As a probate attorney in Atlanta, Georgia (and the surrounding Buckhead, Sandy Springs, Marietta, North Georgia, and Metro Atlanta Areas), who specializes in Atlanta, Georgia, Probate Litigation, my clients frequently ask how they can avoid the Georgia probate process altogether. There are several reasons to want to sidestep probate, including speed of distribution of the assets to beneficiaries and the cost of the process, in both time and money. Privacy may be an issue as well. Probate proceedings are a matter of public record, so non-probate asset classification provides the estate and beneficiaries with anonymity. Only non-probate assets that contractually name a beneficiary can escape probate, but with a little planning many assets can be classified in this way. Common examples of non-probate assets are as follows:
Common examples of non-probate assets are tax-deferred retirement accounts, like 401(k) and IRA accounts, and proceeds from life insurance policies. Bank accounts can also be classified as non-probate assets when set up as Payment on Death Bank Accounts. The same can be done by setting up bonds, Stock and brokerage accounts as Transfer on Death Securities. Under either of these methods, the beneficiaries have no interest or access to the assets while the owner is alive and ownership of the assets is only transferred to the beneficiaries upon death. To protect real estate holdings or financial accounts, they can be set up with Joint Tenancy with Right of Survivorship. This structure is common between married couples and automatically transfers the assets to the survivor when one of the owners dies.
Living trusts are another effective way to circumvent the probate process. A Georgia revocable living trust allows property to transfer directly to the beneficiaries named in the trust. Once this type of trust is set up, title to the assets passes to the trustee who has the job of managing the trust during the life of the grantor. In Georgia, the grantor can also be named as the trustee. As trustee, the grantor has free access to the assets while alive and may sell, trade, buy, liquidate or donate the assets. A common misconception is that once assets are transferred into a trust, they are protected against all claims from creditors. Yet, because the assets are under the total control of the grantor, the trust does not stop creditors from pursuing the assets. Nevertheless, it is more difficult for assets to be taken from a trust, as creditors in Georgia must file a petition in court to do so. Another advantage of Georgia revocable living trusts is that the grantor can change the terms of the trust or reclaim title to the property at any time. Upon the death of the grantor, a successor trustee distributes the property directly to the beneficiaries after death of the grantor.
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