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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]

Georgia Estate Planning Attorney: Wills on the Cheap Cost More in the End

I’ve been an Atlanta estate planning and probate attorney for several years and am often entertained and sometimes shocked by some attempts people make to prepare their own Last Will and Testament either on their own or through an automated service like LegalZoom.com.  I used to support companies like LegalZoom because I thought the documents they produced were foolproof, but I changed my mind after seeing what was supposed to be an easy process mangled either through the computer application or upon the execution of of the documents.  I certainly sympathize with the customer concerned with costs and don’t blame LegalZoom for grabbing hold of a market niche, but too often the result is far from what the customer intended.  (I’ve represented a lot of individuals in the past in business disputes resulting from the same problem: business partners too cheap to spend a few thousand dollars on a consult and some documents to protect their business and themselves from unknown legal risks.  As a result, the partners often end up spending tens of thousands in litigation.) I’ve seen poorly drafted Wills make bequests to persons whom the testators had no intention of leaving property (at the cost of those… [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 Probate Attorney: Think Before You Sign the Acknowledgment of Service and Assent to Probate Instanter

I’ve been practicing as a Georgia probate lawyer for several years, so I get a lot of the same questions on a regular basis.  One question callers often ask is whether they should sign a petition that was sent to them by someone trying to probate a Will.  The question used to throw me for a loop.  “Only the person trying to probate the Will should sign the petition,” I’d say.  “Not a beneficiary.”  But as my experience has grown, I’ve learned to know exactly what the caller means.  She is referring to the Acknowledgment of Service and Assent to Probate Instanter form. When a deceased person leaves a Last Will and Testament, 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.  Often, the petitioner will provide a copy of the petition along with the Will to the heirs-at-law of the deceased and ask them to sign a form entitled Acknowledgment of Service and Assent to Probate Instanter.  If all heirs-at-law sign the form, and there are no other issues… [Read More]

Georgia Will Contest: Is It Worth It?

I get a lot of calls from people in Georgia, all over the United States, and sometimes abroad interested in contesting a will. Invariably, the first question they ask is whether they have a case? For an in-depth answer, please review the Will Contests page of this website. You may also find will contest article published at AARP.org helpful, not just because it provides an overview of when a will contest may be appropriate but also because it poses an important question: is the cost of a will contest worthwhile? There are several factors to consider when determining the value of a will contest? Most importantly, the case must have a good chance of success. This usually means a set of facts known from the outset that make it more likely than not that the will is invalid. However, the strength of a will contest must be analyzed from a legal perspective, not a moral or ethical perspective. I get plenty of calls from people who desire to contest a will because they do not like the contents of the will but have no legal basis to overturn the will. I also get a lot of calls from people who claim… [Read More]

Georgia Estate Dispute: Avoid One with Communication

What should you do when there is trouble brewing in your family regarding an estate matter in Georgia? Should you stay quiet and hope the dispute never erupts? Should you head off a dispute by telling everyone else how things ought to be done.  The New York Times recently published a Q&A with Sheila Heen (“Negotiating Conflicts, Part 5: A Tug of Wills“). Ms. Heen is a negotiations and communications expert and faculty member at Harvard Law School, that emphasizes one major theme: communicate your concerns before it is too late. Estates  are uncomfortable topics. To most, asking a parent about his estate probably seems cynical and self-serving. Even close siblings often have a difficult time discussing with each other what to do about their parents’ estates (who should do what, who should get what, etc.). However, failing to address valid concerns sooner may cost the family time and money fighting over those concerns later. There are a variety of smart, healthy ways to break the ice on such a difficult topic. If you are concerned about how things will play out in your family, don’t be afraid to let someone know. If you are too uncomfortable to say something… [Read More]

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