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In my Atlanta, Georgia Probate Law Firm, I have represented clients in many Georgia estate disputes that were the result of poor management of estate assets during the probate proceeding. Probate can be a complex process and Georgia law provides guidelines for probate proceedings and outlines specific duties for the personal representatives (also referred to as executors and administrators) that are appointed to manage the estate during probate. These tasks must be carried out according to Georgia’s law on fiduciary duty which is imposed and closely regulated by Georgia state law. Typical fiduciary duties of Georgia executors and administrators include, but are not limited to, identifying, locating and collecting estate assets, making outstanding payments on behalf of the estate and distributing assets to beneficiaries. Failure to carry out such fiduciary duties is referred to as a breach of fiduciary duty. There are a number of remedies which the court can impose for a breach of fiduciary duty.

One of the requirements of Georgia probate law is that the fiduciary duties carried out by administrators and executors are completed with the best interests of the heirs and beneficiaries at heart. In fact, the word fiduciary is defined as “involving trust” and it is this trust that is often the missing ingredient in the probate process. As a highly experienced team of Atlanta, Georgia Probate Litigation attorneys, we have often witnessed the emotional and financial carnage created by self-dealing and untrustworthy executors and administrators. Unfortunately, in today’s economic climate we are seeing the abuse and breach of Georgia fiduciary duties occur more frequently.

Yet not all Georgia estate disputes are the result of intentional acts of deception or wrongdoing. Due to the complexity of Georgia probate law, many competent and well-meaning executors and administrators get lost in the process, missing filing dates and misunderstanding requirements. For this reason it is wise to retain the services of a qualified Georgia probate attorney. A Georgia probate attorney will help executors and administrators fulfill their duties fairly and completely, as well as assist heirs and beneficiaries who want to ensure that their interests are represented.
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The administration of an estate in Georgia probate court can seem straightforward, but as a Georgia Estate Lawyer practicing Georgia probate law, I have met many executors and administrators that found the process to be more complicated than they initially thought. The common realization is that by retaining a lawyer at the outset of the proceedings, many common issues can be avoided and the probate proceedings will move forward more quickly with less cost. In addition, Georgia law closely regulates the fiduciary responsibilities of Georgia executors and administrators and so the consequences of making errors during the process are serious and can result in personal liability for the executor or administrator.

It is very common that most executors and administrators do not have a good understanding of what their fiduciary duties are until after the process starts and issues start to surface. One common issue is family infighting. Even in the most unified families, heirs and beneficiaries will try to steer the process in their favor. And although the executor/administrator may be a highly respected family member, this behavior can result in conflict that will drastically slow down the proceedings, as disputes are resolved. Not having a clear grasp of Georgia probate law, and the required timing of the proceedings, puts the executor/administrator at a disadvantage and hiring a probate attorney can restore the balance.

One fact that many executors and administrators are happy to discover is that the expense of hiring a probate lawyer is payable from the estate’s assets. Even related legal fees incurred before the executor or administrator took control of the assets are reimbursable. Another positive aspect to working with an experienced estate and probate attorney is that the attorney is an unbiased party who will professionally manage the process and handle all parties with fair treatment. Fair treatment is an especially important concept, as many executors and administrators are accused of unethical and self-serving behavior that can result in legal action against them, and ultimately lead to their removal.
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As Atlanta, Georgia, business attorneys who also practice complex trust and estate planning and will, trust and estate litigation, we recognize there are numerous lawyers and companies who want to help you plan and protect your estate assets. These same lawyers and companies also want to help you set up your business succession planning and assist you with your estate planning. However, as business assets become increasingly intangible and more difficult to define, the estates of persons owning and having an interest in these businesses become more complex, difficult to plan, probate and administer. If these estates are not planned properly, it is quite possible these estates could end up in litigation.

As businesses, assets, and information have become increasingly digital, intangible, and available solely on-line, it is important to choose Atlanta business lawyers who understand your “intangible” business assets, how to protect them, and how to formulate effective trust and estate planning for these assets. Moreover, you not only need trust and estate attorneys, you need these same attorneys to be Georgia business attorneys well-versed in complex business matters as they relate to intellectual and technological property, copyright and trademark issues, and other potentially intangible property.

For example, any number of lawyers might be able to draft a basic will, and this may be fine for someone with fairly limited and straightforward “traditional” assets. If everyone knows you have accounts at a local bank and brokerage house and you keep your account documents on file and in physical form, it may be easy to ascertain what is in your estate.

On the other hand, consider the following:

• What if you have accounts at one of the “on-line only” banks?

• What if all your account statements are e-delivered?

• What if you have a second business selling goods on e-bay, or if you have a business or assets in a “virtual world,” such as Second Life?

• Who has your login information and passwords to these accounts?

• How will anyone determine what assets you have, or where? How will these assets be valued and by whom?

• Even if you do not have these things now, can you guarantee that you will not have them before your beneficiaries or heirs need to administer your estate?

Thus, it is increasingly important to consider not just your tangible assets, but also your digital, intellectual, technological, and other such assets, when planning your estate. This is why you must choose attorneys who understand the complexity of these assets and can advise you on how to protect yourself and your business as well as your beneficiaries and heirs.

The Libby Law Firm has been at the forefront of the union of technology as it relates to trusts, estates, business planning, and representation of individuals and businesses with non-traditional assets. Our Atlanta Attorneys also specialize in business, trust, and estate litigation as it relates to “intangible” and “non-traditional” assets.
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As an Atlanta probate attorney, I often see Georgia probate estate administrators and executors turn into dishonest persons once they become administrator or executor of the probate estate. Upon qualification by the Georgia Probate Court, any administrator or executor is put into a position of power and trust over heirs, beneficiaries and others involved in the Georgia estate administration process and the assets of the Georgia probate estate. It is normal, but not wise, for heirs and beneficiaries to be trusting of the Georgia estate administrator or executor. This is especially true given the tough times are going through in this economic era and that it is wholly true that everyone could use an extra few dollars. Oftentimes, matters are made worse because many Georgia estate administrators or executors are family members, friends of family members or long trusted family friends.

In my practice as a Georgia Probate litigation and dispute lawyer, I see good people turn bad when they gain control of estate assets and have easy access to money that is not theirs. I have found this to be especially true when these estate assets include easily maneuverable items such as liquid cash, stocks, bonds, cars, jewelry, real estate and other items of great monetary value. This is especially true because these estate assets seem to be just arm lengths away from a “dip into the pot” without anyone noticing or any harm done at all. This is a common misperception of the untrustworthy administrator or executor and nothing could be further from the truth. As an Atlanta estate litigation attorney, I see and know all too well the tricks and deceptive actions of these dishonest and conniving persons. Fortunately, under Georgia probate law, these administrators and executors must adhere to and act within the scope of their fiduciary duty. Such administrators and executors are bound by the this duty almost regardless of what rights you may have been told you have signed away to them.

An administrator or executor (known as a fiduciary) has the following legal duties and obligations:

§ 53-7-1. General powers and duties of personal representative; additional powers A personal representative is a fiduciary who, in addition to the specific duties imposed by law, is under a general duty to settle the estate as expeditiously and with as little sacrifice of value as is reasonable under all of the circumstances. The personal representative shall use the authority and powers conferred by law, by the terms of any will under which the personal representative is acting, by any order of court in proceedings to which the personal representative is a party, and by the rules generally applicable to fiduciaries to act in the best interests of all persons who are interested in the estate and with due regard for their respective rights.

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As an Atlanta Estate Lawyer and in working for a Georgia Probate Law Firm, my experience has been that there are several rules of thumb to follow when opening and administering a Georgia estate in county probate court:

They are, in simplified form, as follows:

1. No Promises: Do not make any promises to heirs, beneficiaries or otherwise. Give general time frames adding on that old saying “if everything goes smoothly”, etc.

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As a Georgia estate dispute and probate litigation lawyer, I have represented numerous Georgia estates, executors, administrators, heirs, and beneficiaries. In doing so, I have often times guided them to various “free web sites” so that they may see for themselves what is involved in the Georgia probate and estate administration process. There are a number of resources on the internet for use in effective estate administration and otherwise gather information about this complicated process. They are the following: The State of Georgia Probate Website ; The Georgia Courts Website ; The IRS ; and, most importantly the link to the county in which you are offering the will for probate (i.e. The Fulton County Probate Court Website)

The State of Georgia Probate Court Website and The Georgia Courts Website have links, forms and important information on estate administration and the probate process. In addition, theses sites contain a wealth of forms to be used in the State of Georgia (these two sites should be used to download any probate forms). The IRS site is an important sources of tax references, contact numbers, and information and documentation resources.

Unfortunately, these clerks and staff can not give you legal advice and are instructed to not engage in such action. Additionally, these sites are for informational purposes only, and while official, please know that nothing can replace the guidance of an experienced Georgia probate law firm.
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