Frequently Asked Questions About Probate Of Decedent’s Estates And Trust Administration
Every year at Bryant & O'Connor Law Firm, our attorneys help many families carry out the final legal wishes of their loved ones or, in the case of individuals without a will, administer the estate under applicable Georgia law.
We primarily represent personal representatives, which means we specifically represent administrators in intestate estates, executors for testate estates, and trustees of the decedent’s trust. If you are not sure what some of these words mean, do not worry. Here are answers to some frequently asked questions.
I’m nominated to handle an estate. How do I start?
When a loved one dies, the first thing you probably need to do is handle memorial arrangements and then, of course, mourn. Individuals and families experience a range of emotions in these circumstances, which can make handling that person’s final financial affairs or business a complex matter. Hiring the right professionals to assist you can make what seems like a difficult task more manageable.
What you need to know right now is that if no action is taken or you do things the wrong way, most property owned by your loved one will not pass to the people legally entitled to it. Also, it is possible that inaction could lead a creditor of your loved one to take matters into their own hands. That is why you should consult with a lawyer within a reasonable amount of time and develop a plan to timeously handle matters.
Many people believe that a will is in force upon the death of their loved one, but that is not the case. Wills must be proved (probated), and certain steps taken before the document’s terms can be carried out. Specifically, the will has to be filed in the correct probate court and served upon the heirs of the decedent. See our video page to learn more about this process.
Where does your law firm handle estates?
Estates are generally subject to administration in the state where the decedent had their permanent residence at the time of their death. The attorneys of Bryant & O'Connor Law Firm are licensed to practice law in Georgia, and therefore all of our estate administration services are for Georgia estates. Matters that require probate court involvement must be filed in the decedent’s home county at the time of death, and we generally limit our representation of probate estates to counties within 75 miles of Vidalia and Toombs County, including:
- Montgomery County
- Treutlen County
- Tattnall County
- Emanuel County
- Wheeler County
- Appling County
- Jeff Davis County
- Telfair County
- Dodge County
- Laurens County
We will handle the administration of Georgia trust estates, meaning estates where the decedent had funded a living trust that can be administered without probate court involvement, in any part of Georgia.
Scheduling a consultation is easy, but how do I prepare?
Just call, and we will get you on the calendar. To prepare for the first consultation with a probate attorney, please do the best you can to do the following:
- Determine if the decedent owned any property in their personal name that was not automatically transferrable at death
- Make a rough inventory of assets and accounts (you might not have access to everything yet)
- Determine if the decedent had a will and, if so, find the original
- Determine the names and contact information of the heirs (closest relatives) of the decedent
- Bring the above information that you can gather (and the death certificate if you are able to get it) to your first meeting
How long will handling this estate take?
Property held in joint tenancy with survivorship rights or funds held in a survivorship account do not require probate for a transfer to the named beneficiary. Likewise, property properly funded to a trust may provide for prompt distribution of the property after the trust maker’s death. However, even the simplest Georgia estates that require probate take at least six months from filing to discharge, and they usually take longer than that, even if everyone is on the ball. The average time necessary to properly probate an estate is generally between nine months and two years, though some contested or complex estate take much longer.
The average executor spends 570 hours working on an estate. Do you have that much time? Working with a diligent attorney and law firm will not completely eliminate this number, but we can almost certainly reduce it and help you satisfy your important legal obligations.
How much will handling this estate cost?
Of course, it depends. A few things to consider: 1) probated estates usually require more professional fees than estates completely held within a valid trust with clear instructions; 2) uncontested estates, meaning all heirs and/or beneficiaries completely cooperate, are less costly than contested estates; and 3) fees are not as high for estates where the property has a clear title.
Other factors include the value of the estate and type of assets involved, the number of interested parties, the existence of creditors or ongoing litigation, and the location of the probate court in probated estates. These factors may motivate you to carefully plan your own estate so that you can help the people you leave behind save time and expense.
For most uncontested probate estates in our area, we quote a reasonable flat fee for each of the three main stages of estate administration: 1) getting the executor or administrator appointed; 2) administration of the estate; and 3) discharge. If you are now the personal representative of the estate, keep in mind that the estate pays for your out-of-pocket expenses which are necessary to handle the estate.
Contact Us To Learn How We Can Help You
There is no risk in scheduling a session with one of our attorneys to review your situation and give an estimate of cost. When meet with us, we will walk you through it and remove the mystery around the process of estate administration. Call Bryant & O'Connor Law Firm in Vidalia at 912-788-5095 or send us an email to initiate a consultation.