A Primer on Georgia Probate Court
The Georgia Probate Court system is in place to take care of clerical matters regarding estate planning, inheritance, and issuing licenses for marriage and firearms. Its purpose is to ensure efficiency in non-criminal legal matters that mainly involve filing paperwork. All necessary Georgia probate court forms are available online so that residents can have everything filled out and ready to file when they arrive.
Georgia probate judges are there to ensure that estates are settled legally, especially in cases where there is no will. When someone dies, their estate is transferred to probate court and an executor oversees the distribution of assets. Executors are usually family members, but they can be anyone over the age of 18 who is determined to be trustworthy and objective.
The probate judge determines the validity of wills and ensures that all relevant parties have been duly notified of a death and are present for settling the estate. The executor oversees the fair distribution of assets and sees that creditors are paid.
Not all estates need to go through probate, and some assets, like homes with a joint tenancy, are automatically passed to the appropriate heir. An estate planning specialist, such as Paul Black from The Law Office of Paul Black L.L.C can help.
When Is Georgia Probate Necessary?
Probating an estate in Georgia usually involves these three steps:
- Gathering all the assets of the deceased person’s estate, including money, investments, bank accounts, real estate, and other property.
- Paying off the debts and taxes owed by the estate.
- Distributing the remaining assets to the heirs.
The specific way these steps are accomplished can differ, depending on the size of the estate, whether or not the deceased person was married, and whether or not there is a will.
Georgia Probate When There is a Will
There are four possible types of probate when there is a will:
- Solemn Form Probate:
When the heirs are known and present, this form is used for the immediate conclusion of the estate.
- Common Form Probate:
This is filed by the executor when all heirs are unknown and are inconclusive for up to four years following public notice of a death.
- Probate of Will in Solemn Form/Letters of Administration with Will Annexed:
This type of petition is filed when the executor named in the will is unable or unwilling to carry out the duty, and names a new administrator (usually by agreement of a majority of the heirs).
- Will Filed Not for Probate:
If there is no property to distribute to heirs, the will is filed with the court to create a permanent record, but no probate is carried out. There is no fee for this filing.
Georgia Probate When There is No Will
When a person dies without a will (“intestate”), there are three possible proceedings:
- Permanent Administration:
Notice to all heirs is required. The spouse or sole heir becomes the administrator unless they decline or are disqualified; otherwise, the administrator is chosen by a majority of the heirs.
- Temporary Administration:
Notice to heirs is not required, but heirs may choose an administrator, who compiles the estate inventory. No expenditures or disbursements are made without a court order.
- No Administration Necessary:
If all the estate’s debts are paid, no other administration is needed, and all heirs agree to the division of the estate, this is the form of probate used.
Other Georgia Probate Petitions
There are also petitions that may be filed whether there is a will or not:
- Year’s Support:
Filed on behalf of surviving spouse or minor children to set aside a specified part of the estate for their support, before payment of unsecured debts or any distribution under a will.
- Petition to Enter Safe Deposit Box:
Filed when it is believed that the deceased person’s will is in a safe deposit box. If there is a will, the bank is required to deliver it to the probate court and to deliver any insurance policies to the beneficiaries. Burial instructions and any deeds to burial plots may be removed; all other items remain in the box until an executor or administrator is in place.
The Georgia courts have worked hard to streamline the process to make it easier on grieving families, and it is legal to handle probate without an attorney.
If you choose to go through probate without an attorney, you’re responsible for obtaining information to help you make the right decisions. That mean knowing which forms you need, completing the forms, handling the filing fees, and understanding the possible outcomes of your decisions. Getting it wrong can cost time and money.
The Dekalb County probate office staff and the Dekalb County probate judges are limited by law in the assistance they can provide. They can answer questions about the types of forms, filing deadlines, and fees, but cannot give you any advice on how to proceed. They also cannot complete forms for you or make copies.
The Law Office of Paul Black can advise you during any part of the probate process in Dekalb County. While it is best to handle estate planning and draw up a will ahead of any need, we understand that life can take unexpected turns. Even if you do not have a will, we can assist you with filing the correct Dekalb probate forms.
GA Probate Court and the Personal Representative
One hindrance to distributing an estate in probate is when there’s no administrator or executor named. In these cases, one must be appointed. If someone is named by the decedent as an executor, also known as a personal representative (PR), this person must take charge of settling the estate at probate.
If the PR is unwilling or unable to discharge their duties, family members must elect a trustworthy person over the age of 18 to handle the administration. The probate court judge can also appoint an administrator.
The duties of the executor or administrator include the following:
- Posting a bond to protect the assets if the administrator proves incompetent
- Collecting, safeguarding, and making an inventory of all assets
- Having assets valued by a professional appraiser
- Paying all legitimate debts and taxes on behalf of the estate
- Distributing remaining assets according to the terms of the will or Georgia state law
The Law Office of Paul Black L.L.C. can help explain the duties of a personal representative and offer additional counsel.