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.
Author: Paul Black
Paul’s experience as the son of two parents with big health challenges is what led him to the work he does today and gives him first-hand knowledge of the challenges that many caregivers and family members face. After graduation from GSU Law, Paul was chosen from dozens of applicants nationwide as one of three 2010-2011 Borchard Foundation Law & Aging Fellows. / Paul has been named as a SuperLawyers “Rising Star” in the area of Estate Planning and as a member of Georgia’s “Legal Elite” by Georgia Trend magazine. Published on: August 01, 2020. Last updated on: August 20, 2020.
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.
Inheritance Tax in Georgia
A key element of inheritance, estate planning involves detailing the distribution of property following an individual’s death. In many states, an important part of this process is something many individuals do not even consider until they or a member of their family is filing their will or meeting with an estate planning attorney: taxes.
Does Georgia Have an Inheritance Tax?
Inheritance taxes, also known as estate taxes, are the taxes paid on the property left to the heirs of a deceased person. Estate taxes are only mandated in a handful of states, and thankfully, there is no Georgia inheritance tax.
Georgians are only accountable for federally-mandated estate taxes in cases in which the decedent and their beneficiaries live in Georgia. Any deaths that occurred after July 1, 2014 fall under this code.
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.
What Are Surviving Spouse Rights in Georgia?
Georgia has some of the weakest spousal inheritance laws in the country for intestate inheritance cases. Most U.S. states will award the surviving spouse all of the decedent’s estate regardless of whether they have their own children together. This guideline applies to childless marriages in Georgia, but things change substantially when children are involved.
When the decedent is survived by both their spouse and children, his or her estate is shared equally between the spouse and all of their living children. However, a surviving spouse is entitled to a minimum of one-third of the estate despite how it may impact the even property split.
Under Georgia’s intestacy laws, the only circumstance in which children may receive the full estate of their parents is when there is no surviving spouse. In situations where there is one, however, the children may be given up to two-thirds of the decedent’s estate even if the surviving spouse is also their parent.
Things get a bit messier if the decedent did have a valid will. Under Georgia inheritance law, a decedent can disinherit a spouse by intentionally failing to include him or her in their will. Disinherited spouses are entitled to a monetary allowance for one year after the decedent’s death. After that, the estate is not obliged to help him or her in any way.
In addition, intestate succession laws apply only to estate assets that will be inherited by a will. However, there are certain estate assets, such as those that pass to people at death by joint tenancy or beneficiary designation.
For example, these assets include a life insurance policy, property held in a living trust, bank accounts or a real estate property in joint tenancy, and a retirement account. All these estate assets will be subject to intestate succession laws. But, in case a beneficiary is not named in the will, or he or she has died, these assets pass to the decendent’s estate. That means intestate succession laws will, after all, apply.
If you are a surviving loved one who is facing an inheritance dispute, don’t lose hope just yet. You may have options, so it’s always a good idea to consult a lawyer if you find yourself in this situation. As Georgia inheritance experts, we have the skills and experience to counsel survivors through their complicated inheritance issues, so please reach out to us if you have any questions about your situation.
Georgia End-of-Life Laws
Many of the issues associated with inheritance in Georgia come about as a result of poor end-of-life planning. Under Georgia law, you have a right to decide who inherits your property. Common strategies used to decide inheritance include wills, trusts, and transfer on death registrations.
Many individuals delay the process of writing a will for a range of factors, but this process can bring peace of mind. Choosing beneficiaries, for instance, will ensure that your property is dispersed according to your wishes. With the help of a skilled estate planning lawyer, you can create a comprehensive estate plan that takes this, as well all other facets of end-of-life planning, into account.
At The Law Office of Paul Black, we are dedicated to helping Georgia’s seniors and their families plan for the future through personalized estate planning services, and we’d love the opportunity to help you, too. Contact our office today to schedule a consultation, where we will discuss your goals, answer your questions, and explore your options.