As many people never go through the Georgia Probate Process in their daily lives, a lot of questions can come up during the process. Many of these questions are fairly overlapping and can be boiled down to two primary questions. How long does the Process take? And How much does the Process cost me? The question we would like to address is the first question. As with most things, time is money and we feel that being able to move through the process quickly and easily will help you save in the end.
Georgia Probate Process, generally speaking, can last anywhere from several months to several years depending on many factors. As this is a legal process, there are several court documents that must be filed and those documents go through several steps before completing their journey. You have to give the process its time to work. Additionally, delays happen. Anything from compiling asset information to attorney delays can affect how long the process takes. You can face delays from the Courthouse itself with potential for filing errors and volume of cases affecting you as well. Title companies and other financial institutions can slow the process as well with their own red tape. Another delay can come in the form of disagreements. Should there be a party involved that’s not wholly in agreement with some detail, the entire process halts and then court hearings are generally requested and scheduled to discuss and a judge will push the process along as needed.
For all of these reasons, and many more we simply can’t list, probate can take anywhere from months to years. This causes plenty of stress and a burden on those who are not involved or prepared. It is important to find yourself an experienced Probate Attorney who can help carry this burden and guide you through this process.
In an effort to help guide anyone through this process, we have listed a few of the key steps to help you have an understanding of what’s involved in this process. This is not a complete list and there may be a number of steps not listed, but we do feel this is a good outline of the process to help you understand what’s coming next.
1. Marshaling Assets
One of your job’s as Executor, or Administrator, of the Estate is to help identify and take possession of all of the deceased’s assets. These are commonly referred to as “probate assets”, but there are assets that are considered “non-probate assets” such as IRA’s or Life insurance policies.
2. Paying Debts and Expenses
Creditors must be paid from the Estate prior to any beneficiaries or heirs. You must publish a notice in the local newspaper to notify creditors and pay any outstanding bills or debts.
3. Selling Estate Property
An Estate sale can assist with paying back any, and all, debts owed to Creditors. Plus, this is a way to ensure that any extra property that hasn’t been addressed in a Will, which may not be wanted, finds its forever home. Additionally, it may be easier for beneficiaries to receive cash instead of physical property.
4. Tax Returns
You may be responsible for filing certain tax returns after the deceased has passed. This is an excellent time in which to consult an estate planning attorney to assist with planning as this is a confusing process.
5. Distributing Estate
Once all debts have been paid, you can then distribute the remaining assets to any surviving heirs or beneficiaries. It’s best to have a Last Will and Testament to help allocate the Estate to any beneficiaries. In the event there is no Last Will and Testament, the assets are passed along to the heirs as determined by Law.
6. Filings within Probate Court
Generally, you are required to file inventory returns and reports to the Probate Court. You can usually find if you are appointed Executor or Administrator of the Estate. In the order appointing you Executor, you will find whether or not you are required to complete this step. Even if the document does not require you to file these reports, you may be called upon by the Court to file them anyway.
7. Closing the Estate
Once all debts and expenses are paid, tax returns filed, and all remaining assets distributed, you can then request the Court to discharge you from being Executor. You would need to file for a Petition for Discharge.
As this is a complicated process. It’s quite hard to predict any issues that may arise. It’s possible that there may be hidden speed bumps along the way. A person can file an objection to the Will, which will cause a delay also called a “caveat”. When a caveat is filed, a Judge generally will hold a hearing before pushing the probate forward. Another issue, typically, is when the Executor of the will lives far away. Just because someone has been named Executor of the Will doesn’t exactly mean they have any power until they have been confirmed as Executor by the Judge. Beneficiaries can slow this process down as well. The further away the Beneficiaries live, the longer the process takes as documents have to be mailed, signed, and mailed back. Additionally, the more people are involved the harder it is to coordinate everyone involved.