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Why you need a probate attorney in Georgia

The passing of a loved one is a major life moment everyone goes through at one time or another. Dealing with sadness, loss, and grief after a death in the family can be difficult. Probating a last will and administering the decedent’s estate can make this tough time even more complicated. The probate process can often be a time-consuming labyrinth of judicial procedures and issues of handling trust administration, intestacy (when someone dies without a will), power of attorney, life insurance policies, estate tax returns, bank accounts, real estate, income taxes, appraisals, and more.  

For Georgia residents, understanding and managing these issues on your own is possible, but not always advisable. Working through legal complexities after the death of a family member with a trusted law firm is always helpful and sometimes it’s essential. So, what do probate lawyers do? Consider this blog a starting point. We’ll guide you through:  

  • An overview of the probate process 
  • Common mistakes to avoid in DIY probate  
  • The benefits of hiring a probate attorney 
  • And how hiring a probate lawyer may help save you money.  

     

    Understanding Probate

    Probate is the legal process through which a deceased person‘s estate is administered. It may seem like a straightforward task of “who gets what” designation, but the process can be incredibly complex due to the variations among each estate’s specific circumstances, and the application of various laws to those circumstances. In Georgia, as with many states, probate and estate law encompasses a range of rules that dictate how a last will and testament is established and how an estate is handled.  

    The probate process starts with the filing of a petition. Depending on the circumstances, the most common initial petitions are either to probate the decedent’s last will or to receive letters of administration if the decedent did not have a will. It is necessary for the personal representative appointed in the will to receive an order from probate court establishing the will, as well as an order issuing letters of testamentary, before the nominated individual can act as executor of an estate. Similarly, if the decedent did not have a will, an interested person must petition the court and qualify as administrator before acting on behalf of the estate. An inventory of the deceased person’s estate and property is followed by payment of their debts and taxes and concludes with the distribution of the person’s assets to beneficiaries.  

    Managing this process alone can quickly become an immense burden. Understanding the proper forms that need to be filed, services that must be perfected, the ensuing court procedures, and how to resolve disputes requires an in-depth understanding of state laws.   

      Common Mistakes in DIY Probate

      Navigating probate matters in Georgia without professional guidance can lead to various pitfalls. These common errors can complicate the probate process and may impact the financial and legal standing of the estate:  

      • Establishing unnecessary trusts: In Georgia, living trusts can be valuable for managing and distributing assets, especially for specific needs such as reducing estate taxes or managing assets for minor beneficiaries. However, without a clear understanding of trusts, you might create legal and financial burdens that could otherwise have been avoided.  
      • Deeding property to children to avoid probate: In Georgia, deeding property to children does not necessarily ensure the property will avoid probate, and transferring property outside of probate may have unintended negative consequences, such as additional tax liabilities and loss of control over the property. 
      • Family members paying estate creditors unnecessarily: Another common mistake is to assume responsibility for the deceased’s outstanding debts. In Georgia, family members and beneficiaries are generally not personally liable for estate debts unless, for example, they cosigned or guaranteed the debt. Paying off creditors without ensuring proper legal processes can reduce estate assets directed to beneficiaries. If a decedent had outstanding debts, it is always advisable to consult with an attorney before communicating with the creditor(s) and before filing any petition in probate court. 
      • Not filing for a Petition for Year’s Support: In Georgia, the Petition for Year’s Support is a procedure that allows the surviving spouse and/or minor children to quickly receive title to a decedent’s assets from the estate. This unique Georgia law prioritizes the financial needs of the surviving family and may prove more beneficial than standard probate proceedings.  
      • Completing probate forms incorrectly: Minor errors in completing required forms can lead to the court rejecting the probate filings, resulting in significant delays and associated costs for probate cases.  
      • Failing to obtain a waiver of bond, inventory, and reports when possible: In Georgia, it’s often possible to waive requirements such as posting a bond, filing an inventory, and submitting periodic reports to the probate court. These waivers can streamline probate, saving time and money.  

         

        Benefits of Hiring a Probate Attorney 

        Navigating the probate process after the death of a loved one on your own can be a daunting task. Working with an experienced probate and estate attorney provides expertise and guidance in several ways:  

        • Maximizing the value of the estate through strategic planning: Strategic planning can safeguard assets from unnecessary legal challenges, mitigate potential liabilities, and ensure assets are distributed according to the decedent’s wishes. It is important to create an estate plan early because certain options may be lost over time, and at some point, it will be too late to create a plan. 
        • Specializing in probate law and procedures: A skilled probate attorney has a deep knowledge of Georgia’s requirements and procedures. This expertise is invaluable for navigating the probate court, understanding which legal documents will most efficiently achieve your goals, and ensuring the estate complies with all legal mandates.  
        • Guidance through the probate process: A probate attorney guides estate representatives and beneficiaries through each step of the probate process. This comprehensive support includes handling court appearances, preparing and filing necessary documents, and communicating with creditors, beneficiaries, and other involved parties.  
        • Minimizing stress and emotional burdens: By handling all the complex legal work, attorneys can help reduce the emotional burden and potential conflicts among beneficiaries.  
        • Ensuring compliance with legal requirements and deadlines: Any oversight or delay in the probate process can result in further complications and/or financial penalties. A probate attorney ensures all filings are accurate and timely, maintains compliance with court requirements, and reduces the risk of costly delays.  

           

          How Hiring an Attorney Saves You Money  

          On the surface, hiring a probate attorney might seem like an added expense in an already difficult time. However, relying on professional legal help can lead to significant savings for the estate and its beneficiaries. Here’s how:  

          • Avoiding errors and delays: Mistakes in the probate process can be expensive and cause delays. Probate attorneys ensure the process is completed correctly and efficiently, saving money and making the distribution of assets to beneficiaries more efficient.  
          • Understanding probate administration methods: An experienced probate attorney has a depth of knowledge of the formal and informal methods to settle an estate in Georgia. Depending on the specific circumstances, they can help save time and money for beneficiaries.  
          • Efficient handling of complex legal procedures: An experienced probate attorney can help you navigate these complexities with ease, streamlining the process and preventing unnecessary expenditures.  
          • Minimizing potential litigation expenses: Estate disputes can result in costly litigation. An attorney can preempt potential conflicts through clear communication, documentation, and adherence to legal standards.  
          • Avoiding costly disputes with beneficiaries: A probate attorney ensures the estate is administered per the law. This proactive approach saves money by avoiding the costs associated with family conflicts and potential challenges to the will or estate administration.  

            Conclusion

            The importance of a probate attorney’s legal advice cannot be overstated. With the maze of legal procedures, regulations, and potential family disputes, proper guidance can safeguard an estate’s value. Financial benefits aside, the emotional comfort a professional brings to the table during these times is invaluable.  

            Smith, Welch, Webb & White has been a cornerstone community law firm for over a century. We serve clients with honest, realistic, and personalized services across a wide array of legal practice areas for guidance through life’s milestone moments. Contact us for a case evaluation, or call 855-505-7999, to learn how our attorneys can deliver peace of mind to you and your family members through estate planning and probate administration.