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Estate administration & probate needs advance planning

Even after one gets all of the estate planning documents prepared and finalized, there are remaining steps under Georgia law to assure that all assets are titled properly and updated to meet current needs. In addition, all beneficiary designations must be reviewed for accuracy. If these matters are incorrect or out of date, there could be unpleasant surprises for one's personal representative and intended beneficiaries who may find that the decedent's property is being distributed to the wrong persons. This puts a big cog in the wheel of an appropriate and smooth-running estate administration & probate process.

Generally, accounts such as IRAs, 401(k)s, life insurance and investment accounts go to the designated beneficiary and not to the person's estate. The gift in essence escapes probate in that the inheritance is automatic to the beneficiary by operation of law. However, if the beneficiary dies prior to the testator, the gift goes to the estate and not to the specified individual.

If the wrong person remains as a listed beneficiary and is not removed by the owner of the account or policy prior to his or her death, the assets may be distributed to the listed beneficiary contrary to the owner's wishes. It is therefore important that these matters be reviewed for accuracy prior to putting one's estate documents away. Along with beneficiary designations, it is also important to know that one's assets are titled in a way that is consistent with the person's estate plan.

In Georgia and all states, jointly-titled accounts, with the right of survivorship, will pass to the successor account owner immediately by operation of law upon the other owner's death. Thus, jointly-owned real estate in the names of a married couple will pass absolutely to the successor upon the death of the first spouse. Only when the second spouse dies will the asset need to be passed through estate administration & probate. The choices available and the variations that may exist are so extenuated that it is necessary to review these matters in cooperation with an estate planning attorney, and in some cases, also with a financial planning expert.

Source:, "Colliton: Retitling assets can change the estate plan", Janet M.Colliton, May 16, 2016

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