Probate Court

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Hi, I’m Paul.

Just as life is a day-by-day endeavor, estate planning is a lifelong process that adapts as client needs and even the laws change. This is why a skilled estate-planning attorney is a trusted advisor focused on the particular needs of individual clients, as well as an expert technician constantly staying up-to-date with current changes and the best practices.

In Georgia, unless other arrangements have been made, the estate of a deceased person goes to probate court. To discuss how I can help you navigate the complicated probate process, or otherwise meet your estate planning needs, contact me, Paul Black.

What Is Probate Court?

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Generally speaking, probate court determines how to legally resolve the deceased person’s affairs. This includes paying debts and estate taxes and then distributing his/her property to the surviving spouse (when appropriate) and rightful heirs.

When a Georgia resident (or a non-resident who owns property in the state of Georgia) dies, there are several legal proceedings that may be filed at the probate court. These proceedings must be filed only in the county where the deceased resided in Georgia, or where their property is located if the deceased was a non-resident. Each of these has set guidelines, which are usually provided to the petitioner by the Court.

Due to the complexity of the process, it is recommended that you consult the professional expertise of a Georgia probate court or estate law attorney. He can help you arrive at the best option for your situation.

Probate Court Definition

From marriage license applications to involuntary mental health commitments, validation of wills, and administration of estates, probate division in Georgia handles a variety of case types. It is also the right legal entity for all cases involving guardianship and conservators for minors or incapacitated adults. It handles Georgia firearms license applications, as well. Though, these can be initiated via the internet.

The court clerk in charge is usually available to answer your inquiries.

What Does a Probate Attorney Do?

Hiring a probate attorney with years of experience to represent you is not compulsory. However, it is advisable to seek their professional advice on the vital legal matters that are dealt with in probate court.

Probate attorneys assist executors or personal representatives of an estate in carrying the deceased person’s wishes if there is a will. A probate attorney can act as a liaison between executor and beneficiaries if needed, for example in cases where the two do not get along. If you choose to retain a probate lawyer, they can also assist you in selling estate property, distributing assets to beneficiaries, paying estate taxes, managing debts of the estate, and much more. Timely and proper management of all these estate-related tasks can help you avoid probate court.

In probate cases, you are encouraged to work with a lawyer who is well experienced in probate matters and who practices probate or estate law. They will not only help you determine the best way to proceed with your case but will also help you think through the comprehensive benefits and disadvantages of the other options.

Note that, in addition to probate cases, working with an attorney keeps you covered in other related matters like debtor demands, preparation of deeds, benefit claims, creditor notices, living trusts, and tax returns, etc. An attorney can also help you if you want to avoid probate and potentially lengthy and complicated probate procedures by creating a living trust or by using some other estate planning tool to simplify the probate process before death.

Why Should You Retain a Probate Lawyer?

Those who choose to proceed without a probate attorney are solely responsible for determining and choosing the best way to go forward with the legal process. Neither the Court nor any member of its staff can assist with this. In fact, they are not authorized to do so, and it would be a misdemeanor under the law of Georgia if they did.

Additionally, the implications of wrong choices made by the staff will never be a responsibility of the County or the Court in which they occurred. Thus, the staff is expected to withhold advice under any situation.

For this reason, if you are going through probate in Dekalb County, for example, it is essential to consult an experienced probate attorney licensed to practice in Dekalb County, GA. Probate court is not an arena to exercise your DIY abilities.

Georgia Probate Court Process

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In Georgia, most probate court processes involve the following three steps.

  1. Gathering all the assets of the deceased, including properties, bank account balance, real estate, investments, estate, and money among others.
  2. Settling all the taxes and debts (if any) owed by the deceased and their estate.
  3. Distributing the remaining assets among the heirs.

Each step can be approached via different methods depending on whether or not there is a valid will, what the marital status of the deceased was, and what the extent of the estate is. An experienced attorney can help you navigate the process.

The process of probating a will begins when a family member or an executor files a petition to probate a will. A person in possession of the decedent’s will has to file it with the appropriate probate court. A probate court judge will have to determine if the will is valid. That may involve a court hearing, and all heirs and the beneficiaries have to be given a notice. That way they will have an opportunity to object to the will.

What If There Is No Will?

If a person dies without a will, his or her assets are distributed to the decedent’s next of kin, who can be determined by the state’s probate law known as intestate succession.

If there are assets, the probate court is responsible for the appointment of an executor or administrator of the deceased person’s estate. The administrator of the estate then has to locate proper beneficiaries and distribute the deceased person’s assets, among other administrative duties. Usually, the spouse or another family member that is a sole heir becomes the administrator unless they decline it. Sometimes, heirs can choose an administrator.

Most often, a surviving spouse gets a share of the estate and the decedent’s property, and then other family members including children, parents, grandchildren, and other siblings.

The State of Georgia doesn’t have complicated probate procedures, especially for small estates. In case a person dies without a will, and the estate has no financial obligations, you can use a simplified process, providing all lawfully entitled heirs agree on how to divide the estate. If you need help determining whether the deceased person’s estate qualifies for a simplified probate procedure, contact a lawyer experienced in probate and estate planning matters.

Georgia Probate Court Forms

There are many Georgia probate court forms that address a variety of different purposes. Georgia Probate Court forms can be accessed via the Council of Probate Court Judges of Georgia’s website and completed with Adobe Acrobat Reader.

The most commonly used forms in GA include the following:

  • Petition for Determination of Right of Disposition of Remains of a Decedent
  • Petition to Establish Custodial Account for Minor or Incapacitated Adult
  • Petition for Letters of Administration
  • Petition for Letters of Conservatorship of Minor
  • Petition for Leave to Sell Perishable Property by Personal Representative
  • Petition for Order Declaring No Administration Necessary
  • Petition for Permanent Letters of Guardianship of Minor
  • Petition of Personal Representative for Leave to Sell Property
  • Petition for Presumption of Death of Missing Individual Believed to be Dead
  • Petition to Probate Will in Common Form
  • Petition to Probate Will in Solemn Form
  • Petition for Year’s Support

This is just a sample of the many Georgia probate forms that can be found online.

Of course, access to the necessary forms does not provide the expertise to understand them. A skilled probate lawyer in the specific county (for example one licensed to practice in Fulton County if you are going through probate court in Fulton County) can help clarify the process.

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Georgia Probate Court Records

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Georgia Probate Court Records include records of guardianships, wills, estates, weapons carry permits and marriage licenses. Considering the public nature of all probate files, it is possible to get a copy of a will that has been filed for probate. Using advanced technology, it is even easier to get specific information about the estate of the deceased online and at no charge.

After locating the correct county and checking the probate court docket online, you can proceed to obtain a copy of a will or similar probate document from the probate court. Just follow the steps below:

  1. Arrive at the courthouse and request a copy of the will (or similar probate documents) in person.
  2. Then, pay a copying fee, depending on how many pages are in the will (or similar probate documents). One page usually costs no more than a few dollars.
  3. Alternatively, you may make a written request via mail or fax if it is impossible to do so in person.
  4. Then, submit a self-addressed and stamped envelope to the court. The court will use the same in mailing the copies, only when the request is made via mail or fax.

Although it is best to address estate planning including drawing up a will before one is needed, life often takes an unexpected turn. Even if there is no will, estate attorneys can assist you with the process of filing the correct probate forms. Contact the Law Office of Paul Black for advice during any part of the probate process.

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