Georgia inheritance law governs who is considered an heir, how assets are passed down when someone dies, and much more. Learn everything you need to know with our complete guide.
What is Georgia Inheritance Law?
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In the state of Georgia, inheritance law is the body of law that determines the distribution of property when a person dies. This type of law dictates which survivors of the deceased individual will acquire the deceased’s property and the way by which it is distributed.
Whether you’re an heir of somebody who passed away without a will or a trust, or you’ve been named as a beneficiary or executor in a will or a trust, or you’re making end-of-life plans for yourself or a loved one, understanding Georgia’s inheritance laws is vital to protecting your rights and making informed choices. Here, the experts at The Law Office of Paul Black guide you through everything you need to know about Georgia inheritance law.
Basics of Inheritance Laws in Georgia
Inheritance laws in Georgia can be divided into two main subsections: testate and intestate. While both involve the allocation of assets following a person’s death, they differ in whether the decedent left a valid will behind and the way the assets are distributed.
The inheritance process for Georgia residents who pass away with a valid will is considered “testate.” To be considered valid, a Georgia will must have been signed by the decedent and two additional witnesses. These witnesses can not be just anybody — they must be familiar with the property within the will. If these requirements are met, the court will usually follow the decedent’s exact wishes as outlined in their will.
In a valid will, an executor is chosen to handle the distribution of the estate’s assets property to beneficiaries. Once a judge approves the executor, they are accountable for dealing with any of the estate’s matters, including its debts and liabilities, as well as the will’s submission to GA probate court.
What Is Probate?
Georgia probate is the legal process by which inheritance is identified and carried out. Under probate law in Georgia, either solemn form probate or common form probate may apply. For solemn form probate, every possible beneficiary must be notified and issued an official copy of the will. Common form probate removes this requirement, though possible beneficiaries may initiate a request to obtain a copy of the will.
Common form probate is the preferred probate method when there are no problems with the will. If it is believed that a party is looking to contest it, solemn form probate may be a better fit. When this happens, the court will choose a final date by which anybody who wishes to object to the will is required to take action. Common form probate also allows parties to object to the will as long as it’s done within four years of the proceedings.
If a person dies without a will, and the estate goes through Georgia probate, there are three possible proceedings. Permanent Administration requires that all heirs must receive a notice and that the spouse becomes the administration of the estate unless he or she declines or is disqualified.
With Temporary Administration, notice to heirs is not required, but they may choose an administration of the estate. Expenditures or disbursements of any kind can’t be made without a court order.
If the estate’s debts are paid, and heirs agree regarding the distribution of the estate’s property and assets, then the No Administration Necessary form of Georgia probate is used.
Georgia Inheritance Laws When There Isn’t a Will
The term “intestate” describes when a person dies without a valid will. This does not mean that the decedent’s property will go uninherited, however. To handle the inheritance of intestate decedents, Georgia has instituted its intestate succession laws. Under these laws, the court must search for any possible relative who may be eligible to inherit the estate.
If someone dies without a valid will, the court will determine how their assets will be dispersed. Priority is given to the surviving spouse and/or children. In the absence of a surviving spouse or living child, other family members will be considered, including grandchildren, parents, siblings, nieces and nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews, grandparents, and aunts and uncles, in that order.
The Georgia probate court does not handle the management of the estate itself, so an executor will need to be selected. Given that there is no will, the court will pick an executor who is close to or part of the family and is mentally competent.
It’s important to keep in mind, however, that you can usually prevent the intestate succession process by simply putting in the time to create a comprehensive will for your estate in accordance with Georgia inheritance laws. If this endeavor seems difficult, our skilled Georgia estate planning lawyers can help guide you through the process.