Following the death of a loved one, the thought of going through probate for that person’s estate can seem daunting. It helps to come prepared before meeting with a probate attorney to help the process go smoothly.
Accumulate Important Documents
After scheduling the meeting, it helps to ask the attorney what information needs to be brought by the client. Normally, these documents include the following:
- The original of the Last Will and Testament for the deceased, or at least a copy if the original has already been filed with probate court;
- If any documents have been already filed with probate court, bring copies of these;
- If a living trust existed, bring copies of these documents;
- Copies of recent financial statements for the deceased, including most recent statements for the deceased’s bank accounts, retirement or investment accounts, and life insurance policies;
- Copies of any deeds for real property owned by the deceased;
- Copies of all bills for any obligations of the deceased;
- Death Certificate;
- A list of the names and addresses for all beneficiaries listed in the will or non-probate assets.
Questions Regarding Working with the Attorney
One of the main purposes of this meeting is to not only tell the attorney about the case but to make decisions about hiring the probate attorney.
Bring a list of questions to ask the attorney about his or her experience. Questions may include how long the attorney has practiced in probate law, what type of experience he or she has with the probate court that will handle the deceased’s estate, and what the attorney’s fees will be, as well as how they will be paid.
Payment varies depending on the attorney, but normally, once the estate account is open, fees are normally paid through that source by the personal representative or executor of the estate.
What Does Probate Involve?
Have the attorney walk the client through what to expect in the probate process, from start to finish. Most individuals are not aware of what happens after a will is filed with the Georgia probate court, and it helps to clear up any misconceptions or confusion.
One question can even be: is probate necessary. Georgia probate law does not necessarily require estates to go through probate court, but it is a good idea to protect the estate against any problems in the future and other liabilities. Ask the attorney how long he or she expects it to take, which can normally be six months to a year depending on how big the estate is.
What Are the Executor’s Legal Duties?
Normally, the individual meeting with the probate attorney after the loved one has died is the person already named in the will as the executor.
Have the attorney clearly describe what the duties of an executor or administrator are. Duties may include managing the estate property, distributing all funds to beneficiaries, and paying all outstanding financial liabilities of the deceased. Have the attorney explain what a fiduciary duty is and what this means when it comes to the executor’s actions.
How Are Creditors Handled?
Another question that can be helpful at this meeting is how will outstanding bills or financial obligations be handled? Under Georgia probate law, all creditors of an estate are entitled to be paid from the proceeds of the estate. If there is not enough liquid assets available from which to pay these creditors, sometimes the executor will have to make the decision to sell property to pay creditors.
Probate law also has a specific order by which creditors are to be paid. It is important that the executor get this information to appropriately pay creditors before closing the estate to avoid any future liability.
What If Someone Is Mishandling the Estate?
Sometimes it is not the executor who meets with the probate attorney. Certain situations do arise where a concerned beneficiary believes the current executor is mishandling the estate assets. Georgia probate law prohibits this and does offer legal recourse, but it needs to be taken quickly to stop these actions from happening.
When these situations do arise, it is almost always recommended that a probate attorney be hired given the complexity of the issues involved and how quickly things need to happen to protect the estate from further misuse.
Contact Brian M. Douglas, LLC today
If you are not sure you need an attorney, you can always come in for a consultation to discuss your situation. Please contact our office if you or someone you know has recently been appointed personal representative of a loved one’s estate and has questions about what to do next.
Call us today at 770-933-9009 or contact us online to schedule your initial consultation with a Greater Atlanta area probate lawyer today.