When you’re grieving, a complicated legal and financial process is the last thing you want to deal with.
But often, that’s exactly what happens when families go through the Georgia probate process after losing a loved one.
Understanding the Georgia probate laws can help keep you from getting caught by surprise.
Who takes charge of a will after someone dies? What happens if someone dies without a will? Is there any way to avoid a lengthy probate process and a pile of legal paperwork?
We’ll break it down for you.
Table Of Contents:
- What Does It Mean To Probate A Will?
- Probating A Will In Georgia
- How Much Does Probate Cost?
- How Long Does The Probate Process Take?
- Georgia Probate Law
- How To Probate A Will In Georgia
What Does It Mean To Probate A Will?
What Is Probate?
Probate is the legal process through which a deceased person’s estate is properly distributed to heirs and designated beneficiaries and any debt owed to creditors is paid off. In general, probate property is distributed according to the decedent’s last will and testament, if there is one, or according to state law if no will exists.– LegalZoom
Does A Will Have To Go Through Probate?
There is no requirement for a will to go through probate. But if the decedent owned property that is not arranged specifically to avoid probate, there is no way for the beneficiaries to obtain legal ownership without it.
What Happens If A Will Is Not Probated?
If a will is not probated, the person responsible for filing the the will can face civil and criminal charges.
If the probate documents are not filed, the heirs can sue the person responsible for the items or assets that they are set to inherit.
If the person knowingly DOES NOT file a will for their own financial gain, they can face criminal charges for intent to conceal the will.
Probating A Will In Georgia
Probating a will in Georgia is a court-supervised process that’s sometimes required to distribute a deceased one’s property to creditors, heirs, and beneficiaries.
Probate gives someone, usually the surviving spouse or other close family member, authority to gather the deceased person’s assets, pay debts and taxes, and eventually transfer assets to the people who inherit them.
When Is Probate Necessary?
Probate is not always necessary. Probating is only necessary when the deceased person owned property in their name alone.
Co-owned property can be transferred to the new owners without probate.
When Is Probate NOT Necessary?
Not all property needs to go through probate. So, when is probate NOT necessary? Probate is not necessary when the estate is ‘small’ or the property is designed to be passed down outside of a will. This is true whether you have a will or not.
Common examples of when probate is not necessary is:
- Retirement accounts with a named beneficiary.
- Life insurance with a named beneficiary.
- Assets held in a joint tenancy.
- Assets held in a revocable living trust.
Is Probate Necessary If There Is A Will?
If there is a will, that does not mean that probate is not necessary. If the deceased person did not set up the property to avoid probate, then probate is necessary, even if there is a will, for the beneficiaries to obtain legal ownership of the property.
How Much Does Probate Cost?
How much does probate cost depends on the value of the estate. The cost of probate will be roughly 4%-7% of the estate’s value, plus various fees.
The fees that will affect how much probate cost are the following:
- Georgia Probate Court Fees
- Executor Fees
- Probate Lawyer Fees
- Accounting Fees
- Appraisals and Business Valuation Fees
1. Georgia Probate Court Fees
Georgia Probate Court Fees are typically a few hundred dollars. Most courts will charge you about $200 to file for probate. Some courts will charge on a graduated scale with more valuable estates paying more.
2. Executor Fees
According to Georgia Probate Law, the Executor of an estate may also be entitled to:
- statutory fees for most kinds of assets
- a commission of 2.5% of the value of the assets which come into the estate
- 2.5% of the value of the assets which are paid out of the estate
3. Probate Attorney Fees
Probate lawyers charge either by the hour or a flat fee to probate a will in Georgia. The fees, per Georgia probate laws, can also be a percentage of the estate’s value just like the Executor Fees mentioned above.
4. Accounting Fees
Accounting fees vary depending on the estate.
Estates with a small mix of a small business, a few stocks, two retirement accounts, and one rental property valued at $750,000 can be more expensive than a primary residence, bank account, and a CD that’s valued at $2M in total value.
Accounting fees can include the preparation and filing of estate tax returns if the estate is taxable at the state or federal level.
5. Appraisals and Business Valuation Fees
When someone passes away and the estate gets broken up, probate in Georgia will require you to get all of the businesses and property appraised.
The types of items that require valuations include assets like jewelry, antiques, artwork, boats, and cars.
Property appraisal fees can range from a few hundred bucks up to several thousand dollars. This just depends on the amount of items that need to be valued.
For example, an appraisal on a house costs up to $450. If you have 3 properties, you’re already looking at $1,350.
Business appraisal fees easily get up into the thousands of dollars.
How Much Does It Cost to Hire A Probate Attorney?
To probate smaller estates, the cost of a probate attorney will be a flat fee of $1,500. For probating larger estates ($1M+ in value), the probate lawyer will charge you a percentage of the estate’s value. The probate court filing costs will be $250-$400, depending on the size of the estate.
How Long Does The Probate Process Take?
On average, probate in Georgia takes 12-18 months depending on the size of the estate. Appointing an Executor of the estate takes up to three months. Settling the estate takes at least 4 months. Distributing the estate takes about 3 months.
How Long Do You Have To Probate A Will?
According to probate laws in Georgia, you have 12 months to petition the probate court for them to appoint an executor from the date of death. After the executor is appointed, you have 5 years to probate a will and distribute the estate to creditors and heirs.
How Long Does Probate Take Without A Will?
When you probate an estate without a will, you have to fill for a Letter of Administration. This process takes 4-6 weeks. Once you have your Letter of Administration, probate without a will takes roughly the same amount of time, which is 12-28 months on average.
How Long Does Probate Court Take?
Probate court takes a minimum of 4 months to probate the estate. Depending on the complexity of the estate, the probate court can take 12-18 months to probate the estate, pay off creditors, and split the assets between the heirs.
How Long After Probate Is A Will Settled?
Every estate is different, which means that how long after a probate is a will settled varies greatly on the complexity of the assets in the estate. A will has to be settled within 5 years after an executor is appointed by the probate courts according to Georgia probate laws.
How Long Do You Have To File Probate After Death?
In Georgia, you have up to 12 months to file probate after death. When you file the petition for probate in Georgia, this is when the executor is assigned to the estate. After this, the executor has 5 years to pay creditors and divvy up the assets per the will.
Georgia Probate Time Limit
The Georgia probate time limit is 6 years in total. The family has 12 months to petition the probate courts to appoint an executor of the estate. After the executor is appointed, the executor has 5 years to settle the estate, making the total time for the Georgia probate time limit 6 years.
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Georgia Probate Law
Georgia probate laws are designed to ensure fair distribution of property when someone dies.
If there is no will, the heirs will appoint an administrator to oversee the inventory, distribute assets, and perform other duties.
The probate judge decides if the existing will is valid, makes sure that any debts are paid, and determines if all possible heirs have been notified under Georgia probate law.
Any monetary assets of value left after the discharge of debts and taxes are divided among the heirs or released to the beneficiaries named in the will.
According to Georgia law, half-siblings who are children of the decedent are considered equal in matters of inheritance, as are children born after the decedent’s death but conceived prior.
Spouses are first in line to inherit and cannot be disinherited under Georgia law.
All other assets outside of the first $200,00 of net estate value plus 3/4 of the remaining assets go to children, parents, siblings, and other relatives, in that order.
How To Probate A Will In Georgia
Probating a will is the process of settling an estate after someone passes away.
‘Settling’ means that an executor or an administrator uses funds in the estate to pay off creditors and then splits the remaining property between the heirs.
Probate courts usually oversee the process of probating a will in Georgia while an executor manages the estate.
How to probate a will in Georgia is as follows:
- Locate the will.
- File the will with the Georgia probate courts.
- Inventory the property in the estate.
- Pay the outstanding debts.
- Distribute assets to heirs and beneficiaries.
1. Locating the Will
Before you can petition the courts to begin the Georgia probate process, you have to locate the will.
Most people keep their wills in safes or safety deposit boxes at banks.
If you cannot find their will, reach out to their estate planning attorney.
If you do not know who their attorney was, call the local estate planning lawyers and inform them that the person died and you’re trying to find their will.
2. File the Will with a Probate Court
Once you have found the will, it’s time to file the petition for probate at the correct probate court.
The will is probated in the Probate Court of the county in which the decedent was living in at death.
In order to probate the will, the executor should file the original signed will and the:
- Georgia Probate Court Standard Form 4 (Petition to Probate Will in Common Form), or;
- Georgia Probate Court Standard Form 5 (Petition to Probate Will in Solemn Form).
Solemn form probate usually only occurs if the executor expects an heir or beneficiary to contest the will.
This type of probate requires notice to all potential heirs and settles any contests at the first court appearance.
Common form probate, on the other hand, does not require notice but remains open to challenge for four years.
File the petition for the method of probate you choose given the specific circumstances.
3. Inventory the Assets
Collect all estate assets, including personal property, money, bank accounts, or deeds, and file a report with the court within six months.
You’ll have to have appraisals done on all property that is in the estate to figure out the present value of the property is.
4. Pay Outstanding Debts
Before distributing the assets to heirs or beneficiaries, the executor of the estate has to pay off all outstanding debts first.
These debts include any money owed to creditors, final tax returns, and any estate taxes owed to federal and state agencies.
Within 60 days of opening the probate process, you must publish a notice to potential creditors.
If the estate does not have sufficient funds to pay all remaining debts, you must liquidate other assets.
5. Distribute Assets to Heirs and Beneficiaries
After all of the debts have been repaid to creditors, the executor can distribute the assets to the heirs and beneficiaries.
You must obtain evidence that the heirs or beneficiaries received their bequests and submit to the probate court a final accounting report that details the expenses paid and the transfer of all assets.
After settling the estate, you have to submit a petition for discharge. When the court approves this petition, the probate process is complete.
How To Probate A Will In Georgia WITHOUT An Attorney
Probating a will in Georgia without an attorney is the same as with an attorney. You just have to file all of the paperwork and administer the estate yourself. Georgia does not require you to probate a will with an attorney.
But probating a will without an attorney puts you at greater risk.
A wills and trust attorney may allow you to administer the estate more efficiently and may allow you to save money on taxes, reduce creditor exposure, or protect your own interests since you will be serving as executor and bear a fiduciary responsibility for serving in that capacity.
Who Inherits When There Is No Will In Georgia?
When it comes to who inherits when there is no will in Georgia, the probate laws defer to Georgia’s ‘intestate succession’ laws. This means that when there is no will in Georgia, your assets go to your closest relatives.
Over to You.
If you are set to inherit property, you have a few options. You can:
- Sink money into renovations to list it with an agent and sell for top dollar.
- Spend weekends cleaning out the property and NOT renovating it so you can list it and sell.
- Sell as-is to an investor.
Renovating and Listing
With this approach (depending on the size of renovations), you can expect to spend $20k-$60k in renovations and wait about 3-9 months for the renovations to complete. Also, add in at least 3 months to sell the house and close on it.
When you sink money into renovations, be prepared to go over budget and over your timeline. This is the natural progression of renovations.
If you are inheriting the property with siblings, you have to decide who is forking up the money.
Most people use cash from the estate to fund the renovations. Other times, one sibling has the most money and has to pay for renovations.
Either way, make sure you get a quote that breaks down everything by line item of what’s included in the renovations and the associated costs.
If you manage the contractors correctly (and don’t get screwed over), this can maximize the profits that you pull out of the property.
(Make sure that you or the estate can pay for the mortgage and utilities for the 12 months until the house sells.)
Cleaning and Listing
If you want to put some sweat equity into the property, this is a great way to avoid dropping $20k-$60k into the house and still make a decent amount of money.
From what we have seen, this means that the heirs have to spend nights and weekends at the property:
- Cleaning it out.
- Throwing things away and hauling it to the dump.
- Mowing and maintaining the property.
Sounds easy on the surface, but we have had dozens of heirs call us after they have spent 6 months spending every available night and weekend at the property working on it.
Selling to an Investor
This is honestly the easiest route for the heirs. (Fair warning, though – you may not get as much money for the property as the other routes.)
What this route offers is speed and convenience.
You don’t have to spend a dime on renovations. You don’t have to argue with siblings on who is going to fork up the money (there’s always one sibling who drops the cash and the other who just benefits from it).
You don’t have to find and manage contractors. It’s so hard to find reliable contractors who are not going to screw you out of thousands of dollars.
You don’t have to deal with the emotional distress of throwing a loved one’s possessions away. You can just take what you want and we will handle the rest.
You don’t have to spend months maintaining and paying for the property. A lot of people can’t swing two mortgages and this is a way to get that financial pressure off their back fast.
(Even though you just inherited the property, you can still foreclose on the house.)
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