Whether you own a home nestled in Atlanta’s bustling cityscape or a cozy cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains, your real estate is likely one of your most valuable assets. Naturally, you want to ensure this property is passed on according to your wishes when you’re no longer around. This article delves into estate planning and real estate in Georgia, guiding you on how to seamlessly leave your property to your heirs.
Why Include Real Estate in Your Estate Plan?
In Georgia, if you pass away without an estate plan (known as dying intestate), your real estate and other assets will be distributed according to state law. While these laws aim to distribute your property to your closest relatives, the division may not align with your personal wishes. To ensure that your property gets distributed according to your desires, it is crucial to include it in your estate plan.
Tools for Including Real Estate in Your Estate Plan
There are several tools you can use to include real estate in your estate plan, each with its unique benefits and considerations. Here are some options available under Georgia law:
Last Will and Testament
The simplest way to pass real estate to your heirs is through a Last Will and Testament. In the will, you can specify which heir should receive which property. For a will to be valid in Georgia, it must be signed by the testator (the person to whom the will belongs) and two witnesses.
Remember that any property passed through a will must go through probate, a court-supervised process of distributing your estate. This can be a lengthy and potentially expensive process, so some people look for ways to avoid probate.
If you own property jointly with a right of survivorship (either as joint tenants with right of survivorship or as tenants in the entirety for married couples), the property will automatically pass to the surviving owner(s) upon your death, avoiding the probate process.
However, joint ownership can also have drawbacks. For instance, the property may be vulnerable to the joint owner’s creditors, and you would need the joint owner’s consent to sell or mortgage the property.
Revocable Living Trusts
Placing your real estate into a revocable living trust allows you to retain control over the property during your lifetime while ensuring it passes directly to your heirs upon your death, bypassing probate. You can act as the trustee, managing the property as you wish, and designate a successor trustee to transfer the property to your named beneficiaries upon your demise.
Transfer on Death Deeds
Georgia is one of the states that allow Transfer on Death Deeds (TODDs). With a TODD, you retain complete control over your property during your lifetime, but upon your death, the property is directly transferred to the beneficiary you designated in the TODD, without going through probate.
Remember that passing on real estate can have tax implications. While Georgia does not have a state estate or inheritance tax, the federal estate tax may apply if your estate exceeds the federal estate tax exemption amount.
As of 2021, the federal estate tax exemption is $11.7 million for an individual, meaning that an estate would need to be worth more than this amount to be subject to federal estate tax. However, tax laws frequently change, so it’s essential to stay updated or consult with a tax professional.
While estate planning might seem overwhelming, it is a crucial step in safeguarding your assets and ensuring they are distributed according to your wishes. In the Peach State, there are several options to include real estate in your estate plan and minimize the burdens on your heirs. By taking the time now to create or update your estate plan, you are providing a tremendous gift to your loved ones, sparing them unnecessary complications during an already challenging time.
Call our team of expert attorneys at Brian M Douglas & Associates anytime, we are always happy to help guide you through the complexities of estate planning