After the death of a family member, clients are often unsure how to handle the deceased person’s (or decedent’s) affairs. Questions often arise, such as “What should I do with her Will?” or “My mother died without a Will – what should I do?”
The probate process in Georgia can be very quick and simple, as long as the decedent had executed his Last Will & Testament; in fact, probate can be avoided completely if the decedent created a revocable living trust. (Both of these are discussed in the Estate Planning page.)
Anyone in possession of a decedent’s original Will should locate the Executor and notify the Executor of the Will’s existence. If the decedent died without a Will, the decedent’s heirs-at law will have to nominate one person to by the Administrator, to handle the estate through the probate court.
The Executor’s first duty is to file the will and petition the court to probate the Will. The Executor should bring the following documents or information to the initial consultation with the lawyer who is preparing the petition:
• The original Will, any Codicils to the Will, and any separate Living Trust documents
• A list of the decedent’s heirs-at-law, with their names, addresses, phone numbers and approximate ages. A decedent’s heirs-at-law are:
1. if married, the decedent’s spouse and children;
2. if unmarried, the decedent’s parents;
3. if unmarried and the parents have passed on, the decedent’s brothers and sisters;
4. if none of the above apply, the Executor should seek guidance on how to proceed from the attorney.
• A copy of the death certificate, if obtained
• The names, addresses and phone numbers of the witnesses to the Will, if known
• A list of all known property in which the Decedent had a legal interest, including real estate, life insurance policies, pensions, bank and brokerage accounts, cars, etc.
The attorney will provide legal advice to the Executor and prepare all necessary paperwork to probate the will. The attorney will also assist the Executor in obtaining Letters Testamentary, which empower him to secure possession of the Decedent’s assets, pay the funeral or cremation costs and medical expenses, and pay any debts owed to creditors. The attorney can also advise the Executor of documents that should be filed with the Internal Revenue Service and the Georgia Department of Revenue.