Probate is a process that validates a will and appoints an estate executor or administrator who settles estate debts and distributes assets to heirs and beneficiaries. Understanding the Georgia probate process makes it easier to create an effective estate plan.
Settling an estate
Whether there is a will or not, someone must settle the estate. If there is a will, the court appoints the named executor as the estate’s representative. The court also appoints someone to represent the estate if there is no will. In either case, the following steps proceed according to Georgia law:
- Representative receives Letters of Testamentary, which grants them authority to act on behalf of the estate to sell property, pay bills, close accounts and distribute assets.
- Representative inventories all the estate’s property and appraises it if necessary.
- Representative pays creditors and files tax returns.
- Representative publishes a death notice in the local newspaper. Creditors have three months to make a claim.
- Representative distributes assets after paying all the debts. After that, they file the paperwork to close the estate.
This entire process may take a year or more to complete, depending on the complexity of the estate. Georgia has no settlement deadline that the representative must meet.
Probate when there is a will
If the decedent dies with a will, the executor distributes assets according to the will’s directives. If someone challenges the document, it is the executor’s responsibility to obtain legal counsel, reply to the official complaint, produce witnesses to the signing and procure physicians’ reports regarding the physical and mental health of the deceased.
Probate when there’s no will
The probate process is not as straightforward if the individual dies without leaving a will. The court will appoint the surviving spouse or sole heir as the administrator. If neither of them wants to do it, the heirs choose someone, pending court approval.
If there are no living heirs, Georgia receives the assets. Otherwise, the court follows strict inheritance rules to distribute the assets.
Wills and probate issues can take time to resolve. Georgia law allows an heir to request permission for an estate to skip the probate process when there is no will. The court permits this if all the heirs agree, present a written disbursement plan and receive approval from the remaining creditors.
Settling an estate is much easier if there is a will. Take some time and document your wishes to avoid complications after your passing.