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Atlanta Estate Planning Law Blog

Is a will enough to simplify estate administration?

Whether Georgia residents are considering creating an estate plan or already have, it may be beneficial to consider whether only having a last will and testament is the right choice. Without a doubt, a will is an essential part of most estate plans, but it may not be the only, or best, way to make estate administration as easy on surviving family members as possible. It may be worth the time and effort to consider taking additional steps to ensure that their wishes are followed without placing any unnecessary burdens on the rest of the family.

Relying on the probate court to distribute a Georgia resident's assets could keep heirs from receiving a full inheritance. It may also be months before any distributions are made, which could jeopardize the financial stability of surviving family members in the meantime. A trust may help alleviate these issues.

Technology can complicate estate administration

The "good old days" of sorting through desk drawers and filing cabinets for important papers seem to be reaching an end. Technology makes it possible for much of a Georgia resident's life to be created, managed and stored online. This may make things easier during life, but after death, it could complicate estate administration.

It may still take a sheet or two of paper to make an estate easier to administer in the digital age. Accounts, usernames and passwords should be written down somewhere for family members to find in the event of death. For Georgia residents who are now in the unenviable position of wrapping up a departed loved one's estate, it could be easy to miss something important when it comes to estate administration.

Does being a stepmom mean probate could get heated?

Now that more people, including many here in Georgia, are divorcing and remarrying later in life, some people only get a short time with their new loves. In many cases, the woman survives her new husband since women still tend to live longer than men do. When it comes to settling a deceased husband's estate, simply being a stepmother may increase the likelihood of probate becoming heated.

Most stepmothers are not greedy, but their stepchildren may believe otherwise since their fathers probably took the time to provide for their new wives. Children may question any provisions made in their father's estate plans or that the widow decided to pursue her elective share of the estate because her husband did not have time to change his estate plan before passing away. Either of these steps can easily lead a deceased man's children to challenge the will or attempt to fight their stepmother's pursuit of her share.

Probate dispute keeps Charles Manson in the news after his death

Charles Manson is best known throughout the country, including here in Georgia, for being the mastermind behind the murders of nine people, which were carried out by his followers. Over the years and until his death in Nov. 2017, Manson periodically made the news. Many may have thought that his death would be the last time his name made news, but it is back -- this time in probate court.

Two men, one who says he is Manson's grandson and the other who says he is Manson's son, both came forward claiming to be his heir. Each say they are entitled to the notorious ringleader's "murderabelia," along with music and lyrics Manson allegedly wrote that bands such as Guns 'N Roses and the Beach Boys performed. In addition, there is the question of which one will inherit the rights to Manson's images and writings. All of this property is said to be worth substantial amounts of money.

The duties of a successor trustee in trust administration

Perhaps your loved one asked you to serve as part of his or her estate plan after death. You may have accepted the position, perhaps believing that you would never have to serve. Then, your loved one died, and now you are called into service as your loved one's successor trustee and face dealing with the duties of trust administration here in Georgia.

Your loved one may have served as the trustee of his or her living trust during life, but may not have imparted your duties to you before death. Even though most people turn to legal resources to help them through the process, it is still a good idea to understand the duties you face. Even though it is an important task, taking an inventory of all of the trust's liabilities and assets is just the beginning.

Understanding how your will works in probate

Like other Georgia residents, you may have been told at some point that you need to create and execute a last will and testament. You were told that this would allow you to designate how your estate is distributed during probate. What you may not have been told is exactly how that happens. It may help to understand a last will and testament's use in probate court before completing your estate plan.

First, your will only distributes those assets that are subject to probate. This means that any assets you have that will not pass to someone through a beneficiary designation form or through being a joint asset do not go through the court process. For example, if you own a home in joint tenancy with rights of survivorship with your spouse, have assets in a trust or life insurance policies, there is no need to probate these types of assets.

Probate has begun. Do you feel something just isn't right?

After a loved one passes away, surviving family members often experience a myriad of emotions. During this time, a probate will may also be started in order to settle that Georgia resident's estate. As you find out more about the will, you may begin to suspect that something just is not right. You may begin to wonder if you should challenge the will.

Perhaps you wonder whether your deceased loved one was in his or her right mind when the will was signed. This could be because the provisions of the will are not what you discussed with your loved one on one or more occasions. You may question whether someone else exerted some sort of influence on the decedent.

Not all estate administration takes place in a courtroom

Many Georgia residents will ask that a trusted individual take on double duty after they pass away. You may have been asked and accepted the responsibilities as both executor of the estate and trustee of a trust. In this case, you will be responsible for more than just a probate as you work through your estate administration duties on behalf of your loved one.

Dealing with a probate and administering a trust may both involve distributions to heirs and beneficiaries, but being a trustee does have different duties. Where it is true that in both cases you are carrying out the wishes of the person who appointed you, you also have different responsibilities. One of the biggest differences is that a probate has an end, but administering a trust could continue for some time -- even years.

Consider avoiding probate for the sake of surviving loved ones

Estate planning may not be high on the list of things that most people want to do, but it is necessary. Not only will it keep the state of Georgia from deciding what happens to an individual's assets upon death, but it could also be structured in such a way that probate may not be necessary. Many people do not understand that during the process, surviving family members will not have access to any assets that are subject to the probate process.

For instance, if a Georgia resident set aside certain monies in a will for a family member, that person will be required to wait to receive those funds until the estate is settled. That could be months or even years depending on the circumstances. In addition, those monies could end up being used up during the probate. Whatever inheritance the individual intended may not be there when all is said and done.

Save password? For better estate administration, yes

The outcomes of legal cases addressing new or evolving situations and technology often set precedents for how laws should be applied moving forward. Estate administration appears to have experienced just such a precedent, with a recent court ruling affecting how emails might be handled after death. The case also highlights the importance of addressing how digital assets should handled.

In 2006, two siblings outside of Georgia were made representatives of their brother's estate following his death.  Soon after they attempted to access their brother's stored emails with Yahoo, but the tech company refused, claiming that a 1986 law prevented it from doing so. In 2009 they filed a probate court complaint about Yahoo. They claimed that they needed access to the emails in order to properly administer their brother's estate.

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