Coping with the loss of a beloved one is a delicate moment. But if, besides dealing with difficult emotions, you also have to take care of the deceased person’s estate and financial affairs and make sure their last wishes are fulfilled, then you might feel overwhelmed. And that’s when you might hear the term “letter of administration” for the first time.
What are they, what documents do you need to get them, and what kind of powers can they give you? In this post, we’ll help you understand the most important aspects of these legal documents.
When someone dies and leaves behind a testament, where they also named an executor, you can use it to start settling the bequest. But if the decedent doesn’t have a last will, their estate will typically go through an intestate administration.
For this, the probate court must first appoint an administrator to manage and distribute all the estate’s assets.
And here, the letters of administration come in.
A letter of administration is a court order issued by the probate court that officially gives an administrator the power to represent and act on behalf of the deceased’s estate and begin managing the inheritance.
The person appointed as administrator has the legal authority to:
To obtain letters of administration, the deceased must not have left a last will or a testament where he has been named an executor.
You will need to file an appropriate petition with the probate court to begin the process of being named as administrator of the estate.
The three phases of probate are:
During this first phase, the probate court appoints a personal representative to manage the estate affairs.
If a will doesn’t exist, someone, usually a surviving spouse or next of kin, would file with the probate court to be appointed administrator.
The person wanting to become a personal representative must gather all the necessary documents and get the heirs and other family members to sign the consent forms to speed up the process. Then, if you are the petitioner, you must file the correct petition with the local probate court.
The judge verifies and evaluates the request and ensures it meets all the legal requirements. You must attend the hearings and take an oath in front of the probate court, swearing to follow Georgia’s laws and uphold their fiduciary duty.
Once the probate court approves the request, you will receive a court order (called Letters of Administration) appointing you to the role and specifying what powers have been granted to administer the estate.
After the appointment stage, the administrator will start to manage the decedent’s estate.
His primary goal will be to determine which assets are part of the bequest – bank accounts, real estate, and any personal property of the deceased person (such as jewelry and other heirlooms) and pay outstanding creditors.
To pay the debts, the administrator will run a creditor/debtor ad in the local newspaper for four weeks, and the estate will stay open for another three months to allow creditors time to come forward and file a claim.
According to Georgia state law, the personal representatives must satisfy all creditors before distributing any remaining assets to the heirs or beneficiaries. To manage the estate’s funds, they must open an estate bank account and keep an inventory and accounting of all the deceased’s assets.
The final stage of the probate process in Georgia is distribution and discharge. This is where the administrator distributes the remaining assets to heirs before closing the estate.
As an administrator, you must ensure everything goes to the right people and conclude this phase by filing the proper paperwork with the probate court.
Once the discharge paperwork is accepted, the estate will be considered closed. This step helps relieve the administrator of any future liability tied to the estate.
After having an idea about what the estate includes and who the beneficiaries are, you should start gathering all the following documents:
If required by the court and depending on the specific situation, you might also need other documents. You also need to pay the filing fee to file for letters of administration, which varies by county.
The true answer is that “It depends“.
Without disputes, the entire probate process generally takes anywhere between 12 and 18 months, depending on the estate’s size and complexity.
The first probate phase can last from 6 weeks to 6 months to complete. The timeline can vary by county where the deceased lived; some are busier than others in Georgia.
Completing the first phase should result in the petitioner obtaining letters of administration.
However, you should know that there are several circumstances that significantly extend this timeframe, such as:
It depends on the powers the court order authorizes when it appoints the personal representative to be in charge of the estate administration.
Usually, the court grants the administrator the extended powers only if all the heirs and beneficiaries agree and sign accordingly.
They allow the administrator to take action on the estate without asking for the court’s permission.
For example, if a personal representative needs money to pay the deceased’s debts, he can sell the estate property without asking for the court’s permission. Many times, the administrator will not have to file annual returns or post a bond if expanded powers are granted.
Having an experienced probate attorney to review the court order it is essential to ensure that the administrator is waived from filing returns or posting a bond.
By default, the administrator receives limited powers in Georgia, and the court order will outline what authority he will have regarding the estate.
For example, if the personal representative wants to sell a property, he might have to request permission from the probate court.
When the administrator receives limited powers, he may have to get bonded by a bonding company. Many times, he also must file reports with the probate court.
The documents are incredibly important and are taken seriously. If you are appointed as administrator and are required to file returns with the probate court, our law firm recommends having an experienced probate attorney assist you.
If the returns are not correct, a few situations can occur:
The exact cost of obtaining a letter of administration without a will depends largely on the individual circumstances of the case and the county.
When necessary, additional costs may occur, including legal fees, which may vary.
Administering a loved one’s estate can be a long and often time-consuming process, which becomes even more complicated when a person dies without a valid will. If family members disagree about who should administer the inheritance, the process can take much longer and can create severe rifts between them.
In the situation of a complex estate, it is best to obtain legal advice and avoid potential pitfalls, including problems or delays that may arise when trying to obtain a letter of administration. If you are in a situation where you’re trying to settle an estate, we recommend you reach out to our office at 770-637-3272 to set up a consultation with a member of our team.
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