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Atlanta Probate Attorney: The Trouble with Joint Accounts

In my Georgia probate practice, I have had several clients who were left in an uncomfortable predicament during probate due to the deceased’s use of a type of bank account called a joint account. Joint accounts are accounts with multiple owners, usually two. The money in the account is considered the property of the person who contributed the money to the account. However, each joint owner has unfettered access to the funds in the account, and does not need the knowledge or consent of the other owner to conduct transactions on the account. Upon the death of one joint owner, all the funds in the account become the property of the other joint owner. The funds do not pass through probate, meaning they are not considered part of the decedent’s estate to be distributed among the beneficiaries regardless of the instructions left in the deceased’s will, which is where the trouble with joint accounts typically begins. Other than among spouses, joint accounts are terrible planning tools. It is natural that, upon a person’s death, he or she will want to leave control and ownership of an account to a spouse, and you rarely see litigation against a spouse that was… [Read More]

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 Lawyer: Georgia’s New Uniform Power of Attorney Act

Recently, the Uniform Power of Attorney Act, or UPOAA, passed in Georgia. This act, which becomes effective beginning July 1, 2017, amends the previous law regarding powers of attorney (POAs). The passage of UPOAA in Georgia is a significant step toward protecting elderly or disabled people because it clears up confusing aspects of the previous statutory scheme governing POAs and provides for additional safeguards against elder abuse and financial exploitation by their agents. The Georgia Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association called uniform power of attorney laws “crucial to people with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.” UPOAA not only adds protections for principals- it provides common sense protections for agents and third parties, as well. POAs allow an agent to enter important financial transactions on behalf of a principal, such as buying and selling real estate, opening and closing accounts and paying bills. UPOAA adds protections to prevent an agent from abusing such powers. Prior to UPOAA passage, agents were subject to less harsh penalties and often were never held responsible for their misuse of their power. Sometimes, agents would be charged criminally, and may have been subject to a criminal restitution order, but prosecutors rarely pursued such cases because the amounts taken… [Read More]

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]

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 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]

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