Lions, tigers and probate, oh my!

Georgia probate can be an unanticipated hassle. Dealing with the untimely passing of a newly married couple or ungrateful heirs of predeceased siblings can (and will) cause all sorts of headaches. An attorney possessing everyday experience with the probate process in Georgia can ease a lot of those headaches.

When anyone ‘probates’ a Will, they are simply establishing the validity of that Will in the eyes of the state. Simply nominating someone as your executor does not give the person automatic power after your death. In order for that nominated executor to handle your affairs, they must probate your Will to the Probate Court.

Without a Trust, which handles your estate assets without the need for probate, probate is necessary even for the most well-crafted estate plans; a Will controls any and everything which is left in your name only upon your death. The first part of the probate process can be the hardest: notifying the heirs at law of the deceased person. Heirs at law can include unexpected individuals, even some who have been out of touch for years.

I have seen many examples of how trying and personal this can be for even seemingly perfect families. Most families have that lone black sheep; the grudge holder and distant relative who moved and never updated anyone of their address. What of the niece or nephew who has been out of touch for years who must be notified, as required by Georgia law, if their mother or father has predeceased the testator?

These are the unanticipated dilemmas that face some families. They try to “go it alone” and inevitably end up coming to see Nathan and I in some sort of an emergency: a real estate closing, a lawsuit from an heir, challenges to the will or an unexpected request from the Probate Court Judge.

Unintended problems can also spring up from simpler issues. Heirs can believe they are entitled to something or may end up feeling completely indifferent. Entitlement is one thing, but why does indifference matter?


As I mentioned before, there is no authority to act on behalf of the deceased individual until the court has issued Letters Testamentary. This means you cannot go into their bank accounts, cash checks in their name, sell any personal or real property; the list goes on and on.

Why not put everything in your spouse and children’s names before you pass to avoid a Will and probate all together? Once again: unintended consequences. Simple actions such as granting one child access or changing the deed on your house can all be considered as gifts. Why are gifts during life a problem? Well, if you have more than one child and only one child is on the bank account then the other child loses out on that account, because although you pray that your child is “fair” there is no requirement that they be fair. A house is even more dangerous. Taxes are very difficult and confusing to understand but for simplification purposes: if you transfer your home during your life then it is valued at the price you paid for it; if you transfer your home at your death then it is valued at the date of your death. With the real estate market ever fluctuating would you like to chance a market increase and leave your children to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in income tax when they sell your home. Nathan and I just recently helped a client save their child nearly 1.2 million dollars in taxes by finding an unfiled deed written during life from a father to his son. While certainly not typical, imagine being able to save even 10% of that amount for your heirs.

So don’t go it alone. Whether you are thinking of your own Will or trying to probate the estate of a family member, come and talk to us. We are, after all, neighbors helping neighbors.