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Atlanta Probate Lawyer: Will Your Assets be Distributed to Your Intended Beneficiary?

As an Atlanta probate attorney, I have had many clients who were left confused and frustrated by the probate process because of the deceased’s misunderstanding about which of their assets would pass through probate and which were bound to other routes of distribution. This can be particularly confusing in the case of bank accounts, life insurance accounts and retirement accounts. There are many different kinds of accounts, with many different kinds of beneficiary arrangements, some of which supersede the arrangements laid out in a will. It is important to understand these different beneficiary arrangements when making your estate plan so that your assets can be distributed as intended. Some fiduciary institutions and insurance companies require a beneficiary designation. This specifies who will receive assets like retirement accounts or life insurance proceeds, which are not bound by wills or trusts. Some accounts will readily allow you to designate any beneficiary you choose, while other accounts require a few more hoops be jumped through if you would like to designate someone other than your spouse as beneficiary. Be sure to update your beneficiary information if anything changes in your personal life (i.e., if you get divorced or have children). Otherwise, your intended… [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]

Atlanta Estate Planning Attorney: Use Special Needs Trust Planning for a Disabled Child

I’ve helped a lot of my clients with planning as an Atlanta estate and trust attorney, including planning for the needs of disabled children, both minors and adults.  Most recently, I helped an 85 year old mother prepare a Last Will and Testament that provided for her son who was disabled by a stroke and expects to qualify for Social Security disability benefits soon.  While my client would like to be able to leave her son in the best care possible, providing such care requires a lot of money that she does not have, and her son, who is only in his 50s, could live many more years and will require support during that entire period at great cost.  The reality is that her son likely will qualify for and receive Medicaid support in the near future in addition to his SSDI. While those government benefits do not add up to a lot of monthly income, they help.  Further, Medicaid will cover the entire cost of the son’s stay in a nursing home if that becomes necessary.  Therefore, preserving those benefits for him will be important.  The problem is that, if my client leaves an inheritance directly to her son,… [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 Guardianship Attorney: Plan for Dementia-Related Incapacity

As part of my Atlanta guardianship law practice, I have represented several clients in guardianship actions seeking to be appointed guardians of a parent, spouse, or other relative with a dementia-related disease.  In most instances, the proposed ward had either been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or exhibited many symptoms of the disease.  I am reminded with each client how important it is for everyone to have an estate plan in place that includes, at a minimum, a Last Will and Testament, financial power of attorney, and Georgia Advanced Directive for Healthcare.  Having these three documents may save you and your family not only from problems that might arise after you die but also from problems that arise due to your incapacitation, whether by a dementia-related disease or otherwise.  But for this post I focus on the growing prevalence of dementia-related diseases, and especially Alzheimer’s disease, because it is these types of diseases people least expect but are, year after year, more likely to have as they get older. Over the last decade, the prevalence of dementia-related diseases has grown among the elderly, and Alzheimer’s disease is leading the pack.  The Alzheimer’s Association provides a remarkable and worrying fact sheet at… [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 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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