Local Probate Lawyers
Experienced Probate Lawyers Assist Clients in Metro Atlanta Area and Throughout North Georgia
When you’re dealing with the loss of your loved one, you might also be facing the probate process. Probate is a court-supervised legal process that may be required after someone passes away. This process gives a person, often the deceased’s surviving spouse or other family member, the legal authority to gather their assets, pay debts and taxes, and ultimately transfer those assets to the people who’ll inherit them.
We know how stressful the probate process can get. If you’ve never been through the process yourself, it’s important for you to know that finalizing an estate can become complicated even if the situation appears straightforward at first. In Georgia, you can expect probate to settle within eight months to a year, unless the will is contested or if there are unusual assets or creditors’ claims that complicate your matter.
It’s important for you to know that each probate experience is different. You may be tempted to ask other people who’ve been through it to share what they’ve learned or what you can expect. However, their experiences aren’t yours, and what they tell you may be confusing or set unrealistic expectations. That’s why talking to an experienced probate attorney is your best bet to be informed about what’s ahead.
While you might consider handling your deceased family member’s probate alone, we don’t recommend it because of the complicated scenarios you could encounter during the process. When you choose Steele Law Firm, we’ll talk to you about your probate matter—but also about your family, your life, and the outcome you’d like to see. We provide you with realistic expectations and timeframes, along with a clear strategy to navigate this unfamiliar area.
When you work with a knowledgeable probate attorney, you’ll save time and reduce the stress that comes with handling an estate, including costly, protracted, and emotional litigation. And remember, if you put an estate plan in place for yourself now, the probate process will be far less expensive and time consuming for your loved ones when you pass.
To learn more about our practice and how we can help, contact us to schedule a consultation today.
Steele Law Firm serves probate clients in Bartow, Cherokee, Cobb, DeKalb, Fannin, Forsyth, North Fulton, Gilmer, Gordon, Gwinnett, Haralson, Murray, Paulding, Pickens, Polk counties, as well as throughout the entire state of Georgia.
Will the Probate Process Be Necessary?
The answer depends on your specific situation.
Probate proceedings that go through the court are not always required. However, if your deceased family member owned assets in his or her name alone, you’ll most likely need to engage in the probate process.
Yes, there are some assets that can be transferred to a new owner without probate. Those include:
- assets held in a revocable living trust
- life insurance proceeds or pension benefits payable to a named beneficiary
- assets for which a beneficiary has been named outside of the will, such as retirement accounts for which the deceased person assigned a beneficiary
- assets the deceased person owned in joint tenancy, which automatically transfer to the living owner.
What If There’s No Will?
In Georgia, there are certain scenarios when any person entitled to inherit under state law can ask the probate court for an order stating that no probate is necessary. The court may grant this request if:
- the deceased person didn’t leave a will
- the legal heirs agree on how to divide up the deceased’s assets
- there are zero debts and no creditors object to a lack of probate proceeding.
If there is no Will, but there are assets that need to be transferred, you can file for administration of the deceased’s estate. The process is similar to, but not exactly the same as, probating a Will.
What’s My Role if I’m the Personal Representative?
If a deceased person has named you as the executor of his or her will, you’re expected to take charge of the estate. In Georgia, the executor is often called the personal representative or “PR”. If probate is necessary, you’ll need to go to court to be officially appointed as the estate’s personal representative.
In the case where there’s no will, or the person named to be the executor isn’t willing to act as PR, the probate court will appoint an administrator (or PR) for that estate. The deceased person’s spouse receives first priority to be appointed as PR for the estate, unless they were going through divorce proceedings at the time of the other spouse’s death. It’s important for you to know that an administrator or PR might need to post a bond insurance policy with the court. This insurance protects the estate if the PR mismanages funds or assets.
If you’re appointed PR, you’ll take an oath promising to act in the estate’s best interests. The court will give you a Letters Testamentary document if the will named you the executor and you are appointed as PR. If the court appointed you as administrator, you’ll receive a Letters of Administration document. This document give you, as the PR of the estate, the obligation and authority to:
- collect and inventory the deceased person’s assets
- have some of the assets professionally appraised
- sell some of the assets
- pay valid debts and taxes
- disburse remaining property as directed by the will. (If there’s no will, you’ll give out assets as directed by state law.)
When you’re named PR in probate proceedings, the experienced probate attorneys at Steele Law Firm work with you to develop a strategy based on your individual situation and goals for the future. To learn more about your options, give us a call today, if you’re located in Cobb County, Forsyth County, or anywhere in north Georgia.
Handling Estate Assets During Probate
During probate, if you’re a personal representative, you’ll need to keep meticulous records of how you directed the estate assets to be handled or distributed. Those records include bank statements, bills, and receipts that you might need to submit to the court. The court may require you to present specific reports about the estate, including:
- a detailed, itemized list of estate assets, with their estimated market value
- an annual accounting return that lists what the estate received and spent, along with an updated inventory.
In Georgia, you usually need to send these two reports to all estate heirs or beneficiaries. However, you won’t need to provide an accounting return if all the beneficiaries agree it’s not needed, the will specifies it’s not required, or the court order relieves you of filing these reports.
A PR will also open a bank account for the estate to consolidate all of the deceased person’s cash accounts. You’ll need to deposit any funds that come to the estate into the account. These funds include refunds or compensation owed or earned to/by the deceased person.
As an estate executor, you also have authority over any of the deceased person’s assets that go through probate. These include real estate, vehicles, boats, bank and brokerage accounts, and personal effects like jewelry, furniture, artwork, or collections. If there are life insurance proceeds payable to the estate because there’s no beneficiary named, those monies also are considered probate assets. If you decide to sell assets like real estate or business interests to pay debts, for example, you may need prior approval from the probate court.
It’s always important to have a knowledgeable probate lawyer by your side when resolving these probate decisions, especially when other family members are involved. Our attorneys at Steele Law Firm are here to help and provide the guidance you need during the probate process in Cherokee County, the Metro Atlanta area, and throughout north Georgia.
Paying Estate Debts and Taxes
First, within 60 days of starting to serve as PR, you’ll need to publish a notice of the probate proceeding in a local publication. This is an official notice to debtors that they have three months from the date of publication to pay all monies owed to the estate. It is also official notice to creditors that they have three months from the date of publication to present a claim to the estate. As you’ll learn, many creditors simply send bills to the deceased person’s latest address.
If there aren’t enough funds in the estate to pay off debts, you’ll need to refer to Georgia state law to prioritize claims. For example, your family will receive funds first: The surviving spouse and children under 18 receive year’s support (if requested from and approved by the probate court). Then, you’ll need to tackle funeral expenses, probate costs (like court and lawyers’ fees), costs incurred during the deceased’s final illness, taxes, and so on. This is an area where many personal representatives turn to us for guidance.
You’ll also need to file final federal and state income taxes, along with income tax returns if required, within nine months of the date of death. If the estate exceeds approximately $11.5 million, you’ll need to file a federal estate tax return.
Our experienced attorneys at Steele Law Firm can help you navigate probate. To learn more about your options, give us a call today.
Our Probate Attorneys Will Help You Through the Entire Process, Including Distributing Property and Closing the Estate
We know probate can be an emotional time for you as the personal representative, and your family. It’s important to have a lawyer by your side who can help you navigate the legal aspects of probate, including when it’s time to close the estate.
You’ll only be able to finally distribute estate assets to heirs or beneficiaries after you’ve paid debts and taxes. As we explained earlier, the executor should follow the instructions in the will. If there’s no will, you’ll consult state law to see who inherits the assets. In Georgia, the deceased’s closest relatives, such as their surviving spouse and children, usually inherit the property. Typically, the PR creates an accounting document showing who gets what before distributing the assets.
As the PR, once you’ve paid all debts associated with the estate, filed tax returns, and distributed the assets, then you’ll file a Petition for Discharge with the court, asking to be relieved of your executor responsibilities. If the court decides that you’ve completed all of your duties, you’ll be granted the discharge. Once that happens, the estate is officially closed and you’re released from any liabilities.
The probate process can be complex and difficult to navigate without a strong legal advocate in your corner. Our lawyers at Steele Law Firm are available to sit down with you and help you understand how the probate process works in Georgia. We can help guide you through probate in a way that’s as easy and stress-free as possible for you and your family.
It’s always a smart idea to plan ahead. When you choose Steele Law Firm for your estate planning needs, you’ll receive a comprehensive binder that contains all of your documents, along with informational sheets, checklists, and helpful instructions. This gives you peace of mind, and you know that the person who’ll act as your estate’s personal representative will have everything they need right at their fingertips during that tough time.
To learn more, don’t hesitate to contact us for a consultation.
Call Steele Law Firm to Set Up a Consultation With an Experienced Local Probate Attorney Today
At Steele Law Firm, our knowledgeable probate and estate planning attorneys are here to help you preserve your family’s future and help create a lasting legacy for you to pass on to future generations. Whether you’re a client with estate planning or probate needs, we work closely with you to understand your unique situation and develop a personal plan, tailored to your needs and concerns. If you’d like to have more control over this process, it’s time to speak with an experienced estate planning attorney. We’re here to become your family’s trusted advisor, helping you with all of your estate planning needs for a secure future.
Steele Law Firm serves clients in Bartow, Cherokee, Cobb, DeKalb, Fannin, Forsyth, North Fulton, Gilmer, Gordon, Gwinnett, Haralson, Murray, Paulding, Pickens, and Polk counties, as well as throughout the entire state of Georgia.