our firm is located… [Read More]

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