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Atlanta Lawyersrecommend that clients have a lawyer prepare their will, powers of attorney, and other estate planning documents. The existence of a will makes the distribution of estate assets run more smoothly during probate proceedings and can significantly reduce disputes between heirs and beneficiaries. When a will is written, an executor can be named who will administer the estate. In some cases, when no executor is named in the will, or if there is no will, the court will assign an administrator. In all of these scenarios, disputes can arise surrounding the choice of the executor or administrator.

Disputes over executors and administrators
, which cause unneeded stress during probate proceedings, occur because the role of estate executors and administrators is so important. This is a fiduciary role in which the person administering the estate has very specific legal and financial responsibilities. Because of the serious nature of these responsibilities, there are times when the person chosen is regarded by the heirs and beneficiaries as being an inappropriate choice. Executors, as well as court assigned administrators, have to operate in a levelheaded, responsible manner during the process and they need to be able to understand the mechanisms of Georgia probate law. Besides possessing a calm disposition and having knowledge of the proceedings, they also need to be trustworthy and honest and have the best interests of all parties at heart. Without these traits, a poorly chosen executor or administrator can cause havoc in the proceedings. Fortunately, Georgia law does provide heirs and beneficiaries with a mechanism to remove executors and administrators.

Georgia probate law allows for a formal objection to be filed that removes the person picked to administer the estate. When the heirs or beneficiaries recognize that the person assigned to administer the estate is unfit, it is always preferable to remove them immediately when probate proceedings are initiated. By acting promptly, before any breach of the fiduciary duties can occur, costs associated with fraudulent actions and any ensuing legal fees can be avoided. Of course there are cases in which the person chosen initially appears to be adequate for the responsibilities, but later acts inappropriately, is dishonest or irresponsible. In those instances, it is possible to sue for breach of fiduciary duties, including, but not limited to, the removal and replacement of the administrator or executor. This can be done once a breach of duties occurs, or if a breach has not yet occurred, once there is evidence that the person intends to violate their fiduciary duties.

In any probate proceedings it is important to secure the counsel of a qualified and experienced Atlanta, Georgia probate attorney. Individuals acting without proper legal counsel can unknowingly file false or groundless petitions, such as petitions to remove a person assigned to administer an estate. These frivolous petitions carry specific penalties under Georgia probate law. For that reason, it is especially wise to always seek legal counsel to avoid these types of issues, as well as to ensure the most successfully outcome of the probate process.
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The Atlanta lawyers at The Libby Law Firm are experienced in defending clients in disputes over the provisions of wills and administration of estate assets. Parties that can be defended in a will contest include the estate, beneficiaries, heirs or personal representatives. But it is usually heirs or beneficiaries who challenge a will, especially if they are slated to receive less from the estate than what they had originally anticipated. Once notice of the death or petition to begin probate proceedings is served, any parties interested in filing a will contest may come forward. The Libby Law Firm files Georgia Will Contests Caveat Petitions and just as often, their Atlanta Office defends Will Contests. As such, whatever role we engage on behalf of our client in will contest litigation, you can be assured, we know what opposing counsel is thinking and what their objectives are. Oftentimes, our Atlanta, Georgia will contest defense lawyers use tactics such as mediation, enhanced discovery, to catch opposing counsel of guard and to throw the theory of their case off balance, oftentimes, making them start over or think again about whether contesting the will in question.

Many conditions can provoke a Georgia will contest, including:

• The Testator’s Mental Capacity – if the deceased was not considered to be of sound mind and body when the will was executed

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As an Atlanta Lawyer that practices Atlanta (Fulton County) Probate Litigation, I see many clients who need guidance in the complicated area of probate proceedings. Because the death of a family member is such an emotional and difficult time for all involved, it is important to have legal safeguards in place that not only protect heirs and beneficiaries during this delicate period, but that also protect executors and administrators. When a will exists and an executor has been named in the will, it is not uncommon for conflicts to develop between the executor and the heirs and beneficiaries. When there is no will, it is also possible for conflicts to emerge between the administrator and the heirs. Both parties, those administering the estate and those inheriting the estate, can have valid legal concerns.

Even when the estate is being administered in a responsible manner, because emotions run high in these situations, heirs and beneficiaries can begin to imagine that the executor or administrator is taking advantage of the situation. And executors and administrators can feel that, despite their hard work administering the estate, they are wrongly accused of inappropriate behavior. The good news is that by inserting some legal checks and balances into the process, these situations can be avoided or, if they do occur, resolved. One example of a useful legal instrument that helps diffuse these conflicts is the petition for inventory and accounting. Even though the executor or administrator appears to have absolute power to manage the estate, that person is in fact bound by a fiduciary duty. As such, the person administering the estate is required to handle all related duties in the best interest of all parties. When the duties carried out fall under suspicion, heirs and beneficiaries can make a legally binding request for an inventory and accounting of all estate assets. It is important to note that in Georgia sometimes heirs and beneficiaries waive their right to petition for inventory and accounting, but when a conflict arises they can legally renounce the waiver and the petition can move forward.

In some cases, conflicts surface when executors and administrators 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. But there are instances that can cause undue skepticism and one of these is when estate assets fall into categories that are difficult to identify. One type of asset that can prove very difficult to discern is intellectual property, such as artistic works, inventions or patents. For this reason it is important to retain the service of an experienced and qualified probate lawyer who can assist in identifying all tangible and non-traditional assets and protect the interests of all parties involved. Whichever side you find yourself on in probate proceedings, as an executor or administrator or as an heir or beneficiary, you need to be aware of the legal options, rights and duties that apply to you and seek the support of legal counsel.
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As an Atlanta Lawyers; Especially Atlanta Will Challenge Lawyers, I have seen the number of cases on the rise. As an Atlanta, Georgia Probate Litigation lawyer, I have represented many clients in different types of will contests. Especially common are the cases that involve undue influence in the writing of wills. When undue influence is found to have played a role in the writing of the will, then the court can determine that the will is null and void.

Undue influence occurs when an act takes place that overcomes the victim’s free will. Undue influence is most likely when there is a confidential relationship between those involved and when one of the parties is of greater mental capacity. The confidential nature of the relationship and ability of one party to exert influence over the other party due to a superior intellect are the key factors that allow the manipulation to go unnoticed.

Many cases of undue influence occur between parents and children. When a close relationship exists between one child and the parent, it is possible for the child to manipulate the parent into signing a Georgia will that favors that particular child. It is also possible for the influence to come from outside the family, for example from a hired caregiver who spends large amounts of time with the elderly person.

When faced with a case of undue influence regarding a will, the Georgia probate court will examine the mental state of the deceased at the time that the will was executed. Evidence of mental or physical coercion is required. Because direct evidence is difficult to collect (since the victim is deceased), the courts will rely on circumstantial evidence for proof. The court will try to determine if:

1) the decedent was easily influenced, due to age, health or general mental state

2) the person suspected of undue influence had an opportunity to coerce or manipulate the victim

3) the person suspected of undue influence had the motive or disposition to influence the victim

4) the person suspected of undue influence was actively involved in creating the will

5) the will appears to have been influenced

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The Atlanta, Georgia Attorneys at my firm are receiving more and more calls from persons interested in finding out whether they need a Georgia probate attorney to represent them in a Georgia probate ‘inheritance’ or ‘estate’ administration proceeding, dispute or litigation. Our Firm also receives an equal number of calls from executors or administrators of Georgia estates seeking experienced local Atlanta, Georgia, probate litigation lawyers to guide them through the trials and tribulations of being the executor or administrator of a Georgia estate. As an experienced Georgia probate lawyer, I have found that chances are if you think you need a Georgia probate lawyer, you almost certainly do.

The Atlanta probate litigation lawyers at our Firm meet weekly to discuss the status of the cases our Firm is handling, discuss strategies which are best for our clients, and to bounce ideas and other ways to further our clients’ best interests, we have also begun discussing and sharing ideas and methods in order to be the best Georgia probate lawyers for our clients. This process involves analyzing not only what our Firm’s Georgia probate dispute attorneys are doing in their cases, but also how opposing counsel are challenging and standing up for their clients against us. Since we found some common similarities between effective probate litigation attorneys, we decided to share them with you in your search for a qualified probate attorney.

Our analysis is as follows:

• Find Georgia probate attorneys who can handle the stress of a Georgia probate case. A strong lawyer can help you through this emotional struggle and take much of the stress off you. If you are seeking out Georgia probate litigation lawyers in order to find one to represent you, it is likely because a relative or someone close to you has died, you stand something to gain something from the person who has died (this person known under Georgia law as the “decedent”), or a combination of both of these factors. Usually these factors range from monetary or other gain to peace of mind that the loved one’s death is handled properly and peacefully. As such, this likely is a difficult process for you and emotionally draining. More often than not, there is relentless intra-family fighting and disharmony. Again, look for a lawyer can help you through this emotional struggle and take much of the stress off you.

Find Georgia probate lawyers who are accessible to you, care about you and your case, and who you feel will your case for you by achieving your goals.

• Find Georgia probate attorneys who willingly give you their contact information, such as cell number, and other information. While you likely will not call this lawyer on his cell too often, this is a good indicator of how much dedication the lawyer has and how much he cares about providing exceptional service to you. Nevertheless, you know he or she will be available if you are in a bind.

• Find Georgia probate lawyers who can handle both transactional probate matters and probate litigation matters. Remember, a Georgia probate litigation case still has the transactional and administrative aspects to it. Moreover, these aspects are likely to be more convoluted and complicated. Thus, you need a probate lawyer that can handle any matters that come his or her way, whether they are transactional or litigation based. In addition, a lawyer who knows both transactional probate matters as well as probate litigation matters almost assuredly will have the upper hand over opposing counsel.

• Find the Georgia probate lawyers who regularly handle probate, trusts and estate cases, but also know about other areas of the law, such as real estate, business and taxation. Georgia probate estate matters likely consist of most of the decedent holdings and they likely will involve a host of legal areas. In contrast, some of the decedent’s holdings may pass “outside” of the decedent’s estate and the extra knowledge that your Atlanta, Georgia probate lawyers may have, will serve you well.

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As an Atlanta Georgia Lawyer practicing in the Atlanta area, I find I am frequently asked by my clients, who are executors and administrators, about the best way to handle and manage the heirs and beneficiaries of the Georgia probate estate. These questions often involve legal and moral matters concerning executor and administrator fiduciary duties, responsibilities and the rights various parties to a Georgia estate administration proceeding.

The fact is most Georgia probate and estate administration questions consistently arise from fighting between the executors, administrators, heirs and beneficiaries. This fighting is more the standard rather than the exception and commonplace in many estate administration proceedings. Moreover, if you are executor or administrator of an Georgia probate estate proceeding, you should seriously consider retaining an experienced Georgia probate attorney to guide you in carrying out your fiduciary duties and protect you from aggressive and vindictive heirs and beneficiaries who may be out to cause you trouble.

Additionally, in my Atlanta, Georgia, probate law firm, I receive an equal if not greater number of questions from my clients who are heirs and beneficiaries of a Georgia estate administration proceeding. The most common questions they ask concern the actions of the executor and administrator and center on what these fiduciaries can and cannot do, what constitutes a breach of their fiduciary duty, and what legal actions can and should be taken. What is more, heirs and beneficiaries who ask these difficult questions and seek to understand estate administration proceedings should be commended. All too often, the Georgia executor and administrator will abuse their position of power and use it for their own gain and self-dealing or that of preferred family members, friends or co-conspirators. Other common questions concern timing of estate matters and events as well as the rights of estate creditors and debtors as well as a host of other parties.

Having practiced as a Georgia fiduciary attorney for a considerable length of time, I am quite sure that nothing makes people act more unreasonable or irrational than the combination of the acquisition of monies and other assets, in combination with the death of a family member. The single most common question without doubt is whether the executor or administrator is acting in accordance with Georgia fiduciary law.

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Personal representatives of Georgia estates perform a complicated task that carries a serious fiduciary responsibility and is closely monitored by the probate court system. Personal representatives, also known as executors and administrators, are either named in a will or appointed by the probate court to administer the assets in a decedent’s estate. Georgia probate law allows for personal representatives to hire legal counsel related to the Georgia probate process and also permits a fee to be paid for the work on the estate. The fee is a percentage based on the value of assets identified by the personal representative as estate property, the income generated by the assets in the estate during the probate administration process and the value of assets that are distributed by the estate at the end of the Georgia probate administration proceedings.

Georgia Code – Wills, Trusts & Estates – Title 53, Section 53-6-60

(b) If the personal representative´s compensation is not specified in the will or any separate written agreement, the personal representative for services rendered shall be entitled to compensation equal to:

(1) Two and one-half percent commission on all sums of money received by the personal representative on account of the estate, except on money loaned by and repaid to the personal representative, and 2 1/2 percent commission on all sums paid out by the personal representative, either for debts, legacies, or distributive shares;

(2) Ten percent commission on the amount of interest made if, during the course of administration, the personal representative shall receive interest on money loaned by the personal representative in that capacity and shall include the same on the return to the probate court so as to become chargeable therewith as a part of the corpus of the estate;

To properly understand the exact value of the assets and what percentage of these items is allowed as a statutory fee, it is important to consult with an experienced Atlanta, Georgia probate attorney. A probate attorney can also help the personal representative fulfill the fiduciary responsibility that is inherent in the task of administering an estate. The personal representative is required by law to fairly perform the duties and failure to do so can result in a lawsuit against the executor or administrator. Even if the failure to perform the duties properly is due to an innocent lack of understanding by the personal representative, he can be held legally responsible. Hiring a Georgia estate lawyer will not only limit the personal liability of the representative, but will also help preserve estate assets and keep the beneficiaries and heirs satisfied so that the estate can be administered as efficiently and quickly as possible.

Unfortunately, in my Atlanta, Georgia Probate Law firm many personal representatives only come to me for help once problems have surfaced during the probate process. In most of these cases, by the time I get involved a lot of damage has already been done that results in a loss of estate assets and a break down in the relationship between the personal representative and the Georgia beneficiaries and heirs. Most times these individuals are family members and, during the stress of the Georgia probate process, the conflict caused by innocent misunderstandings can permanently damage these precious relationships.
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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 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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Lawyers in my Atlanta, Georgia Estate Litigation law firm see cases of dishonest executors and administrators all too often. We have put these dishonest executors into two categories:

1). The Genuinely Accidental Act. If an executor or administrator wants to deceive beneficiaries and heirs, it is relatively easy for these individuals to take advantage of their role. For example, during difficult and emotional times after a loved one’s death, it is possible for administrators and executors to convince the other parties involved that they should sign away certain rights. Even though done unintentionally nor in planning to breach their fiduciary duties, executors and administrators can give the appearance of dishonesty through their lack of knowledge of their duties and responsibilities.

Still, as executors and administrators these individuals owe a fiduciary responsibility to beneficiaries, heirs and other interested parties. Unfortunately, most executors or administrators do not completely understand what their responsibilities are and how much control they have over the probate process. Oftentimes, an administrator or executor is a family member and may have reasons, either financial or emotional, for not being completely thorough during probate proceedings. This creates a situation where it is easy for the administrator or executor to appear as if any wrongful acts were intentional. After all, one duty of an executor or administrator is to know their duties.

2). The Purposeful Wrongful Act. If an executor or administrator wants to deceive heirs, beneficiaries, and interested third parties, it can be relatively easy. When no one is checking executors or administrators actions, these personal representatives can get away with quite of bit of malfeasance. These executors and administrators set out of a course of deception and pilfering from the estate. Moreover, these individual executors and administrator seem to insist they are correct, yet are unwilling to give any information, accounting, or inventory relating to the estate or their fiduciary roles. There are occasions where would be honest executors and administrators turn to the dark side becoming dishonest upon finding out how easy they it may be. Whether this occurs is usually determined by whether these executors or administrators have this deceptive and greedy soul and poor character existing in them. The Atlanta, Georgia estate attorneys at my Firm fear these are the most dangerous executors or administrators. This is because these are the persons or entities who usually get appointed by decedents because they are thought to be honest.

Under Georgia fiduciary law, you do have legal recourse to handle a dishonest executor or administrator who is stealing from, misrepresenting or otherwise defrauding an estate. While it is preferable to take preventative steps to block an unfit individual from being named as executor or administrator, more often it is only after probate is initiated and the executor or administrator begins to handle the estate that a problem is detected. In those cases, you can sue for breach of fiduciary duty. In fact you can sue if the executor or administrator merely threatens breach of fiduciary duty. If you are able to prove your case, the court may impose one or a combination of the following actions:

• Removal of the executor or administrator

• Replacement of the executor or administrator

• Require that the executor or administrator perform the assigned duties

• Require that the executor or administrator pay back stolen money or assets lost due to the breach

• Have the executor or administrator compensate the petitioner for losses

• Placement of wrongfully distributed estate assets into trust until it is decided who should receive the property

• Non-payment or reduced payment of statutory fees to the executor or administrator by the estate

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