2020, a year full of uncertainty, is finally behind us. For months, many aspects of our lives have been interrupted and reconfigured. However, with the New Year comes a new opportunity to reflect on our needs and plan for the future. Today, we’re taking a look at issues and policies that will shape Georgia estate planning and probate at the beginning of 2021. We’re also highlighting some developing matters that could impact you and your loved ones later this year.

New Georgia Estate Planning Law

New law HB 865 goes into effect this month, after being adopted by the Georgia Legislature in June 2020. The law pertains to wills and related documents. Under HB 865, “Any writing in existence when a will is executed may be incorporated into the will by reference if the language of the will manifests this intent and describes the writing sufficiently to permit its identification.” In other words, it is legal to include a written document along with your will (ex: a list of possessions and who you want to inherit them) as long as the will sufficiently identifies that document. The document can be included with your estate documents while your will is being executed, and the document can also be updated without having to execute an entirely new will.

Estate Planning and Probate Issues to Track in 2021

There are a number of issues related to Georgia estate planning and probate that may not have been approved by the Georgia Legislature, but continue to be important and developing topics. There are also new issues that may arise in 2021, following the pandemic and the installation of our next president. Here’s a quick look at some issues we’ll be tracking over the next year:

  • Proposed Georgia Uniform Mediation Act, which offers the same court-ordered rules and protection to both public and private mediations
  • Possible introduction of legislation to allow for electronic wills
  • Potential changes to the federal estate, gift, and generation-skipping transfer tax rates
  • Potential changes to long-term capital gains tax
  • Potential changes to the minimum terms and payments toward grantor retained annuity trusts (GRAT)
  • Increase in annual gift tax exemption to noncitizen spouses
  • How Paycheck Protection Programs (PPP) and stimulus checks will impact 2020 and 2021 state and federal taxes

Suspension of Jury Trials in Georgia

Recently, Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton signed an order that suspends jury trials across Georgia. Georgia’s Statewide Judicial Emergency initially went into place in March 2020, at the start of the pandemic. Chief Justice Melton then lifted the suspension in October. However, he said that the rapid and disturbing escalation of COVID-19 cases across the state required him to put the jury trial suspension back in place.

Under the order, all in-person jury trials that are currently in progress can continue to conclusion. Future jury trials that can be conducted remotely are encouraged to be carried out that way. Chief Justice Melton’s order states that in-person jury trials will be suspended until at least February. The Court hopes that the coronavirus vaccines will help end the virus and allow Georgia to return to a regular schedule of all jury trials and other court functions.

Remote Notarizations and Witnessing Continues

While Georgia courts are not permitted to have in-person jury trials and proceedings right now, Georgia law does provide a means of safely completing other legal documents. Back in April 2020, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed an Executive Order Permitting Remote Notarization and Witnessing. The executive order encourages social distancing and allows for remote notarization and witnesses as long as certain requirements are met. Those requirements relate to the audio-video conferencing technology used, the real-time location of the notary, the supervision of the notary, proof of identification, and the timeline for completing the documents. This Governor’s Executive Order is a temporary measure. It will stay in place until the termination or non-renewal of Georgia’s Public Health State of Emergency.

Supporting Our Clients in 2021 and Beyond

While 2020 was a year of pivoting and figuring out how best to protect ourselves and our loved ones, 2021 will be a year of recovery and strength. We’ll continue to keep an eye on Georgia’s new laws and regulations, as well as other developing issues that could impact your estate plan and property. If you or a loved need help with an issue related to estate planning, probate, or real estate law, please reach out to Brian M. Douglas & Associates at (770) 933-9009 or via our online contact form. One of our experienced attorneys would be happy to help.