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A will could simplify estate administration for family members

Most Georgia residents have heard that they need a will, yet only about 50 percent of Americans have one. Reasons for this vary, but some of the most popular seem to be that individuals do not want to discuss their own demise, have not found the time or believe that they are too young to worry about it. The problem is that no one knows exactly when he or she may pass away, and leaving family members without some instructions regarding the distribution of property could unnecessarily complicate the estate administration process.

Dying without a will or trust means that the court must follow Georgia's laws of intestacy. Whatever the decedent may have preferred no longer matters. The court will distribute his or her property in accordance with those laws. In addition, a will designates someone to serve as the executor of the estate, but without a will, family members will need to petition the court to appoint someone to serve in this capacity.

Including certain things in a will could complicate probate

That statement may seem contrary to what most Georgia residents hear when it comes to estate planning. However, there are certain issues and assets that should not be covered in a last will and testament. Doing so would more than likely cause unnecessary complications to the probate process.

Certain types of property are titled in such a way that they pass to another individual by operation of law. For instance, a home titled in joint tenancy will automatically pass to the other party after the death of the other party. Many retirement accounts and life insurance policies require beneficiary designations, which usually take precedence over what a Georgia resident may put in his or her will.

Prepare for probate even if under the age of 40

Many people in Georgia may still be under the impression that estate planning is not really necessary until at least the age of 40. The truth is that any adult could benefit from estate planning since anything can happen to anyone at any time. Without any estate planning at all, the probate process becomes more of a challenge to the loved ones left behind.

Without a will, the state of Georgia decides who inherits a person's assets after death. In addition, the courts could end up deciding who cares for minor children as well. Having a last will and testament allows the individual to retain control over these decisions instead of giving them to the state and the courts.

Preparing for estate administration with no obvious heirs

Just because a Georgia resident does not have a spouse or children does not mean that estate planning can be skipped. In fact, some would say that the need is more urgent. Without any immediate family to inherit an individual's assets, they could end up with the state if no other heirs can be found. Someone would need to handle the estate administration regardless of whether a will exists, and that person's job becomes more of a challenge. 

Instead, someone with no children -- or other immediate family -- could consider giving the estate to charity. A trust could be set up in order to allow the individual to see the fruits of giving during life as well. In the alternative, many people have siblings, parents or nieces and nephews they might leave an inheritance to in the manner they choose. Choosing someone to serve as executor of the estate might require more thought since it needs to be a trusted individual. However, it does not have to be a family member.

Another step to make estate administration easier on family

Even when a Georgia resident is well-known by his or her family members, understanding the thinking behind certain decisions may not be easy. Wills are designed to pass on assets, reduce taxes and achieve other wishes of the testator. However, family members often need more guidance in order to get through estate administration.

A will can handle the legalities of death, but it may not contain further instructions that could make carrying out those wishes less confusing and complex. A will could reference a letter expressing other, additional last wishes that family members can use as an instruction sheet. Those Georgia residents who include a "letter of final wishes" can make arrangements for their funerals, explain the contents of the will and provide for pets, among other things.

What happens to debts during estate administration and probate

Georgia residents appointed as executors in the wills of their loved ones may be under the impression that their duty is just to distribute the assets of the estate. Unfortunately, that perception is incorrect. Many other duties are required of executors during estate administration and probate, including settling the decedent's debts.

The first thing that executors and family members need to know is that they are not personally responsible for the debts of their loved ones unless they co-signed or are jointly responsible for the balanced owed. It might help alleviate some trepidation regarding a decedent's loved ones to know this as quickly as possible. Unscrupulous creditors may attempt to convince these individuals of the opposite.

Beneficiary designations, estate administration and probate

Creating a plan for providing for loved ones after death requires making numerous decisions. One of the considerations many Georgia residents have is how to reduce the time, money and effort those left behind spend in and on estate administration and probate. One way to do that could be through beneficiary designations.

Several types of property can be transferred through these designations. Bank accounts, retirement accounts and insurance policies are just three of them. Georgia residents who want a specific person to receive the funds from a bank account can fill out a payable on death form. Upon death, the proceeds remaining in the account will go to that person.

Avoiding estate administration and probate

The goal of many Georgia residents is to avoid making their families wait to receive their inheritances. Most often, this is done by creating an estate plan that bypasses estate administration and probate. Several estate-planning tools help in this endeavor.

Some property passes to family members by operation of law. For example, if a husband and wife own a home as "joint tenants with rights of survivorship," when one spouse dies, the other automatically becomes full owner of the property. The home would only go through probate after the surviving spouse's death if other arrangements are not made in advance.

Can a revocable trust ease estate administration and probate?

Georgia residents have many tools at their disposal when it comes to planning for taking care of their families after death. One such tool is a revocable trust. Using this type of trust could ease the estate administration and probate process.

A revocable trust is created during a Georgia resident's lifetime. Married individuals may create a joint trust. That individual -- and spouse, if any -- may serve as the grantor (creator), beneficiary and trustee if he or she so chooses.

This mistake could complicate estate administration and probate

Many Georgia residents feel relief once they execute a plan to care for loved ones after they pass away. However, the work is not always done once the documents are signed. In order to ensure that an individual's wishes will be appropriately carried out, it might be necessary to take additional steps. Otherwise, a smooth estate administration and probate could turn into a complicated mess.

For example, when a woman was diagnosed with cancer, she and her second husband went to an attorney to set up an estate plan. As part of that plan, her estate was to be divided equally between her husband and her two children from a previous marriage. Once the documents were signed, they believed that everything was in place to make that happen.

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191 Peachtree Street NE, Suite 4400
Atlanta, GA 30303
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