wills and probate process After you’ve had services for your loved one, your thoughts may turn to settling the estate. This primer can help you understand that process and start moving in the right direction. Please note: this guide does not cover disputed estates. If you suspect an estate may become contested, please call our experienced Georgia probate team at our office at (770) 920-6030.

3 Projects to Deal with Right Away

1. Determine Whether Your Loved One Left a Will
Did your loved one leave a will? If so, the person in possession of the will must present it to the appropriate probate court, per Georgia probate law.

Where is the will? Your loved one may have left detailed plans in his or her personal paperwork. Places to look include a fireproof box or safe at the house or a safety deposit box at a bank. Your loved one’s doctor, attorney or financial planner may also know where the will is. (To open a safety deposit box, you will need an order from the probate court.)

2. Claim Life Insurance Policies
Did your loved one have any life insurance? Contact the carrier immediately to obtain forms to file a claim. An insurance company may wait until probate is open to process a claim, if the beneficiary of the policy is no longer alive or if the estate itself is the beneficiary.

3. Determine Whether the Estate Needs Immediate Attention
Perhaps the deceased had minor children (under the age of 18) or had been running a business or farm. If you a identify situation in which a lack of urgent action will lead to significant harm, you might need to file a petition with the Georgia probate court to gain control of the estate immediately to avert this harm.

7 Projects That Can Be Delayed, But Which You Should Handle As Soon As Possible

1. Gather Key Documents
To understand and process your loved one’s financial situation, you will need to collect and examine critical documents, including credit card statements, mortgage paperwork, bank statements, investment or retirement account statements and loan paperwork. Collate and organize these documents to keep the process orderly.

2. Assess the Estate and Take Steps to Protect and Preserve It
Inventorying the assets of the estate can be a long and laborious process, but you want to understand what the estate contains. Georgia probate law specifies that property must be distributed in a very specific order. Creditors may need to be paid, as may beneficiaries and heirs. If this process goes out of order, the person who made the distribution or the person who collected the asset may be liable to the person who was passed over.

3. Shut Off Non-Essential Utilities
Is there anyone still living at the loved one’s home? If not, disconnect the internet, phone and cable services, and cancel newspapers and magazine subscriptions. Otherwise, these ongoing services will drain money from the estate for no reason.

4. Protect the Property
Until the probate process starts, make sure that the house is secure. Contact the home insurance company and let the carrier know that the house is no longer occupied. If you do not, the vacant home may not be covered in the event of theft, weather events, fire, etc.

5. Protect Any Vehicles
Garage any vehicles your loved one left to prevent theft or damage. Contact the insurance company and let them know that the cars will not be driven; taking this step may entitle you to a reduction in premiums. Avoid canceling any policies before probate starts and the vehicles are either distributed or sold off.

6. Protect Other Assets
Secure key assets, such as art, jewelry, rare books, technology and specialized equipment. Beneficiaries should avoid collecting property at this point; the probate process must be orderly, and creditors may need to collect from the estate first, for instance.

7. Plan to Open the Estate
The probate court will issue Letters of Testamentary (if your loved one left a will) or Letters of Administration (if he or she did not), and you will need to choose from among seven petitions to file with the court. Different petitions are appropriate for different situations. You will open probate in the county where your loved one lived. Until you get an order from the court and officially open probate, banks and creditors may not discuss your loved one’s open accounts with you.

Quick Summary of the First Steps You Need to Take

To do as soon as possible:
• Find out whether there is a will.
• File life insurance claims.
• Determine what, if any, immediate actions need to be taken regarding the estate.

To do when you have a little more time:
• Collect critical documents.
• Inventory the estate.
• Stop newspaper delivery and other non-essential services.
• Protect your loved one’s home, vehicles and other assets.
• Plan to open the estate.

Do you have questions or need assistance with the Georgia wills and probate process? Contact our team for a confidential one-on-one consultation right now at (770) 920-6030.