The last thing most of us anticipate after the loss of a family member is being forced to deal with lengthy court proceedings. It is often necessary, however, especially if the family member in question left behind a substantial estate. Questions may arise about the person’s will or other end-of-life matters, and without an experienced lawyer at your side, these issues can quickly turn contentious.
You don’t need to be dealing with conflict among family members at a time when emotions are already high. The best way to ensure an efficient, orderly probate process is to get help from a knowledgeable Athens probate lawyer. The Georgia probate attorneys at Adamson & Cleveland have more than 40 years of combined legal experience helping families like yours get through these difficult times. We have the knowledge and resources to minimize the hassle of probate while ensuring that the process is completed correctly.
To learn more about our probate legal services and schedule your free initial consultation, contact us now.
How Our Athens Probate Litigation Lawyers Can Help You
Going through probate in Georgia can be a lengthy and complicated process. That’s why it’s generally a good idea to hire a probate lawyer to help guide you and ensure everything goes as smoothly as possible. Here are some of the services that our Georgia probate lawyers can help you with:
- Making sure all the steps in the process are followed correctly and in order
- Ensuring all the necessary documents are filed correctly with the appropriate legal entities
- Communicating with all the heirs and beneficiaries of the deceased’s estate
- Helping the executor of an estate properly distribute any assets from the deceased’s estate to the designated beneficiaries
- Representing either the executor of the estate or any beneficiaries in the event that there’s a dispute over the contents of a will
Types of Probate in Georgia
There are two types of probate proceedings in Georgia when it comes to handling the estate of someone who’s died: solemn form probate and common form probate. The two types of probate are closely related, but the most significant difference is who gets notified once the process beings.
In solemn form probate proceedings, any possible heir who could receive property or other assets from the deceased’s estate must be notified as well as given an official copy of the deceased’s will.
In common form probate proceedings, it is not required that all the heirs be notified, though any heirs can request a copy of the will.
Because common form probate is easier, it’s the preferred method for proceedings if possible. However, if you believe someone may try to contest a will, solemn form may be the better option because it’s more formal and gives any heirs a chance to make their case.
What Does a Lawyer Do for Probate?
At the most basic level, probate is the legal process of having someone’s will approved and then carried out according to his or her wishes. The process involves the court looking over the deceased’s will or other documents and then granting another party (usually a spouse or close relative) the legal authority to collect the deceased’s assets, take care of any debts or necessary taxes, and then distribute any remaining assets according to the deceased’s wishes. A lawyer helps families navigate the entire process to ensure everything is handled properly and as efficiently as possible.
There are two main ways the probate process can play out, depending on whether the deceased prepared a will:
- If the deceased left a will, the executor of the estate (in Georgia, this person is known as the deceased’s personal representative) must first file a Petition for Probate in the county in which the deceased lived. The personal representative will decide whether to fill out the petition in solemn form or common form. Once the petition is complete, a judge will have the personal representative swear an oath and then issue what are known as Letters Testamentary. These letters make the personal representative the official executor of the deceased’s estate and allow them to carry out the deceased’s wishes according to the terms of the will.
- If the deceased did not leave a will, the process works a bit differently. A probate court judge will appoint someone to be the estate’s administrator, and the administrator will be responsible for taking care of any debts or taxes owed by the estate. Once that is complete, the administrator will distribute any remaining assets according to Georgia law, regardless of the wishes of the deceased since there was no written will.
Common Problems That Arise in the Probate Process
Some of the most common probate issues that can occur include:
- Contested wills
- Documents that are out of date
- Mishandling of the estate by the executor
- A dispute over the terms of a will among the beneficiaries
- Signs that the deceased was coerced or signed a will while under undue influence
- Disputes over the estate due to a sudden incapacitation (for example, the owner of the estate becoming incapacitated without leaving behind an Advance Health Care Directive, living will, or other document that makes his or her last wishes known)
What Is the Difference Between Estate Planning & Probate?
Probate is the narrow process of certifying that a will is legitimate, appointing a personal representative, and distributing any assets from someone’s estate. Estate planning, on the other hand, generally takes place before someone dies and involves putting together a financial plan to protect the estate while making the person’s final wishes clear.
Estate planning is important, especially for those with large or complex estates. Proper planning can help minimize the tax burden for your loved ones after you die while making sure your assets are protected and your wishes are upheld.
Contact Our Probate Attorneys in Athens Today
If you have lost a loved one and need advice about the probate process, please reach out to us today. The consultation is free, and we will work to take the burden off you during this difficult time.