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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 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 Planning: Everybody Needs a Will

I’ve been an Atlanta estate planning lawyer for several years, and on a regular basis I get new calls from people seeking help with an estate of a loved one who died intestate (i.e., without a Will).  Those calls usually begin with the caller complaining that the decedent made no Will.  Having represented dozens of clients dealing with intestate estates, I am immediately sympathetic. I can still help the caller but know from the start the process will be more complicated than it needed to be. Rocket Lawyer, an online legal service provider, found in a recent estate planning survey that 61% of Americans do not have a Last Will and Testament. Even worse, that number climbs to 70% for people with children under 18 years old.  Failing to make a Will, especially for people in the latter category, will subject your estate to unnecessary difficulty and, in some cases, utter calamity through family infighting, incompetent estate administration, and litigation. People have myriad reasons to not make a Will: I’m young. I don’t have kids. I don’t own enough stuff. I’m not sick. I don’t want to think about death. The law will take care of it. All of the… [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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