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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 a Georgia probate litigation attorney practicing in the Atlanta area, I am frequently asked to represent beneficiaries and heirs in disputes against executors and administrators who have breached, or threaten to breach, their fiduciary duties. Georgia probate law provides that if misconduct or other violation(s) by a Georgia executor of administrator occur, the Georgia probate court may cause the executor or administrator to appear before the Probate court and show cause why such executor or administrator should not be removed from their fiduciary position.

A cause of action arises out of a breach of a fiduciary duty or a mere threat to commit a breach of fiduciary duty. If a breach or the threat of a breach occurs, the interested party shall have a cause of action for the following:

• To recover of damages;

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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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As a Georgia probate attorney who practices in the metro Atlanta area, I have found my probate law firm practice has recently changed its focus. In large part, this is due to the need for answers and accountability on the part of executors and administrators.

I am finding more and more heirs and beneficiaries calling into my office with the same complaint against the executor or administrator of the Georgia estate. These concerns center around the executor or administrator refusing to provide the beneficiary or heirs of the estate with an accounting and an inventory of the Georgia estate assets. The common runaround the executor or administrator usually gives the beneficiary or heir is they have no duty to provide such information. However, Georgia beneficiaries and heirs should know they can make a legally binding request in writing to the executor and administrator of the estate for an inventory and accounting of estate assets. Oftentimes beneficiaries or heirs have waived this right, but they can renounce this waiver in writing and move forward with a petition for inventory and accounting. O.C.G.A. § 53-7-32 (2008) provides as follows:

§ 53-7-32. (Revised Probate Code of 1998) Waiver of right to receive; relieving personal representative of duty to make

(a) Any beneficiary of a testate estate or heir of an intestate estate may waive individually the right to receive the inventory from the personal representative. Such waiver shall be made in a signed writing that is delivered to the personal representative and may be revoked in writing by the beneficiary or heir at any time.

If you are worried about the monetary, fiscal, or fiduciary mismanagement of a Georgia estate to which you are a beneficiary or heir, you have options and rights under Georgia probate law. The Libby Law Firm represents beneficiaries and heirs in all stages of probate proceedings to get answers from unfair, dishonest, and deceitful executors and administrators. The Libby Law Firm welcomes the opportunity to assist you in filing a petition for inventory and accounting and acquiring the answers you deserve.
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As Primary Georgia Trust Litigation Lawyer in an Atlanta Trust Litigation Law Firm, beneficiaries named in a Georgia trust are entitled to understand the terms of the trust and what the trust will provide to them, both present and future. This can be critical to the lives of surviving minor children, spouses with no other source of income, or incapacitated individuals who must now rely on the trust to take care of their medical and living expenses. Trustees are in charge of managing and protecting trust assets in a transparent manner that upholds the trustee’s fiduciary responsibility to the beneficiaries.

One of the important fiduciary duties of Georgia trustees is to ensure that assets and property held by the trust are properly accounted for and reported to the beneficiaries. This is the foundation for trust in the trustee/beneficiary relationship. Some trust documents outline the procedures that beneficiaries must follow to request accounting information. In cases where the trust does not provide the procedure, Georgia law regulates when and how to request an accounting of trust assets. An experienced Georgia Trust litigation attorney can help beneficiaries better understand the accounting information they are entitled to and how to obtain it from the trustee.

Part of the duties of a trustee is to follow generally accepted accounting procedures (GAAP) for the recording of operating transactions. While it may be best to use an accountant to handle the accounting requirements, trustees can do this themselves. The trust’s assets and liabilities must be recorded. Assets can include real estate, stocks, bonds or any other property or asset that the trust owns. Liabilities are classified as debt and should be recorded at current values. Liabilities can include taxes owed, accounts payable or deferred tax liability. Expenses should also be recorded in a timely manner. Trust expenses can consist of the trustee’s salary, investment fees, office supplies, rent, and any applicable utilities. Moreover, an experience experienced Atlanta Trust Lawyer can help you determine if your Trustee is investing according to the Prudent Investor Rule and not putting your trust assets at risk.

Finally, the trust’s revenue must be tracked. Revenue can be generated when bank accounts held by the trust accrue interest income, stock and mutual fund portfolios earn gains, and property is sold. In the end, the timely and accurate recording of assets, liabilities, expenses, and revenue will allow the trustee to easily create documentation that shows beneficiaries the total value of the trust. Failure to provide this information to beneficiaries is a breach of fiduciary duty and can result in the removal of the trustee.
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Georgia last will and testament statues clearly outline the requirements for the creation and execution of a valid will. When these strict requirements are not met, the will is considered invalid and the testator’s estate becomes subject to the Georgia laws of intestacy, just as if no will had been created or executed. In our Atlanta probate law firm, our lawyers often represent clients with probate issues that could have been avoided if proper will drafting and will execution practice had been strictly followed. The consequences of failing to properly execute a will can be devastating for those surviving the testator. This situation can also constitute malpractice for the drafting and executing attorneys or law firm. When a will is deemed invalid because of failure to execute the will with the proper formalities, Georgia intestacy laws dictate how the estate assets are distributed. These types of cookie-cutter arrangements bypass the true intent of the deceased and may lead to conflict among the surviving heirs.

The following are some of the steps to keep in mind when executing a will in Georgia. The person executing the will, the testator, must be at least 14 years old. The will must be in writing, although the law does not specify a particular format, except that it cannot be handwritten. The will needs to be signed by the testator, who must be sufficiently competent (of sound mind and memory) at the time the will is executed, know the nature and extent of their assets, and that they are executing a will voluntarily and of their free will. In Georgia, another person can assist the testator in signing the will. This is legally sufficient when it is done in the presence of the testator and at the express direction of the testator. A minimum of two witnesses must also sign the will in the presence of the testator. The witnesses must view the signing of the will by the testator as defined by the “line of sight” rule. This means the witnesses must have an open and unobstructed line of sight to the testator’s signing of the will.

Should a witness also be beneficiary under the will, he or she must forfeit their inheritance under the will for their act as a witness to be valid, and as a result, the will to be valid. Thus, witnesses whom are beneficiaries to a will should not be a witness to the will. As a last resort, however, the testator may have three or more witnesses to their will. Under Georgia Code Section 53-4-23, a witness who is also a beneficiary may receive testamentary gift from the estate only when a minimum of two other witnesses sign the will. In this case, the other two witnesses cannot be beneficiaries. A useful and increasing necessary document to attach to the will is a self-proving affidavit. While it is not a requirement, this document proves that the will was properly executed and is genuine. It should be signed by the testator, the witnesses and certified by a notary public. Without a self-proving affidavit, one of the witnesses must be located at the time of the testator’s death and sign a legal document called “Interrogatories to Witness to Will. In this legal document, the witness attests to the validity of the will he or she witnessed. Further, the witness may be required to appear in court and give testimony under oath. With the self-proving notarized affidavit, this is not necessary and the will is likely admitted to probate without any delay.
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The Atlanta, Georgia, will litigation lawyers of The Libby Law Firm have seen an increase in will contest lawsuits. One of the areas we have seen an increase is the assertion of undue influence. Often this occurs when one sibling tries to exploit a family member with diminished mental or physical capacity in order to obtain a more favorable distribution under the will than another. One sibling’s close relationship to a parent often presents an opportunity for deception and manipulation to occur. If the will is made with unwarranted influence, the will’s validity may be challenged.

The Georgia Supreme Court case, Morrison v. Morrison, 282 Ga. 866 (2008) provides some guidance regarding what constitutes undue influence. In Morrison v. Morrison, one sibling sued another claiming that he used undue influence over his father to convince him to select a particular attorney and then participated with that attorney to create a more favorable will. In this case, the Georgia Supreme Court determined that no undue influence existed because the father was not of “weak mentality” when the will was executed nor did the one sibling occupy a “dominant position” with regard to his father. In fact, the court said, “that the father remained strong-willed and stubborn, not feeble or easily confused, and that he liked to be in charge. ” Morrison, 282 Ga. 868.

Under Georgia Law, a transaction is recognized to be the result of undue influence when the parties are in a confidential relationship with each other and one party has a superior mental capability than the party who is the victim of the undue influence.

To the contrary, The Georgia Supreme Court found undue influence existed in a noteworthy case, Bailey v. Edmundson, 280 Ga. 528 (2006). Baily v. Edmundson is an especially case because it provides a list of factors to consider in determining undue influence, including:

• Whether the parties had a confidential relationship;

• The reasonableness of the testator’s disposition of his estate;

• The testator’s habits, motives, or feelings, and his physical and mental strengths or weaknesses;

• The testator’s family, social, and business relations;

• The manner and conduct of the testator; and
• Any other fact or circumstance that shows the exercise of undue influence on the mind and will of a testator, including evidence as to the bad character of the person(s) exerting the influence.

Although undue influence may occur in many different circumstances, parents may be particularly susceptible to undue influence from one of their own children.

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The Atlanta, Georgia, will contest lawyers at our Firm have seen a rise in the number of shameful and disgraceful “primary persons,” “caregivers,” and “significant others” who attempt to seemingly base their living on their ability to give rise to their fortune through the misappropriation of another’s funds “in disguise” – through inheritance via the will. This is usually to the exclusion of the rightful and normal beneficiaries and heirs; the family members – the loved ones.

Our Georgia will litigation firm has noteworthy experience advising and representing clients in seeking out the “truth” in their case proving the invalidity of a will through full discovery. Our Firm usually advises to seek full discovery through means such as the following: Request for Admissions, Interrogatories, Request for Production of Documents, Depositions, Psychiatric Evaluation Orders; and all other available means, pursuant to the Georgia Civil Practice Act. In fact, our Atlanta, Georgia will and estate litigation lawyers usually seek a jury trial in most instances — NOTE: You can have your jury trial in all the Georgia probate courts where the county has approximately 96,000 residents or more – (See recent U.S. Census).

I find these three (3) guidelines helpful for the rightful heir or beneficiary who seeks justice, normality, and comfort in any disputed will case.
The reasons are as follows:

REMEMBER THIS NO. 1: This is about what has been done and what must be made right upon the findings of an impartial jury or the court. You are none the lesser and all the better for asking the questions and being outspoken and sincere.

REMEMBER THIS NO. 2: You are the family member or loved one left out. This is unusual and not the norm. It is a natural sequence of events to take care of another family member after death through a will or other instrument, no matter the circumstances. This includes both monetarily and otherwise. Most people know there is little they can do to provide a stable and comforting future without leaving assets.

REMEMBER THIS NO. 3: Do what you need to do to put matters to rest. If you let this bother you without taking action and finding an outlet to discover the truth, these feelings could haunt you for sometime if not forever.

Our Atlanta will and estate litigation law firm knows and understands the legal ins-and-outs of the disposition of a departed person’s estate through their will. It appears that there is not much left to the imagination of the proverbial predator upon the family assets and the unknowing family, friends and rightful beneficiary and heirs who fall in the wake.
Georgia Probate Courts have found the following legal reasons as sound justification that the will is not legally sound and held such will is void as a matter of law:

• Duress – A decedent under pressure to do what they would not normally do, act how they normally act, or other such actions where a decedent has acted with pressure upon their “real” wishes and desires.

• Coercion – A decedent under pressure through extremes put upon themselves by themselves and others (perhaps the person seeking to be named in the will).

• Undue influence – Using tactics and other immoral and untrue acts to put pressure on a decedent to change their will.

• Lack of Capacity – Alzheimer’s, Dementia, Chemotherapy, medications of all sorts, etc.

• Incompetence – A person not able to act on their own accord who must be told what they are to do – this is oftentimes combined with incapacity.

• Mistake of Fact – A person making a will under false pretenses, lies and untruths told by another or coming to their mind through a mental disorder.

• Fraud – A person who has done the right thing and this has been changed through trickery, lies, deception, and sometimes acts of forgery, page replacement, and other deceptive acts.

• Senseless Dispositions — They are not dispositive of the decedents inability to act, but do tell a story all their own.

If you are concerned about the final disposition in the will of a family member, friend, confidant, lover, or other important person, The Libby Law Firm represents potential heirs, beneficiaries, estates, and personal representatives in all stages of probate cases.
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