Articles Posted in WILLS, TRUST & ESTATE LITIGATION

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In my many years as a Georgia probate attorney, I have represented numerous clients in probate cases. Most often my relationship with a client begins when I am asked this question, “How long will the Georgia probate process take?” In reality, this is only part of the question. What most parties in a Georgia probate hearing really want to know is, “When will I receive my share of the Georgia estate’s assets?” The answer to these two questions depends on several factors, including the speed that the petition can be completed and filed with the Georgia probate court, and then the length of time that the court will take to rule on the case. Nevertheless, I will say that the Georgia probate process in general takes anywhere from a little over six months to a few years. Therefore, I submit to you three rules of thumb, which I hope you will helpful and moderate your expectations. They are as follows:

One, be prepared to wait a substantial amount of time for the full probate process to be completed and the estate to be closed. Two, be patient and hope for the best, but be prepared to wait a long time if the particular case warrants this. Three, generally the more fighting, disagreement, disputes, and litigation, which may occur between the heirs, beneficiaries, and/or executors, the longer the probate process will take. Nonetheless, if it is any consolation, know that distributions may be made from the estate assets as the estate progresses through the Georgia probate process.

Once the required Georgia petition for letters testamentary or administration is filed, objections to the petition can be submitted during a set period of time (Objections in Georgia probate court are called “Caveats”). If objections are brought forward, then one or more hearing(s) is usually required which will delay the proceedings. If no objections are made, the court will not require a hearing and will order that the estate be opened, or that the administration of the estate begin. Georgia county probate courts will allow administration to begin when satisfied that the petition filed was carefully drafted. The petition must include the names of all the parties involved and the petition has to meet all of the Georgia probate petition legal requirements.

Although many factors can slow down a probate proceeding, there are several key items that are worth mentioning. The first is the location and number of beneficiaries. Where the beneficiaries live adds time to the process, as documents need to be shuffled back and forth for signature. Further, it is unreasonable to think that everyone will agree on everything all the time, so the greater number of beneficiaries involved can increase the odds for disagreement. In cases where beneficiaries have a lot at stake, they sometimes will hire their own legal counsel. When this is the case it can take more time to communicate and resolve issues.

Will contests in Georgia can cause significant delays in probate proceedings. A will contest is to determine the validity the Last Will and Testament of the deceased (the decedent). Anyone is allowed to hire a Atlanta, Georgia will contest lawyer and legally challenge the validity of the decedent’s will. Even when the reasons for filing a Georgia will contest are found to be bogus, the court must investigate each claim thoroughly before the probate process can continue. This can take up precious time and causes unnecessary expense. The degree of complexity of the assets in the estate can also increase the time that probate proceedings take. Before estate assets can be distributed, they need to be identified, located, and inventoried by the administrator or executor of the estate. Bank accounts and family homes are not very complex, and can be processed fairly quickly. In contrast, business interests and offshore investments can take more time to sort out and distribute.
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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, Attorney, I encounter an ever-increasing number of cases filed contesting the validity of the Testator’s Will. The Libby Law Firm’ skilled Georgia Probate Attorneys can explain to each individual Heir(s) or Beneficiarie(s) and Executor(s) or Administrator(s) alike, the nature of such proceedings, and what it means to them in their particular situation.

AFTER THE TESTATOR HAS PASSED AND THE ESTATE IS BEING PROBATED

One of the cases commonly referred to and used as a defense to undue influence is Haynes v. First National State Bank of New Jersey case in 1981. The New Jersey Supreme Court established that the burden of proof lies on the proponent, especially when there are suspicious circumstances surrounding the will. It is also extended to transfers of property between donors and beneficiaries. The donee must bear the burden of proof and establish that the transfer of property was a gift and not the result of undue influence. This is altogether not so problematic when other heirs and beneficiaries received gifts, estate taxes mandated gifts of property and other wealth to use the Testator’s Unified Credit, and more. Therefore, it is common that related parties make gifts to their “flesh and blood” rather than have this money go to the Georgia Department of Revenue or the United States Treasury (the IRS).

Another landmark case is Pascale v Pascale in 1988. The New Jersey Supreme Court stated that the donee must establish for the court that the donor had an unbiased and competent counsel prior to the drafting of a Georgia Will or Power of Attorney. It is also helpful if these documents remain relatively similar in disposition of assets and powers given to the Power of Attorney In Fact. This is especially true if the donor is found to be mental or physically weakened. However, if the instructions and dispositions in these documents remain relatively the same, then a “best practices management” argument would be as follows:

• Argue to the Jury that whether it was a time the Testator was knowingly competent and understanding the consequences of all his or her acts, to the time when lack of capacity of undue influence might have set in, that even after the onset of some disease making a person susceptible to Undue Influence, the Testator’s wishes and desires remained the same.

• You may also argue that any confidential relationship can create a presumption of undue influence that the donee must then prove to be otherwise. A donee with superior knowledge of financial matters, fiduciary relations, or one who is directly responsible for the physical care of the donor can be considered to have an extraordinary relationship that could create undue influence. However, you will then go on to say someone has to take care of the loved one, and why should it not be another loved one rather than a hired paid caregiver who possibly doesn’t care about the disposition of the Georgia Testator’s Estate.

• To the contrary, Consider King v Brown in 2006. The jury found the will to be invalid due to undue influence and lack of testamentary capacity. In 2002, the decedent divided his estate between his 6 children in a will. Shortly thereafter, two of the decedent’s daughters (King and Brown) were named his guardians and they began to quarrel over the estate and money. When his house was destroyed, the decedent moved in with his daughter King and shortly thereafter wrote a new will disinheriting Brown and leaving his estate to his daughter King. The jury decided that this was a result of undue influence because the father had become so dependent on his daughter for care and influenced by King decided to disinherit his daughter. This is obviously the scenario you to avoid in your case and defense.

A PROCEDURE TO FOLLOW BEFORE THE TESTATOR SIGNS THE WILL, AND A WILL CONTEST IS ON THE HORIZON.

The types of joint account disputes involving family members can be avoided by asking an experienced and qualified Georgia Estate Planning and Probate Attorneys in Atlanta, Georgia to set up a Georgia Will that clearly defines the Testator’s 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. Moreover, documentation of the Testator’s ailment is necessary as is making sure that capacity is shown at the time of the making of the will as well as having a recent visit from a doctor are always helpful ways to document the intentions of the Testator.

In fact, it may be prudent to video tape the proceedings, take extra steps to make sure the Testator is of sound mind, ask a lot of difficult questions to demonstrate the Testator’s capacity, and also possibly record the Georgia Will execution. What is more, have the proper unbiased witnesses there who do not know the Testator and do not in any way shape or form have an interest in any Georgia will contest proceeding. This also might be time to add an extra witness to your Will and not use your own paralegal as a witness or witness the Georgia Will itself. The fact is, acting as if this situation does not exist is the absolute wrong thing to do. You may also want to do the following:

• Record the proceeding


• Have extra witnesses unrelated at the will signing

Ask extra questions to determine the Testator’s capacity

• Put an “In Terrom” or “No Contest” clause in the Will

• Acknowledge the left out parties and state why as opposed to just oddly leaving them out altogether looking as if the Testator forgot these would be heirs of beneficiaries did not exist

• Remember, when one makes a will must know and do as follows: 1) know the contents of the Will Document; 2) Know the Nature of his or her bounty; 3) Know and Understand the Nature and extent of his or her assets for disposition.

• The capacity to make a will is less than the capacity to make a contract, and only a lucid moment in time by the Testator necessary

• Use Common sense!

The Libby Law Firm Atlanta, Georgia Will Contest Defense Lawyers know how to use the one party’s acts or omission against them. Remember, we are often on the other side of the Georgia County Will Contest Case. The Adams Firm Atlanta Estate Litigation Lawyers know what to look for, bring to the attention of the jury, and downplay.
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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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Georgia probate law allows for any individual, not just beneficiaries and heirs, to legally challenge a will that has been filed for probate. When successful, this type of petition deems invalid all of the provisions of a will, or sometimes just specific sections of a will. The person challenging the will is required to provide evidence that the will is invalid. There are many legal reasons for challenging a will under Georgia law. Five commonly accepted objections that frequently are used to contest a will are as follows:


1) The will presented is not the most up to date will.

2) The deceased was not of sound mind when the will was written.

3) The will was written under a fraudulent misrepresentation, mistake of fact, or other false pretense, which affected the way the will was written.

4) The will was written with undue influence from a third party.

5) The will was not executed properly, including not being witnessed or notarized correctly.

It is not enough for an individual to object to a will because they feel that the deceased has not treated them fairly in the will. Proof that the will is invalid must be provided and all claims will be investigated thoroughly by the court. As a result, this type of petition can cost unnecessary time and money and completely stalls the Georgia probate process. There are several things that can be done when a will is written that will discourage will contests. Using witnesses who can later provide logical testimony in front of a court and securing affidavits from credible individuals that can be used later to confirm the true intentions of the deceased are two of these strategies.

In my Atlanta Estate Litigation law practice, I have represented many clients in Georgia will contest lawsuits. Most recently I have seen an increase in cases that arise from the assertion of undue influence. Unfortunately, many people fall victim to third parties who have less than honorable intentions and wills written under this type of coercion or duress can cause havoc after the death of a loved one. When undue influence or any other cause for objection is suspected, the assistance of an experienced Atlanta Probate attorney is critical for the equitable resolution of a will contest. A qualified attorney can ensure that the genuine desires of the deceased are honored and defended.
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As a will probate litigation lawyer in Atlanta, Georgia, I know it is important to understand the grounds to contest a Georgia will. If you are a beneficiary, however, it is important for you to know if the Georgia will contains a “no contest” clause. If the will does contain a “no contest” clause and you still try to contest it, you will likely be disinherited all together. At The Libby Law Firm, we can help you determine if there is a reason to contest a will and can represent your interests throughout the will contest process.


GROUNDS FOR CONTESTING A WILL IN GEORGIA:

• Connected to the will-only people who are in direct connection to the will can contest its validity. You either have to be directly named in the will or a relative that should have been named in the will.


• Undue influence-if you believe that your loved one was influenced wrongly or created the will under duress in their final days, then you may have a valid reason to contest the will
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• Fraud-if you believe that your loved one was the victim of fraud or wrongdoing, then you may be able to contest the will.


• Mental Incapacity-if you question the mental capacity of the deceased person or testator, then the will may be considered invalid. You must be able to prove that your loved one was not of sound mind and body when the will was created.

TORTIOUS INTERFERENCE WITH INHERITANCE

If you do not wish to contest the validity of a Georgia will, but wish to interfere with the GA estate proceedings to acquire what is rightfully yours, there is another way. You may be able to file a lawsuit against the recipient of the portion of the estate you believe is rightfully yours. It is important to note, however, that this must be done when the testator of the will is still living. The Atlanta will contest lawyers at The Libby Law Firm can help you determine which course of legal action is right for you.

As soon as you realize a GA will contest dispute attorney may be part of what is necessary, right, and required to achieve justice, it is essential you seek the advice of an experienced Atlanta, Georgia will challenge lawyer to dispute the validity of the decedent’s Georgia will. Acting fast may save your Georgia inheritance and the inheritance of others.

Undue influence is often suspected upon administration of the decedent’s estate, but in other instances when noticed early on, the person exerting undue influence can be stopped before a will is executed. The Atlanta, Georgia will challenge lawyers at The Libby Law Firm are fiercely qualified to represent you in any Atlanta probate or estate lawsuit to invalidate a will. Our GA probate attorneys work throughout Atlanta and the more rural parts of Georgia.
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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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Being an executor or administrator of a Georgia estate in probate court is no easy undertaking. In fact, as executor or administrator of a GA estate, you are stepping into a position ripe, ready and waiting for conflict and disharmony to develop among all the interested parties to the estate, or worse yet, parties that will use their influence to control others who do have an interest in the estate. To say the least, these matters are already emotional from the death of a loved one and now, as executor or administrator, you are in charge managing the often-greedy heirs or beneficiaries of the Georgia estate. At the very least, this can add substantial administrative and bureaucratic responsibilities to your life as well as significant anxiety and stress. Furthermore, these oftentimes come at a time when you may already be grieving and have your own affairs to manage. In almost all cases, this is further complicated by the significant administrative duties imposed by law on a GA executor or administrator and the fiduciary duties and liabilities that come with this position.

In most GA estates, both executors and administrators are frequently relatives or close friends of the deceased person (the decedent). This would seemingly be a plus; however, more often it turns out to be the starting place of many arguments, endless wrangling, power struggles and ultimately many GA Probate disputes, will contests and litigation proceedings. Many of these GA estate disputes and much of this GA probate litigation stems from the fact that many of the other members contesting the actions and alleged breach of the personal representative’s fiduciary duties are also frequently, family members, relatives, or close friends of the deceased person (the decedent). In fact, it is often the case that these family members, relatives and close friends stand to inherit assets of the Georgia estate or have some interest in the outcome of the distribution of assets.

Perhaps most importantly, acting as a personal representative gives you a fiduciary duty to the estate — that is, you are legally responsible for ensuring that your financial decisions are made with complete information, according to the estate’s best interests and as expeditiously considering the circumstances. This is the same fiduciary duty given to leaders of corporations, and like those leaders, you are legally liable for any lawsuit alleging that you have not met your fiduciary duties. This includes personal liability, which is beyond assets of the estate and not limited in any way, shape or form to the assets of the estate.


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In my Marietta, and Atlanta, Georgia, Will Contest Law Practice, which includes Will Contest Litigation in Lawrenceville, the Buckhead Area, Dunwoody, Decatur, Sandy Springs, Kennesaw, Smyrna, Duluth, Cumming, Canton, Alpharetta, Roswell, and other Cities and Counties throughout Georgia, I counsel clients on many aspects of Georgia probate law; including Georgia Will Contests (also referred to as Georgia Will Challenges and Georgia Will Litigation). Once Georgia probate proceeding have begun, all interested parties have a determined amount of time to challenge an existing will, which has been offered up to the court for it’s authenticity and to be the will control the Decedent’s Estate.

A person challenging a Georgia will can do so under several common scenarios. The existence of a more recent will, incapacity of the testator, undue influence exerted on the testator, incorrect execution of the will and fraud are several scenarios that are commonly recognized reasons in Georgia for invalidating a Will. When contesting a Georgia Will based on fraud, the person filing the objection is required to prove that the deceased was deceived by fraudulent misrepresentation at the time the will was executed. This is also sometimes referred to as the Testator laboring under mistake of facts, which had the truth been known, the Testator would have not executed the Will or made a different will. Evidence of the motive or opportunity to commit fraud by itself is not sufficient to deem the will invalid. Proving the effect of the fraud on the testator is critical.

Under Georgia probate law, the Fraud necessary for contesting a Georgia will can be committed that either influences the facts that move the testator to draft the will in a certain way (inducement) or the act of fraud can directly affect the execution of the will. In the instance of inducement, a third party might convince the testator to leave assets to them under false pretenses. For example, a sibling might gain sympathy from his dying brother, the testator, citing imminent bankruptcy. If the bankruptcy is not real and the testator leaves property to his sibling in the will because of this lie, then the will can be contested under the scenario of fraud.

Execution of a will can be manipulated so that the will is deemed invalid. This type of manipulation in the execution of the will is considered fraud when intentionally done. Causing improper signature of a will by purposely misguiding the testator or witnesses during the signing of the will is one example of how this type of fraud can occur. Also an individual that is being left out of a will may try to prevent the Georgia testator from executing a will. This is also an example of fraud. Further, one of the most obvious examples of fraud in the execution of the will is forgery or removing pages from the will and replacing them with pages that have dispositions different than the Testator intended. Oftentimes, this is why you will see lawyers have the Testator initial each page of the Will and place the final (and only) set of staple in the Will after it has been duly executed and each page initialed. Further, some lawyers will seal the will in an envelope in such a way to ensure that if someone had gained access to the Will, there would be obvious tampering to the envelope the Will was put in immediately after executed.
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In my many years as a Georgia probate attorney, I have come to believe that no matter how big or small an estate, Georgia will contests are here to stay. The typical will contest usually arises from some perceived unequal disposition of estate assets. Most of the time, distraught heirs, or beneficiaries will have their own ideas and theories regarding the unequal or unfair disposition of estate assets. However, they leave it to the Georgia will litigation lawyers to find the legal terminology and reasoning to substantiate their claim(s). While it seems many Georgia lawyers and layperson are rather indifferent to will contests and see them as nothing more than greed at its worst, I feel and see something totally different.

In my Georgia Probate Litigation law firm, I find a great amount of unique justice in seeking out a defendant who has taken it upon himself or herself to engage in illegal activity to cause a person to alter their free and voluntary making of their will, and thus alter the disposition of their estate. Thus, while the biggest stake in the result of Georgia will contest is without a doubt monetary, it is significant to convey that relationships between family members may be damaged. Even in tight-knit families, it is common to see infighting over estate assets due to emotional issues such as who was a certain parent’s “favorite” child.

To ensure that your assets are distributed as you wish, it is wise to implement a few strategies, such as the following:

Avoid using joint accounts that can disinherit children inadvertently: Many elderly people put a child or close relative on bank accounts for easy access and routine handling of affairs. Joint accounts pass directly to the joint account holder upon death of the primary account holder, so it is better to set up financial powers of attorney that give others the ability to help you without them being joint property owners.

Choose an impartial executor to administer your will: Commonly family members are asked to administer wills, which can create damage to family relations. A wise choice is to use a bank as executor. While this does carry a cost, many disputes can be avoided and self-dealing by the executor will not be a problem.

Try to treat children equally in the will: Unequal distribution of estate assets will likely cause friction between the children. This is because children often believe that their inheritance is a direct reflection of their parents’ love for them. When a child feels left out or cheated, he is likely to imagine that one or more siblings manipulated the parent. It is possible that this will result in a will contest.

Discuss big inheritance issues before they are written into the will: You should not need to discuss every detail of your will within your will. However, any unusual distributions in your will should be explained and documented. Disclosing these items in advance allows for your children to assimilate the information to understand the motivation behind the decision. Avoid going into detail about your decisions and make sure it is done with the assistance of a professional. Doing so may hurt your child’s feelings, which could trigger a will contest later on during probate proceedings. However, be careful not to induce an environment where there are attempts to influence you because of being open about your will and what will happen when you die. Be careful, this theory has a double-edged twist if proper protocol is not followed. (NOTE: Doing this with assistance is a must).

Give sentimental gifts to your children while you are alive, and equally: Let each heir know what you are giving to the other heirs. This strategy will allow you to see your heirs enjoying these precious items and can prevent Georgia probate disputes. This can also have tax benefits Continue reading →