In my Atlanta, Georgia Probate Law practice, I counsel many clients on the procedures that Georgia’s probate law dictates. Heirs and beneficiaries frequently ask questions about the duties of personal representatives in the probate process. A personal representative is either named in the will as an executor (and usually called an executor as opposed to a personal representative), or appointed by the court as an administrator. An administrator is appointed when no will exists, if an executor was not named in the will, or in the case that the named executor is unfit to serve. Personal representatives have a fiduciary duty to perform the required tasks of probate in a way that treats heirs and beneficiaries fairly. Nevertheless, personal representatives are almost always referred to as an executor or administrator. In short, an executor or administrator is a personal representative and the Official Code of Georgia gives them this title. What is more, is that personal representatives must give an inventory and/or accounting to heirs or beneficiaries who have a legitimate concern or reason to know about the estates assets.
However, as a Georgia Probate, Wills, Trusts, and Estates Lawyer, what is problematic to me when it comes to an executor or administrator, is that there are so many situations where the heirs or beneficiaries do not hire a lawyer and demand an inventory or accounting merely because the Will or Letters of Administration state that the executor, administrator, or personal representative is relieved from performing this duty.
GEORGIA PROBATE LAW HOLDS THAT DESPITE WHAT THE WILL, LETTERS TESTAMENTARY, OR LETTERS OF ADMINISTRATION STATE WITH REGARDS TO GIVING AN INVENTORY OR ACCOUNTING, IS THAT AN EXECUTOR, ADMINISTRATOR, OR PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE, MUST GIVE AN ACCOUNTING IF AN HEIR OR BENEFICIARY PROPERLY DEMANDS ONE.
The general list of tasks of Georgia personal representatives includes taking control of the estate’s assets, paying off the estate’s debts and administration expenses, selling estate assets to pay debts and expenses (or to distribute assets more efficiently), filing tax returns on behalf of the estate, distributing assets to beneficiaries and heirs, filing any required reports (including an inventory and accounting), and applying for discharge from office. The first step of taking control of the estate’s assets is critical. In this step, the personal representative must identify, locate, and value the estate’s assets. Without this information, no determination can be made regarding how to distribute the estate and the probate process would stall.
During the stressful time surrounding the death of a loved one, friend, or business associate, it is common to lack the focus necessary to deal with probate proceedings. Under stress, beneficiaries and heirs may sign documentation without the proper legal review, which can cause them to waive certain rights. The right to an inventory and accounting of estate assets is one of the rights that is sometimes waived unknowingly.
Even when a personal representative succeeds in getting an heir or beneficiary to sign a waiver that forfeits their right to an inventory and accounting, it is important to know that the waiver can be renounced afterward and an inventory and accounting can be demanded. Once you have waived this right, it is important to retain an Atlanta Probate Lawyer to assist you in acquiring an inventory and accounting that is true, accurate, and complete.
To renounce this type of waiver, an experienced Georgia probate attorney can assist in filing a petition for inventory and accounting that forces the personal representative to release this information. Another way that heirs and beneficiaries are left out during the probate process is through the instructions given in the will. Sometimes wills state that the executor is not required to give an inventory and accounting to heirs and beneficiaries. While this may be included in some wills as a result of undue influence over the testator by a third party, heirs, and beneficiaries do have rights under Georgia law to protect against this type of self-dealing. Again, a petition for inventory and accounting can be filed that will give the heirs and beneficiaries access to the asset information.
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