When a person dies, whether or not they have an estate plan or even a will, the estate will most likely go through probate. An individual’s estate is essentially their net worth at death, which includes personal property, land or home ownership, investments, life insurance and cash. It also includes any debt against the estate.
Probate is the procedure for settling debts and taxes on the estate and distributing property to heirs or devisees. It essentially finds new owners for the property of the deceased, called the decedent. Probate also validates a will that preserves the intentions of the estate owner regarding the distribution of assets as well as the appointment of an executor or personal representative (PR) to administer the estate.
How does probate work in Georgia?
Every state has laws that dictate the probate process and when or how the courts will administer it. In Georgia, once the court validates the will, it swears in the executor and grants them authority to administer the estate, which will include:
- Inventorying the estate.
- Publishing notice to creditors.
- Filing individual and estate tax returns.
- Distributing assets to heirs and devisees and paying creditor claims.
- Closure of the estate.
The law allows the heirs of the decedent to request that it not go through probate at all if there is no will and they can agree on how to divide the assets and debt on the estate. Family members may also file a small estate affidavit to expedite the probate process if it is worth less than $10,000.
What happens if there is a challenge to the will?
A challenge to the will is possible, both only if the reasons are valid in the eyes of the court and are coming from an interested party. Such a person must have legal standing to pursue an action, and may be a family member, beneficiary, creditor, or interested party with a property claim against the estate.
Challenges to the will can include:
- The testator’s mental incapacity.
- The presence of fraud or undue influence.
- Insufficient requirements for creating a will.
- The existence of a later will.
Because many aspects of probate can leave surviving family members overwhelmed and uncertain about how to proceed, it can help to have experienced legal guidance to assist in the process.