If you’re dealing with the loss of a loved one, probate can add unwanted stress to the situation. The probate process is often expensive and time-consuming. It can also feel a little invasive of your privacy. But the good news is there are some ways to avoid the probate process.
What is Probate?
When someone passes away, the estate and assets they leave behind will likely go through a legal process called probate. It’s a court-supervised process of settling someone’s estate. During probate, the court supervises the distribution of assets and ensures that any debts are paid.
In Georgia, the estate executor or estate attorney usually initiates the probate process. The executor or attorney will file the appropriate documents with the court. The probate court will validate the deceased’s will and other estate documents. The court will also appoint an executor or agent to pay the deceased’s debts and distribute the estate to the heirs and beneficiaries. Most of this process is clerical, unless the estate is contested – which entails more litigation and court appearances.
Reasons to Avoid Probate: Expense
One of the top reasons to avoid the probate process is the expense. Probate can be difficult to navigate. There are procedures, forms, and deadlines (which can vary from county to county), and courts do not always provide clear instructions. So, many executors end up hiring an attorney to help them with the process. There can also be probate court costs, filing fees, and executor’s fees. It’s not unusual for these fees to run into the tens of thousands of dollars, depending on the complexity of the estate and whether it’s contested. These costs are all deducted from the estate itself, which can significantly decrease what’s left over for the beneficiaries.
Reasons to Avoid Probate: Time
The probate process is not a quick one. It can take anywhere from six months to several years, depending on whether the estate is contested. While the court holds its proceedings and supervises the paying of debts, the heirs and beneficiaries are waiting to receive their distributions. For those who are depending on the funds, the wait can be long and frustrating.
Reasons to Avoid Probate: Public Records
Many people may not be aware that when it comes to probate, the court hearings are open to the public and the probate documents are a matter of public record. That means that anyone can access the probate documents and read about your property, finances, family members, and beneficiaries. Some probate courts even make this information available online. If an individual or family would prefer to keep this kind of information confidential, it’s best to avoid the probate process.
How to Avoid the Probate Process
In Georgia, there are certain actions you can take to avoid the probate process. It will take some estate planning beforehand so that your assets will pass directly to your heirs. Some of the legal tools that will help you avoid the probate process include:
- Creating a living trust
- Holding a property jointly, with rights of survivorship
- Designating beneficiaries on pay-on-death bank accounts and transfer-on-death investment accounts
- Designating beneficiaries on life insurance and retirement accounts
Have Additional Questions? Contact Brian M. Douglas & Associates
If you have questions about the probate process or any other aspect of your estate plan, please reach out to us. Our team of experienced estate planning and probate attorneys will be happy to walk you through the different options and develop a custom plan that’s best for you and your loved ones. To schedule a consultation, you can call (770) 933-9009 or use our online contact form. We’re always happy to help!