Probate is often looked at as a long, daunting, and expensive process. It certainly can be but does not have to be as overwhelming as most people believe. Knowing what to expect and preparing yourself for the probate process will help you avoid a negative experience. Consulting a probate attorney in the Savannah area will ease the process even more; we’re here to help you navigate through the Georgia probate process as smoothly as possible. The following steps are meant to outline the basic probate process and help you understand what to expect.
1. Find the Will
The first step to beginning the probate process is locating the Will of the deceased. Most people keep their will in a safe place such as a home safe or a bank safety deposit box. If it is in a safety deposit box and no one has access to it, you can obtain a court order from the probate court allowing entry into the box to examine the contents. The Will typically appoints an executor, or personal representative, of the estate.
2. Determine if Probate is Necessary
Probate may not be necessary if the deceased person has all assets titled jointly and passing to the survivor upon death, named with beneficiaries payable at death (i.e. retirement accounts and life insurance policies), or held in a revocable living trust.
There are also certain circumstances where the court will grant a request for no probate if there was no will and all heirs agree on how to split the deceased person’s assets. There also must be no debt or creditors must agree to the lack of probate.
3. File the Will in Probate Court
Once you have the Will and determined that you should proceed with the probate process, you will file the will with the probate court in the county in which the deceased died. In addition to the Will, you will must file a petition to probate to officially ask the court to begin the probate process. If your loved one did not have a Will, then there is a slightly different type of probate petition that you will need to file.
In Georgia, there are two different types of probate, solemn form or common form. If the personal representative expects someone to contest the will, they will proceed with solemn form probate. This type of probate requires the executor to notify all potential heirs and handles any disputes at the first court appearance. If common form probate is used, the personal representative is not required to give notice, but the case must remain open for four years for anyone to challenge.
4. List Assets of the Deceased
Within six months of the probate filing, unless the Will waived this requirement, the Executor is required to file with the court an inventory of all of the deceased assets, including bank accounts, cash, personal property, real estate, etc.
If the will did not waive the requirement of a bond, then the Executor will be required to post a bond with the court.
6. Pay Debts
The first priority of an estate is to pay all outstanding debts. This can include debts owed to creditors, final funeral expenses, final tax returns, and any federal or state estate taxes owed. The personal representative is required to publish a notice to any potential creditors within 60 days of beginning the probate process. If the estate does not have liquid funds to pay all unpaid debts, the executor must sell other assets to raise funds.
7. Distribute Assets
When all final debts have been paid, the executor will follow the terms of the will to distribute the remaining assets to heirs and beneficiaries. They must have evidence that these payments were made and received and submit a final accounting of all transactions to the probate court. After the estate has been settled, the personal representative submits a petition for discharge. When this is approved by the court, the probate process is complete.
Do You Need a Probate Lawyer?
Now that you understand the basics of the Georgia probate process, determining whether or not you’d like to work with a probate attorney is your next best step. We have touched on this in the past and if you’d like a detailed account of what questions to ask yourself, please read: “Do I Need a Probate Lawyer?”.
We are happy to help you through probate for your loved one and make the process as easy as possible. Please contact us today to set up a consultation.