Articles Posted in WHAT IS PROBATE?

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Hiring a probate and estate administration attorney to guide and represent you through the Georgia probate process may very well be the wisest decision any executor or administrator may perhaps make in carrying out their fiduciary duties in the process of administering a GA estate in county probate court. The consequences of improperly administering a Georgia Estate during the estate administration process are serious and have dreadful consequences which include personal liability of the Georgia executor and administrator.

These consequences stem from a fiduciary duty that all executors and administrators have when they administer an estate. These fiduciary duties are usually not even known by any would be or currently acting executor or administrator until they inevitably emerge. And, the fact of the matter is, nobody is going to tell about these “unknown” pending concerns and why there are compelling reasons for retaining a GA probate and estate administration attorney and Georgia law firm for the for the following reasons:

1) Most laypersons and attorneys who do not have considerable experience in GA probate law and GA probate estate administration proceedings, don’t know about these intricate GA “probate” laws or how to properly follow and use them to the benefit of the estate and any executor or administrator of the estate;

2) That the payment of an experienced GA probate and estate administration attorney is a valid estate expense and can be paid from estate funds;
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As a prospective or acting executor or administrator of a Georgia Estate, there are significant advantages in seeking and retaining the services of an experienced GA attorney or law firm. You likely will save money for the estate, understand and be counseled and advised on how to be fairly and fully compensated for finding, identifying and gathering the estate assets; transferring these assets into the estate name and account(s); making necessary and proper transactions, payments and distributions during the estate administration process; carrying out your fiduciary duties to the estate beneficiaries and heirs and any third parties with a binding legal interest in the estate; and, finalizing administration of the estate per Georgia law by distributing the estate assets to the proper beneficiaries or heirs of the estate. These are just an overview summary of the fiduciary duties you must carry out.

The estate administration process in Georgia probate court is much more in depth and complicated than the brief overview above and consulting an attorney and law firm that are experienced in Georgia probate and estate administration law is necessary and highly advisable. This is true whether the estate is straightforward or complex, small or large in monetary value or other assets such as real property, or whether there are only a few beneficiaries or many.
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As an Atlanta, Georgia, power of attorney litigation lawyer, I have seen a sharp rise in the number of cases dealing with the misuse of a power of attorney or other similar document. Most times, the fiduciary lawyers at our Firm see the misuse and abuse of a Georgia power of attorney committed against the elderly, incapacitated, and other persons who tend to be trusting, in need of help and/or suffer from some mental disorder, cognitive disability, or laboring under circumstances, which make them easily influenced or coerced.

A power of attorney is an authoritative document and brings with it the ability to act on behalf of someone else; usually without his or her presence or any questions asked. A Georgia power of attorney is relatively easy to establish over a person. The person who gains and holds the power of attorney is referred to as the attorney-in-fact or agent. These forms can be purchased for a few dollars from a “legal document information company,” downloaded over the internet, bought in an office supply or other such store, and even found over the web for free.

The Georgia power of attorney document can be easily secured, signed by the trusting, gullible, eager to please, or even forged. Furthermore, once an “attorney-in-fact” has a Georgia power of attorney, there are relatively few security measures in place to prevent these documents from being used without any questions asked. This is the case with many banks, credit unions, credit card companies, businesses, financial institutions, mortgage companies, or other businesses.

The fiduciary litigation lawyers at our Firm have found that many persons acting as an attorney-in-fact or agent pretend to act as if they are helping someone else, when they are only helping themselves to the money and assets of another trusting person. They are also spending monies that otherwise would go into the estate of the person who gave the power of attorney and defrauding the rightful heirs or beneficiaries assets which “would have been in the estate,” but for the misuse, fraud and abuse. It is important to know a power of attorney, brings with it a fiduciary duty to act in the best interest of the person giving the power of attorney. If the attorney-in-fact or agent is acting in his or her best interest or without the best interest of the person giving the power of attorney, they are acting breach of their fiduciary duty and in breaking Georgia law. They must be stopped before too much damage is done!

Our Firm asks that you look out for your loved ones and the following circumstances:

• Overly Trusting Person Giving Power of Attorney
• Sudden Change in Financial Circumstances
• Sudden Change in Behavior – (Especially Emotional or Worrisome Thoughts or Actions)

• Need for Money by Attorney-in-Fact or Agent
• Mental Illness such as Dementia, Alzheimer’s or Other Mental Disorder
• Inability Care to for Self
• Coercion (by Family, Friends or Others)

• Duress
• Undue Influence
• Lack of Capacity
• Incompetence
• Fraud
• Other Suspicious Circumstances

The reason I am writing this article is to tell you that there are many ways to prevent, stop, and recover the damages caused by the misuse of a Georgia power of attorney. Our Atlanta fiduciary litigation law Firm specializes in Georgia power of attorney litigation. We can assist you in preventing fraudulent use of a power of attorney by an attorney-in-fact or an agent. We can also represent you against persons who have wrongfully acted as attorney –in-fact or agent. It is important to know there are numerous powerful remedies to stop and hold accountable persons who obtain, misuse, or abuse a power of attorney. We can also assist you after the power of attorney has been misused and the “would be estate” has been squandered.
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In my Atlanta, Georgia Probate Law Firm’s practice, I routinely counsel executors and administrators on how to administer Georgia estates. The role of an executor or administrator, (referred to under Georgia Probate Law as a “personal representative”) is challenging and is often accepted before a full understanding of the duties is apparent. The personal representative must be able to manage the process and the requests of the other parties involved, such as heirs and/or beneficiaries. One of the most sensible steps a personal representative can take is to retain the services of an experienced estate and probate attorney. The attorney will guide the executor or administrator during the probate process and can help prevent issues that surface from becoming full-blown disputes that require litigation.

There are a few general guidelines to follow that are very important when taking on the role of personal representative. The first is not to make any promises to anyone involved, including the heirs and beneficiaries. The Georgia probate process has a cadence of its own, with deadlines and procedures that need to be handled efficiently and properly. Giving a general timeline for the process is sufficient and it is key to stress that the proceedings will move faster if conflict is kept to a minimum.

Secondly, the Georgia estate administration process can be long. Prepare yourself as executor or administrator for this, and let the others involved know that the process will take time to complete. This is critical. Typically, the longer the probate process takes, the more common it is for beneficiaries and heirs to get anxious and start to argue. With conflict comes the need for lengthy mediation or litigation and as more time is spent, probate costs increase. As executor or administrator, it is imperative to be patient and manage not only your own expectations, but also the expectations of everyone involved.

A third point is that it is advantageous to begin the probate process by opening the estate as quickly as possible. As the administrator or executor, you must be appointed by the court to have the legal authority to administer the estate. Personal representatives have a fiduciary duty and must be thorough in carrying out the required steps to offer up the will (if one exists) as the definitive document that expresses the final wishes of the deceased. When a will does not exist, an administrator will be assigned to manage the estate. Often the stage is set early on for family disharmony and infighting, power struggles, disputes, and litigation. This is especially true when it takes too long to open the estate. Diligence, accuracy, honesty, and care in this process is essential and hopefully will keep the Georgia probate process moving forward more smoothly.
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In the beginning of the Georgia estate probate process, the Georgia probate court will assign an executor or administrator (also known as a personal representative) to manage the distribution of an estate. This occurs when no will exists. It also occurs when the executor named in a will cannot serve or does not want to serve, or when no executor is named. Many times when the Georgia probate court appoints an individual as a personal representative, this comes as a surprise to the appointee.

The initial surprise often changes to concern when the personal representative realizes the serious nature of their new role. The administrative responsibilities of personal representatives are fiduciary in nature and require knowledge and diligence to complete. Personal representatives who fail to complete their duties and fulfill the legal obligations required by Georgia probate law can be held liable for their actions. As an experienced Atlanta, Georgia Probate Attorney, I have handled countless probate disputes where personal representatives were accused of wrongdoing. In some cases there was true intent to deceive, while in other cases an innocent lack of understanding of the duties caused the issue. Either way, the personal representative can be held legally responsible.

Because the administrative tasks of Georgia executors and administrators are so complex, a North Georgia probate attorney can be retained to mitigate liability. An attorney will assist and guide personal representatives in their duties, drafting legal documents and ensuring that court deadlines are met. Besides protecting against personal liability, a GA estate proceeding lawyer should be retained to keep the probate process moving forward as quickly and efficiently as possible. Probate proceedings that are lengthy usually involve disputes or litigation between interested parties. And litigation costs the estate money, which is not in the best interest of the beneficiaries. So a personal representative that can administer the estate efficiently will ensure that the estate’s assets are intact and available for distribution when the proceedings conclude.
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As an Atlanta Estate and Probate Attorney, many of my clients come to me for counsel during the difficult time following a loved one’s death. Confusion over how the Georgia probate process works and conflicts of interest between heirs and/or beneficiaries can make this process painful and complicated. During the Georgia probate process, assets from the estate will be distributed and any disputes between heirs or beneficiaries regarding estate assets will be resolved. The process of probate varies by state. In Georgia, the law is somewhat straightforward, but still extremely complicated for most any non-lawyer.

For a better understanding of the probate process, it is important to clarify a few commonly used terms:

Probate: the court proceedings that prove a Will to be the last valid Will of the decedent – it is also the process of administering the decedent’s estate
• Decedent: a person who has died
Estate: all of the decedent’s property, including personal property and real estate
• Heirs: in the absence of a Will, those persons who have a just claim to the property in the estate of the decedent
Beneficiary: a person who is identified in the Will to receive property from the decedent’s estate

• Will: a signed, legal document that states how the decedent wishes to distribute his property after death
• Testate: when a person dies and did write a Will
• Intestate: when the decedent did not write a Will, or when the Will is invalid
Executor: the person named in the Will to administer the decedent’s estate

• Administrator With Will Annexed: the person assigned by the court to administer the decedent’s estate when a Will exists, but has not named an Executor, or in the case that the Executor named is unwilling or unable to serve this duty
Administrator: when there is no Will, this is the person assigned by the court to administer the decedent’s estate
• Escheat: in the case that no heirs make claims to all or some part of the property in an estate, the state will receive the unclaimed property

Georgia probate proceedings usually are held in the Georgia county where the decedent permanently resided at the time of death. The county probate court will verify that the will presented in the proceedings is valid and that it is the last will that was written by the decedent. Once the will is verified, or in a case where there is no will, the probate court will oversee the distribution of the estate’s assets. When the decedent dies with a will, the estate will be administered in accordance with the decedent’s wishes that are expressed in the will. Should the decedent die without a will, Georgia’s Intestacy Statutes provide the scheme for distribution of estate assets. This usually means that the surviving spouse and children will receive the percentages of property first, followed by parents, siblings, and other family members.

The time that the probate process takes can run between seven or eight months for simple estates, to several years for more complex estates. During the process, the executor or administrator will identify the assets in the estate, perform an appraisal of those assets and pay any debts and taxes owed by the estate. Only after these steps are completed can the remaining property be distributed to the heirs and/or beneficiaries. Disputes between the parties involved over how these duties are performed will lengthen the process. The normal expenses incurred in probate, including the payment of debts and taxes, are paid out of the estate’s assets. Legal fees are also usually paid from estate assets.

The clarity with which a will is written will affect the duration and outcome of the process. Working with a qualified Georgia Estate lawyer to define exactly how your estate’s assets will be distributed is critical. If you are named as Executor or Administrator of an estate, a lawyer can explain your duties under Georgia Probate Law, help you fill out court forms and send the required probate notices. An attorney can also help you to meet all court deadlines. When issues between heirs and/or beneficiaries seem likely, or when they do come up, an experienced Probate litigation lawyer should be consulted so that delays in the proceedings, and additional costs, can be avoided.
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The Will Contest and Litigation Lawyers at, The Libby Law Firm are skilled, experienced and resourceful. We have seen a steady increase in the rise of Georgia probate law based claims against Georgia Probate Court appointed executors for inventory and accounting, removal, money damages, and more. Georgia probate court executors have significant liability by assuming this position.

To the contrary, Georgia heir and beneficiaries have significant rights to know the what, where, when, and how of the estate’s status. They also have the right to force the executor to compile and Georgia estate inventory and accounting even if this is specifically not required by the will. The Georgia estate executor can incur personal liability if money or assets can not be accounted for and will likely incur personal liability for these monies and assets.

The basic remedies against Georgia Probate Court appointed executors can be found in The Official Code of Georgia Annotated (“O.C.G.A.”) § 53-7-54, which reads as follows:

(a) If a personal representative or temporary administrator commits a breach of fiduciary duty or threatens to commit a breach of fiduciary duty, a beneficiary of a testate estate or heir of an intestate estate shall have a cause of action:

(1) To recover damages;

(2) To compel the performance of the personal representative´s or temporary administrator´s duties;

(3) To enjoin the commission of a breach of fiduciary duty;

(4) To compel the redress of a breach of fiduciary duty by payment of money or otherwise;

(5) To appoint another personal representative or temporary administrator to take possession of the estate property and administer the estate;

(6) To remove the personal representative or temporary administrator; and

(7) To reduce or deny compensation to the personal representative or temporary administrator.

(b) When estate assets are misapplied and can be traced in the hands of persons affected with notice of misapplication, a trust shall attach to the assets.

(c) The provision of remedies for breach of fiduciary duty by this Code section does not prevent resort to any other appropriate remedy provided by statute or common law.

Even if you follow the necessary probate steps, there are times when you can find yourself involved in an Atlanta probate dispute or estate dispute. Some of these situations include, but are not limited to:

• Breach of Fiduciary Duty

• Interference with Inheritance

• Fraudulent Conveyance

• Misappropriation of funds, estate assets, estate inventory

• Self-dealing

• Conversion

• Negligence

• Accounting Claims

• And more

As an Atlanta Lawyer Atlanta, Georgia probate lawyer, I know that when a loved one has passed away, the process of going through the legal system to determine and distribute their estate can be a tremendous challenge. This process, for better or worse, is known as the Georgia probate process (commonly referred to as “probate”). Whether there is a will or not the Georgia court will assess the properties and pay off any outstanding debts before distributing the estate. First, however, they must determine if the will is valid, before assessing the amount of debts or taxes owed. Fortunately, the State of Georgia Probate Courts have made the probate process very easy and relatively inexpensive. Nevertheless, it is prudent to retain an experienced Atlanta, Georgia probate lawyer or Atlanta, Georgia estate attorney to ensure the probate process proceeds smoothly, fairly, and without incident.

NOTE – WHEN THE ADMINISTRATOR OR EXECUTOR RETAINS A GEORGIA PROBATE LAWYER TO REPRESENT THE ESTATE, THIS IS USUALLY AN ESTATE EXPENSE:

THE DOWNSIDE TO NOT RETAINING AN ATLANTA ATTORNEY TO REPRESENT THE EXECUTOR CAN BE DEVASTATING INCLUDING REMOVAL, PERSONAL LIABILITY, LOSS OF EXECUTOR FEES, CREATING ENEMIES IN YOUR FAMILY, AND PROMOTING SIGNIFICANT FAMILY DISHARMONY.

HAVING AN ATLANTA ATTORNEY REMOVES MUCH OF THE LIABILITY PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVES HAVE, PREVENTS ATTACKS ON THE EXECUTOR OR ADMINISTRATOR BY YOUR OWN FAMILY, AND DISSOLVES THE PERCEPTION OF BIAS, SELF-DEALING, AND MISAPPROPRIATION OF FUND, CONVERSION OF ESTATE ASSETS, AND MISMANAGEMENT OF ESTATE ASSETS. FAMILY HARMONY IS PRESERVED AS WELL. I DO NOT THINK YOU CAN PUT A PRICE OR VALUE ON THIS.
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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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Atlanta Attorneys know there are many tools that can be used to facilitate the transfer of assets in an estate plan. Holding property jointly (in two or more names) is one method that has advantages and disadvantages. Joint ownership of real estate, bank accounts, and other property is common because assets owned jointly with rights of survivorship do not become assets of the decedent’s estate. These assets do not pass through probate to be distributed but are transferred by operation of Georgia law and automatically pass outside of the decedent’s estate to the surviving owner(s). When joint owners are spouses, this set up can be ideal. Because there is no delay in the transfer of property under joint ownership, the surviving owner can immediately take control of the property. This is especially useful if access to the property is urgent, time-sensitive, or when financial issues need to be resolved immediately upon the death of the decedent joint owner.

Joint ownership does have its downsides and should be carefully considered before being implemented in any inter vivos circumstances or estate plan. For instance, one scenario where it can be unwise to set up property ownership jointly is when a parent and child are named as joint owners. Problems can arise if the parent has other children who are not included in the joint ownership of the property or the child involved in the joint ownership is financially unstable. With multiple siblings, even if the Georgia will specifies that the joint property should be divided evenly between all of the children, the joint ownership property is not part of the estate. Thus, the surviving owner is not obligated to split the property and distribute it per the Georgia will. This is because the joint property transfers to the surviving owner(s) by operation of law. Thus, the property never becomes part of the estate and therefore is not subject to the laws of intestacy or distribution per the terms of the Georgia will. Also, if the joint owner is a child with financial issues, the parent can lose the property if the child’s creditors endeavor to collect outstanding debts. The child’s joint ownership interest can also be threatened if the parent has financial issues, which cause the parent to declare bankruptcy. This can oftentimes be the case if the parent has significant medical expenses or other expenses associated with growing older and not having earned income.

A Georgia Estate Planning attorney can provide other alternatives to placing property in joint ownership. One good alternative is to draft an effective estate plan that specifies how the property will be divided under a number of possible scenarios. Without a crystal ball we cannot foresee which scenarios are most likely, but they can include illness, remarriage of a spouse, bankruptcy, etc. With such variability, it is prudent to draft a detailed estate plan that can factor in multiple circumstances. Such an estate plan is especially effective for larger estates or in situations where a dispute between heirs and/or beneficiaries may be inevitable. Estate planning under such scenarios often involves the use of revocable and irrevocable trusts and annual gifting. Implementing these types of estate planning vehicles can be complicated and it is necessary to have an experienced estate planning attorney assist you.
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Atlanta Lawyers, Social Workers, Adult Protective Servicesand other persons and/or entities that focus on protecting (or preying upon) the older and aging population of the United States, know it is a common for most families to have an elderly parent who is independent enough to live alone, but who is unable to manage household expenses. In the interest of helping the senior maintain independence for as long as possible, a son or daughter’s name is frequently added to the senior’s bank account to facilitate payment of the expenses. In addition to paying any bills from the account, the joint account holder will be able to keep an eye on the outflow of monies and perhaps oversee any transactions that the senior does make. How the account is set up when the additional person is added, though, can have an impact on the outcome of any Georgia probate proceedings upon the death of the parent.

When creating a joint bank account, inserting the word “or” between the names of both account holders is a simple way to allow for either party to process transactions independently. While this facilitates the payment of expenses as described in the previous example, if one account holder dies, it also allows for all funds in the account to pass to the surviving account holder. When the second person is a spouse or the only surviving relative, this may not pose a problem. But when there are other heirs, a dispute may take place if the heirs feel that they are entitled to a portion of the funds. The question of who receives the funds will be addressed during probate proceedings, as the true intent of the deceased is investigated. Most commonly, the proof of how the money will be divided up is found in the will. But with no will, or if the will does not clearly state how the funds are to be allocated, the court will needs to determine if the second account holder was added only for the sake of convenience or if it was the true intention of the deceased to gift the funds to the second account holder.

When the word “and” is used between two names on a joint bank account, no transactions on the account can be processed without the other party’s signature. This is common in Georgia business partnerships where the inflow and outflow of funds needs to be closely monitored. Under this scenario, in the event that one account holder dies, half of the funds will pass on to the estate of the deceased and half of the funds will pass to the surviving account holder. This set up is not common in family dealings and does not usually cause a dispute during Georgia probate proceedings.

The types of joint account disputes involving family members can be avoided by asking an experienced and qualified Georgia probate attorney to set up a will that clearly defines your desired intentions. Keep in mind that while probate proceedings resolve issues on these difficult and emotionally charged cases, your heirs are the ones who will live not only with the outcome, but also with the consequences caused by any drama that plays out during the proceedings. With the proper planning you can eliminate this turmoil and create a positive experience for your loved ones.
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