Learn Important Probate Essentials, including key things that go wrong in an estate, how to prevent them, and what to do if they happen.
It is common for heirs or beneficiaries to worry when the personal representative takes too long to distribute their inheritance. This is usually the case when families are not familiar with the intricacies of the probate process.
Knowing how the probate timeline works will help you understand what might be causing a delay.
Probate laws differ from state to state, and in this article, we will cover Georgia’s probate laws, timeline, and process.
Probate exists to ensure that a loved one’s estate assets are distributed fairly to their heirs or beneficiaries and that their liabilities are settled.
Skipping probate can make it challenging to determine who gets what from the estate or worse, leave you legally responsible for your decisions.
Under Georgia Law, an estate does not have to be probated. However, if you have the will, you must present the original document to the appropriate Probate Court.
Completing the probate process can help you safeguard your loved one’s assets. Without it, issues may arise with titled properties such as real estate, vehicles, and business interests. There are also cases when financial institutions freeze accounts unless the court appoints an executor or administrator.
Although probate may seem like the more daunting option, it can ultimately save you from potential headaches down the road.
It depends. Under Georgia law, you must file the original will in the Probate Court. If you don’t, then someone else may attempt to open the estate as if there is no will, which may not reflect the deceased’s wishes. Executors who fail to file the will could also face financial and legal consequences.
Probate also literally means “to prove the will.
This legal process exists to prevent fraud, including fake wills. Without it, the likelihood of such activities would increase significantly.
If your loved one passed away without a will, their estate should still be opened with the Probate Court. The assets are generally distributed according to the state’s intestacy laws. These laws prioritize the deceased’s family members based on their relationship with the deceased.
Nobody can settle liabilities and transfer or sell estate property unless probate is established. If you don’t open probate, the deceased’s real property may also remain in their name, which could cause issues for their loved ones in the long run.
Typically, no, but if all assets were non-probate, it may not be necessary as they have a predetermined beneficiary or joint owner. When the owner dies, the financial institution distributes these assets to the designated recipient by default.
Some examples of non-probate assets are:
Without disputes, probate generally takes anywhere between 12 to 18 months, depending on the estate’s size and complexity.
Disagreements between the personal representative and beneficiaries or heirs can significantly extend this timeframe.
In Georgia, the probate process can be broken down into the following three phases, each with its own timeline:
During this stage, the court appoints a personal representative to manage the estate. Heirs and beneficiaries will have a chance to object to the nominated personal representative.Several factors can affect how long the appointment phase takes, like how promptly family members submit the required paperwork and the estate’s location. Various courts may also have different processing speeds which can impact the timeline.
Most of the work is done here, such as identifying and notifying creditors, gathering assets, finding the heirs and beneficiaries, and satisfying creditors.
The personal representative distributes the remaining assets to heirs and beneficiaries and closes the estate during this stage.
Any disputes among beneficiaries and the estate’s complexity can impact the probate process, potentially adding extra steps to the procedure.
Yes, when a dispute comes up in a probate case, it can take longer to settle the estate.
So, how long does probate take if disputes arise?
Depending on many factors, probate disputes may add months or years to the typical timeline. These factors can include:
Parties’ willingness to settle disagreements can help expedite the process.
The size and complexity of an estate play a critical role in determining how long the probate process takes. Generally, smaller estates without disputes and complications are settled more quickly, while larger estates with beneficiary disputes may take years to resolve.
If you want to expedite the probate process, we recommend working with an experienced lawyer who can help streamline the process and minimize the time it takes to settle the estate.
If you want to speed up the probate process in Georgia, there is an option, but the requirements are very strict.
You can petition for an order declaring no administration to inform the court that you intend to bypass probate. This petition can simplify the distribution of a deceased person’s assets with less legal involvement and cost. However, this option is usually limited to tiny estates.
One significant drawback is that this option cannot be used if the decedent left a will.
If you are eligible to file this petition, each party must agree to a written distribution plan and certify that no estate debts remain.
The Probate Court’s involvement in the process can affect the overall timeline.
The Probate Judge decides on the best course of action, particularly in situations where there are conflicting views among parties. In simpler terms, the court brings order to the chaos.
As part of the administration phase, the personal representative must settle with creditors. To do this, the personal representative must run a creditor/debtor ad in the local newspaper for four weeks. This ad notifies creditors that they have three months to file a claim against the estate.
During this three-month period, the estate remains open to allow any creditors to come forward and file their claims. Creditors may file their claims with the Executor or Administrator directly, or they may file a claim through the Probate Court.
If you dispute a creditor’s claim, you may have the opportunity to present your disagreement to the court before a final decision is made. Disputes like this can further prolong the probate process.
If you are the personal representative, there are steps you can take to make the process as quick and efficient as possible. Here are some tips to help speed up probate:
Unforeseen circumstances may come up and cause delays. In these situations, it’s best to remain calm and avoid reacting emotionally, as it won’t help resolve the issue.
If you believe the probate is taking longer than it should, here are some steps you can take to help get the estate moving again:
These situations are complicated, and trying to handle them alone is not recommended.
Once the probate process is complete, the personal representative will file a petition for discharge with the probate court. The court will then review the petition and, if everything is in order, issue an order discharging the personal representative and officially closing the estate.
If you are an heir or beneficiary, you should receive a notice of the petition for discharge and have an opportunity to object to it before the court makes a final decision. Once the estate is closed, you should receive your distribution from the estate according to the terms of the will or intestacy law.
With a probate attorney’s assistance, you can expect the process to move more quickly. Probate lawyers have experience handling probate cases, so they can navigate the legal process more efficiently.
A probate attorney can also help you understand your rights and responsibilities and help you make informed decisions.
If you’re dealing with a complicated probate process, working with a skilled probate attorney can be a valuable investment of your time and resources.
While it’s difficult to determine the exact length of the probate process, seeking the help of an experienced attorney can help you avoid potential issues that may further delay the already-lengthy process. A skilled attorney can provide invaluable guidance and support, ultimately saving you from unnecessary stress and wasted time.
If you have any probate-related concerns or questions, we encourage you to reach out to our office at (770) 796-4582. Our team is here to help you navigate the probate process and ensure that your loved one’s estate is handled with care and efficiency.
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