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As an Atlanta, Georgia Petition for Inventory and Accounting Lawyer, I see many clients who have all but given up discovering what happened to the assets and monies of a Georgia Estate. They erroneously believe this because they have signed away their right to an Inventory and accounting. In the alternative, they believe they are not entitled to an Inventory and Accounting because the language in the will explicitly states one is not required. If this is your situation, you are in luck!

Georgia probate law provides that you can renounce your waiver to production of an Estate Petition for Inventory and Accounting in Georgia. Georgia law also states that language in a Georgia Will that an Estate Petition for Inventory and Accounting is not required to be produced is for convenience purposes. Any holding to the contrary on both of the above-referenced would be tantamount to a “license to steal” for any administrator, executor, or personal representative (Collectively referred to as “Fiduciary” or “Fiduciaries” of a Georgia Estate).

If properly requested, the Georgia Probate Court will issue a “Rule Nisi” (a “Court Order”) for the administrator, executor, or personal representative to appear in court at a formal hearing and state why an interested party’s request for a formal and complete “Petition for Inventory and Accounting” should not be produced. Guidance of an experienced Atlanta, Georgia probate lawyer is almost essential when undertaking this request in an estate proceeding.

It is important to enter into requesting a Petition for Inventory and Accounting appropriately. First, in my Atlanta, Georgia probate practice, I find it is a best practice to make a formal request on the administrator, executor, or personal representative through detailed demand letter sent to their counsel, or directly to the Fiduciary if they do not have counsel. In my numerous years of Georgia probate litigation experience, I have found that it is prudent to attempt to resolve the issue without court intervention. While necessary, I have found that such demand rarely satisfies the heir or beneficiaries making the request. Second, this demand will likely have a “knee-jerk” reaction causing the administrator, executor, or personal representative to cease any correspondence with the heir or beneficiary and remain silent. Furthermore, it oftentimes elicits the losing argument that the heir or beneficiary has waived their right to such and inventory or accounting by signing it away on the Estate’s “Letters Testamentary” or “Letters of Administration” issued to the Fiduciary. The other losing argument by the Fiduciary is that the language in the will explicitly states they are not required to give or prepare one. Again, these are both losing arguments. Do not be surprised if you see this argument made by an attorney representing the Fiduciary. This is a finite area of Georgia probate law and many non-probate lawyers are not privy to this rule. On another note, such requests should not be done to offend the Fiduciary, or for some other non-legal and legitimate reason. Remember, filing a Georgia Petition for Inventory and Accounting is tantamount to showing a lack of trust in the Fiduciary, questioning their moral principles, and making an implied statement that they have stolen, squandered, or abused estate assets. This is a serious accusation.

In some cases, conflicts surface when executors, administrators, or personal representatives can have difficulty providing an inventory of assets in a timely manner. It is precisely this situation that can make it seem that there is an abuse of power on their part. Conversely, many times executors, administrators, or personal representatives have breached their Fiduciary Duties. Under these circumstances, they are unable to provide an accurate inventory and accounting. This happens more often than one would like to think and seems to be happening more frequently in these tough economic times.

If you are an heir or beneficiary who feels the administrator, executor, or personal representative has breached their Fiduciary Duty, please do not hesitate to contact Our Firm. We will properly hold the Fiduciary accountable and do our best to return the estate to its previous condition or make the Fiduciary make equally satisfying amends. Many cases of Breach of Fiduciary Duty are serious and involve theft of estate assets, self-dealing, misappropriation of funds, and worse. For this reason, it is important for executors, administrators, or personal representatives (Fiduciaries) in this situation, to retain the service of an experienced and Georgia probate lawyer who can assist in identifying a breach of fiduciary duty, or just plain bad estate handling by the Fiduciary. In the latter case, it may be best to have this Fiduciary removed in favor of another.
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In my practice as an Atlanta, Georgia probate lawyer, our firm has found that many clients involved in Georgia probate proceedings reside out of state or out of the country. Thus, they are likely are at a disadvantage concerning their particular legal situation and ability to be an intimate part in the Georgia probate proceedings in which they are involved. Please know you are not alone. We will ensure that your voice is heard and that all legal filings are made timely on your behalf. We will also ensure that you are not at a disadvantage with respect to the legal advice you receive. You will be quickly provided with documentation and information on all matters relevant to your case should this be your desire. Our lawyers and paralegals often e-mail entire files to clients via our scan and e-mail capabilities. In fact, you will likely receive letters and legal documents the same day we receive them.

The Atlanta, Georgia probate lawyers at The Libby Law Firm will ensure that you are not disadvantaged by being out-of-state. Our Georgia probate law firm clientele are located in over thirty-five US states. We also represent clients in numerous foreign countries that consist of military, contractors stationed and/or working out of the US, and citizens of foreign countries. If you are located out-of-state but have a pending matter in Georgia probate proceeding for which you require legal representation, we can assist you.

Thus, the saying: You stay at Home; We Will Take Care of It!

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As a Probate lawyer in Atlanta, Georgia, I realize that terms that are commonplace in our Georgia Probate Practice, are foreign to the layperson and even non-probate attorneys. To a seasoned attorney, Georgia Probate-Estate Administration can be relatively straightforward when the Georgia Estate Proceedings do not involve siblings or relatives who argue, objections court appointments, the sale of properties or assets, or caveats – which is a legal word for “objection.” This type of calm and smooth Georgia Estate Administration Proceeding is rarely the case. Conversely, probate is not a simple a matter to the heirs, relatives, and close persons to the decedent. Most Georgia Probate-Estate Proceedings are emotionally charged where rises to unprecedented levels. This is also true for disputes between all parties in interest to the Georgia Estate Proceedings. Moreover, the protracted nature of the Georgia Probate Proceedings can take a heavy toll in terms of the time consumed and emotional strain.

Probate Related FAQs

(1) What is the duration of the probate process?

In some cases, an Estate Administration Proceeding can be completed in a year. However, a couple of years is the norm and you should prepare to be patient and not worry about the day-to-day Estate Administration to which you are an interested party. In fact, opening the estate usually takes a minimum of 45 days. This involves, inter alia, completion and filing of papers, fixing a date for the hearing and issuing notices, letters, bonds, etc., and assumes all parties are amicable.

(2) How does one deal with creditors?

Creditors of the deceased must be issued notices after the submission of letters. In this connection, the mandatory claim period is 120 days during which the creditors may come forth with their respective claims upon the estate of the deceased.

(3) What are the expenses involved?

Probate involves what in legal parlance are termed costs and fees. Costs are expenses related to filing for opening the estate (In the Georgia, the fees and expense are in the hundreds of dollars. Moreover, the fees and expenses vary greatly from county to county. Recently, the fees have been rapidly rising and I would not even venture to guess the fees for the purposes of any future reason), issuing notices, and appraisal of assets by the court-appointed probate referee. Legal Fees are an estate expense. However, if the Georgia Estate is riddled with infighting, caveats (“objections”), hearings, and more, the legal fees, cost, and expenses can be significantly more.

(4) How does one distinguish between executors and administrators?

The distinction is based on the simple premise that the two function in two different situations – the court appoints an executor in the case of a testate death (“the deceased had a Will”) and an administrator in the case of an intestate death (“the deceased had no Will”). Executors are issued “Letters Testamentary” while administrators are issued “Letters of Administration,” both Letters outlining their court-conferred powers in respect of the estate. The term personal representative can be used to refer to both executor and administrator. Executors, administrators, and personal representatives have a Fiduciary Duty to heir and beneficiaries of the Estate. The Fiduciary Duty is one of the highest duties imposed by Georgia Law.

(5) Are there any cases in which a probate can be bypassed?

Yes, probate does not apply to assets such as insurance, retirement, and bank accounts if they name a living beneficiary. These assets are said to pass outside or probate and are Non-Probate Assets. In addition, in the case of joint assets, probates can be bypassed in case of death of the first owner (e.g. in the case of a jointly held home or bank account). In the state of Georgia, this also extends to assets forming part of a living trust. These are the general provisions and the particulars may vary depending on the laws that shall apply on a case-to-case basis. It is rare that there an estate is completely probate asset free, so all decedent’s estates should explore the whether the probate process is necessary. Even in cases where the Georgia Probate Assets total less than $10,000.00, there is a Georgia Probate Proceeding, which can be filed requesting the Probate Judge to Order “No Administration Necessary.” Therefore, there is really no Georgia Estate that can pass without touching base with the County Probate Court in some way, shape, or form.

Starting off, any executor, administrator, or personal representative undertaking to probate a Georgia Estate should consider retaining an experienced probate lawyer to assist with the Probate Proceedings. First, the choice to retain a lawyer demonstrates that you want a fair-minded unbiased person involved with the Georgia Estate Administration. This also shows the other interested parties to the estate that you welcome transparency in the Estate Proceedings and all interested parties are welcome to any information concerning the Estate Administration. Taking this action goes a long way to calming fears and suspicions of the “self-dealing personal representative all heirs and beneficiaries fear.” Realistically, it takes a huge burden off your fears of inadvertently breaching your fiduciary.
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In my Atlanta and Marietta, Georgia, law firm, I have learned one of the most important abilities a probate lawyer can have, is to be able to keep the peace! In my Atlanta Probate Law Practice, one of the most common questions I am asked is, how to stop heirs and beneficiaries from fighting with executors and administrators. Usually this question comes from the executor or administrator whose life has been turned upside down by the demands of their Fiduciary Duty. Most executors and administrators want to get through the process as efficiently and quickly as possible in order to return to their normal daily life. But there are other reasons to keep the peace when acting as an executor or administrator.

By actively limiting conflict during the proceedings, it is true that the estate will be distributed faster, but it will also be administered with more assets intact. When conflict arises, litigation, or at least mediation, is not far behind. Probate mediation and litigation can cost precious time, not to mention monetary resources. This type of legal cost can come directly out of the assets of the estate, so with more time spent feuding, less money is available to distribute.

Besides the monetary and time issues, it is important to keep the wishes of the decedent in mind. I believe that most people write wills in part to limit infighting over estate assets. By maintaining a transparent process with the heirs and beneficiaries, conflict can be minimized and the deceased’s wishes can be honored more fully. By retaining the counsel of an experienced Georgia probate lawyer, an executor or administrator can perform the required fiduciary duties and properly keep beneficiaries and heirs informed while meeting all deadlines.
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In my estate law firm practice in Atlanta, Georgia, I have seen the negative impact on many probate cases when financial instruments and valuable assets are set up to provide convenience for the primary owner. It is important to take proper care not only when setting up joint bank accounts, but also when assigning joint owners or beneficiaries to IRAs, 401(k)s, life insurance policies and real estate. Failure to correctly assign joint account holders to any asset or financial instrument under the counsel of a qualified estate attorney may result in disputes during probate proceedings. Setting up these instruments should be part of a sound estate administration plan. Likewise, if a dispute arises, you should retain an experienced Georgia probate law firm to represent you in any Georgia probate and estate litigation lawsuits concerning jointly titled assets.

Because jointly owned bank accounts, IRAs, 401(k)s, life insurance policies and real estate with a right to survivorship are considered non-probate assets, ownership of these assets is straightforward. As non-probate assets they are typically transferred directly to a joint owner or beneficiary and do not need to be distributed through the probate process when the primary owner dies. The problem arises when, in probate proceedings, heirs and beneficiaries disagree on how these assets were originally set up and what the deceased’s true intentions were, upon death, regarding the distribution of these assets.

Just as in the case of joint bank accounts, other assets can be set up where the primary and joint owner’s names are linked by the words “and” or “or.” The difference between these two designations is critical. Both account holders need to sign for all transactions when assets are set up with the “and” designation. When “or” is used, the asset can be manipulated independently by either party. Upon death, all assets will transfer to the joint holder when “or” is used and half of the assets will pass to the joint holder when “and” is used. Under Georgia probate law, when one of the joint owners dies, it is important to have the designation assigned that indicates the true intention of the relationship.

Many of these assets and financial instruments are originally set up with a joint owner or beneficiary for the sake of convenience, and it is not uncommon for heirs and beneficiaries to challenge the ownership of these assets during probate proceedings. An experienced Atlanta probate litigation law firm can represent you in fighting to acquire your inheritance as the decedent truly intended. Similarly, an experienced Atlanta probate attorney can create an estate administration plan that clearly states your true intention, so that your wishes are fulfilled and your heirs and beneficiaries receive the treatment that you desire.
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As a Marietta, Buckhead, Sandy Springs, and Atlanta Probate Attorney, I have seen the tell tale signs that there are many advantages to establishing a solid Georgia estate plan, yet most people do not have one. Even when a plan does exist with a will, it is possible that the will has not been updated in years. Unfortunately, an out-of-date will can be as costly as not having any will at all, as heirs and beneficiaries will inevitably fight over assets in the estate. As an Atlanta, Georgia Probate Litigation Lawyer, my team and I are experienced in all areas of estate planning and litigation and have helped clients set up effective estate plans that minimize conflict and maximize asset distribution.

Moreover, should you not proceed with properly setting up your estate through a number of different tactics, you could be setting legacy up to being remembered by an embattled North Georgia Will Contest and Protracted Georgia Probate Litigation in North Georgia.

Ultimately, the Court’s goal is to close the estate by distributing the assets. Steps in the probate process include proving the validity of an existing Georgia will, determining if a named executor is fit to administer the estate and appointing a replacement if necessary, appointing an administrator if no will exists, accounting for estate assets, paying debts and taxes, and distribution of any remaining assets per the will or per state law, in the absence of a valid Georgia will.

This probate process is very efficient in Georgia, but some fees and court costs will be required. Legal counsel and other expenses related to the proceedings will be paid for out of estate assets. Additionally, any costs associated with Georgia probate litigation resulting from conflicts between the heirs, beneficiaries, executors or administrators are payable by the estate. Besides the monetary cost of such conflicts, long-term damage to family relationships is common and is best avoided if possible.
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Diligent Probate Lawyers in Atlanta, Georgia, like AThe Libby Law Firm, which consist of former members probate lawyers in Atlanta, Georgia; most notably, The Libby Law Firm, have many clients seek out their counsel on how to receive fair treatment during probate proceedings. As an heir or beneficiary of a Georgia Estate, many primary areas of concern arise concern including mismanagement of the estate and lack of information given to them about the assets of the estate. The executor or administrator handling the Georgia estate may be a family member, a friend of the family, a business associate of the decedent or an impartial third party.

Any perceived wrongdoing may be intentional or innocent. There certainly are individuals who will take advantage of the responsibility of being an executor or administrator for personal gain, but there are also individuals who do not fully understand the nature and extent of the required duties. This lack of understanding can also result in misconduct.

Under any circumstance, heirs and beneficiaries have specific rights that are enforceable under Georgia probate law. An executor or administrator has a fiduciary duty that must be carried out as described by the Georgia Probate Code. If these duties are not completed properly, the executor or administrator can be removed and legal action can be taken against that individual.

Here is a list of the rights of beneficiaries and heirs under Georgia law:

• The right to information about the original assets of the estate and an inventory of these assets

• The right to request an accounting of assets

• The right to review and approve the level of compensation that the executor or administrator will receive for administering the estate

• When not in agreement with the compensation level for the executor or administrator, the right to have the court set the compensation level

• The right to receive estate assets in a timeframe that is reasonable for the complexity of the estate

• When dissatisfied with the executor or administrator for a justifiable reason, the right to have that individual removed and replaced by the court

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As a Trust Litigation Lawyer in Atlanta, I have witnessed first hand that Georgia trusts can be one of the most incredibly useful investment vehicles for safeguarding assets, and protecting and benefiting trust beneficiaries. These same Georgia trusts, can be one of the most abused legal entities when incompetent or dishonest trustees negligently or intentionally mismanage trusts to the detriment of the trust beneficiaries.

Georgia trusts can be created to provide money, real property, and other assets to family members or other parties after death, or during life. Trusts can be set up in numerous fashions and for many reasons. There are many types of trusts including revocable trusts, irrevocable trusts, marital trusts, and trusts for minor children. These trusts can be used as part of an estate plan to control the distribution of assets or for tax planning purposes. A trust is a valuable part of a Georgia estate plan, but even a well-drafted Georgia Trust with the best provisions, clauses, and intentions, which are clearly and concisely defined and enumerated, can be defeated by disputes between beneficiaries and trustees.

Many of the Georgia Trusts Our Firm handles are as follows:

• Revocable Trusts • Irrevocable Trusts • Irrevocable life insurance trusts • Revocable living trusts • Long term care insurance • QTIP and QPRT trusts • Crummey trusts and other gift transfer options • Family business partnerships or asset trusts • Educational or charitable remainder trusts • Generation skipping trusts • Grantor retained trusts • Special needs trusts

In my Atlanta, Georgia Trust Litigation Law firm, I have represented many clients involved in Georgia trust disputes and litigation concerning Georgia fiduciary law lawsuits and legal actions for breach of fiduciary duty. Trustees have a fiduciary responsibility to manage trust assets appropriately and act in the best interests of the beneficiaries. Any inappropriate behavior by the trustee is in conflict with the basic fiduciary duty of that individual. In some cases, fraudulent conveyance and outright self-dealing regarding trust assets is discovered by beneficiaries and will prompt taking action for removal of the trustee. Trustees can be removed as the result of lesser negligence as well, such as in the case of mismanagement of assets, failure to provide an accurate accounting of assets, inadequate income generated by the trust or inadequate tax planning.

Many of the methods and theories we use to control trustees and protect beneficiaries are as follows:

• Demand Inventory and Accounting • Reformation of Trusts • Trust and Will Construction – Interpreting the Trust • Dissolution of the Trust Due to Trust Purpose Being Defeated • Change/Removal of Trustee • Violations of Prudent Investor Rule • Self Dealing by Trustee or Others Under Their Direction • Misappropriation of Trust Funds • Neglect of Trustee Duties/Fiduciary Duties and Responsibilities • Usurping Trust Opportunities for Personal Gain • Abuse of Trust Power • Use of Trust Power for Gain or Upper-Hand in Negotiations and/or Business Affairs • Constructive Trusts to Protect Beneficiaries

If any type of wrongdoing or negligence is suspected on the part of a trustee, it is critical you immediately seek the qualified counsel of an Atlanta, Georgia trust litigation lawyer immediately. An experienced Georgia trust lawyer will ensure that the proper conditions exist for the removal of the trustee. These conditions include breach of duty, failure or refusal to administer the trust adequately or, in the case that all beneficiaries request the removal of the trustee, that the removal supports the purpose of the trust and is in the best interest of all beneficiaries. Our Atlanta Trust Attorneys can also request the court impose a Constructive Trust on trusts assets or the fruits of the trusts assets. Thus, any monies or assets relating back to the misused trust assets are attached to the constructive trust until matters of the misuse and whereabouts of trust assets can be tracked and recouped.
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In my Firm’s Atlanta, Marietta, Buckhead, and Sandy Springs Probate Law Firm, I have found Georgia estate litigation is on the rise. For the most part, the Atlanta, Georgia Probate Litigation lawyers at my Fiduciary Law Firm attribute this to an increase in breach of fiduciary duties among executors, administrators, and powers of attorney. The most common type of disputes we see involves breach of fiduciary duty by the executor or administrator of an estate (also called the personal representative). These personal representatives are assigned the task of managing the distribution of estate assets and are responsible for the fair and honest treatment of beneficiaries and/or heirs during this process. During the course of probate, personal representatives have specific duties under Georgia Fiduciary Law, including the task of handling all estate assets such as real estate, collectibles, cash, bank accounts, retirement accounts, investments, and insurance policies. It is the fiduciaries responsibility of the personal representative to manage this process honestly, efficiently and in the best interests of all beneficiaries and/or heirs.

When a Georgia personal representative is assigned by the decedent in a will, or by the court in the absence of a will, or when the individual named in the will is unable to serve, the expectation is that the personal representative will conduct the required tasks without self-dealing or favoritism towards any party.

Breach of the fiduciary duties required by state law can include the following:

• Theft – directly stealing assets from the estate

• Conversion – indirectly stealing from the estate, for example by liquidating assets for less than their true value and keeping the difference
• Fraud – undermining the will by taking bribes or through dishonesty
• Acting out of Incompetence or Negligence – failure to complete duties correctly and within an acceptable period of time
• Overcharging for Services – charging exorbitant fees for the administration of the estate
• Conflict of Interest – a personal interest in the estate or in the outcome of the probate process

When breach of fiduciary duties and/or responsibilities are suspected, beneficiaries are entitled to swift legal action that will protect their interests. The Atlanta estate litigation lawyers at The Libby Law Firm are versed in all aspects of probate litigation, including the initial phases, which often include mediation. Besides representing heirs and beneficiaries, we are also exceedingly experienced in preparing strategies for wrongfully accused fiduciaries to show that the estate is being managed properly and in a timely fashion under the circumstances, with no occurrences personal benefit or self-dealing.
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When a person dies owning property in a state other than the state where their assets are subject to probate, the out of state property is subject to a form of probate referred to as Ancillary Probate. The ancillary probate proceeding is additional probate process performed in connection with the regular probate proceeding. The difference is that the out of state assets are governed by ancillary probate proceedings and the probate laws of the state where the assets are located. Ancillary probate is usually required when a will exists, as well as when a person dies intestate, or without a valid will. In my many years as an Atlanta, Georgia Ancillary Probate Attorney, I have overseen numerous cases involving Georgia ancillary probate issues and proceedings.

As a Georgia ancillary probate lawyer, I have found that real estate is the most common type of estate asset that requires ancillary probate. Examples where Georgia ancillary probate issues occur, are when the deceased lived in another state, but died owning vacation property in Georgia. Also common, is a scenario where a decedent moved to another state toward the end of their life, but died owning a house or other property in Georgia.

Tangible personal assets can also be subject to and require ancillary probate proceedings. Examples of these assets are mineral rights, oil or gas rights, livestock, vehicles registered out of state, and other assets located and/or registered outside the home state, such as boats or aircraft.

When ancillary probate is required, it naturally delays the settling of the estate. Expenses to settle the estate also increase, since it is necessary to hire a “local counsel” in Georgia to handle the ancillary probate proceedings in Georgia.

Ancillary Probate proceedings are complicated by the fact that probate laws vary by state. Just like probate laws, intestacy laws also differ by state. As a result, when a will does not exist, or if it is found to be invalid, the heirs may be surprised to find out how property is distributed under another state’s probate laws. This situation can cause discord (and surprises) among family members and other interested parties.

Because state probate and intestacy laws vary widely, it is necessary to consult with an experienced Georgia ancillary probate lawyer. Likewise, if there is a Georgia dispute or litigation involving ancillary probate, it is essential to seek the assistance of a Georgia ancillary probate attorney experienced in probate dispute resolution and estate litigation of ancillary probate assets.
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