Who Are the Main Players in A Probate Case?
There are several major players in a probate case. The first, and most important, player is the person a person who has made the Will, known as the testator. Georgia law is designed to the greatest degree possible to further the desires of the testator, as stated in the Will. If there is any doubt what the testator wanted, the court will
The second major player is the executor nominated in the Will. However, that nominated executor may decline to serve and be replaced with a backup executor either nominated in the Will or chosen by the court with the approval of the beneficiaries. The executor is tasked with running the estate, making sure creditors are paid, and the estate distributed to the beneficiaries listed in the Will.
The third player is the petitioner. The petitioner, who is often the named executor, the person who presents the Will to the probate court and asks them to admit into probate. The petitioner will assert the validity of the Will under Georgia law and serve the heirs. Once the court has approved the Will and admitted it to probate, then the petitioner’s role ends.
The fourth player are the heirs of the testator. The heirs are those who would receive the estate if there was no Will. Generally, these include the spouse and children. If neither exist, then the parents would be the heirs. If there are no parents, then the siblings would be the heirs.
The final players are the beneficiaries of the Will. The beneficiaries are those who are listed in the Will and will receive some or all of the estate.
All of these people are players in the game. The testator drafts a Will. Upon the death of the testator, the petitioner files the Will and notifies the heirs. If the heirs don’t object, the Will is admitted into probate and the executor distributes the estate to the beneficiaries of the Will.
What Are the Common Barriers That Someone May Face During the Probate Process?
The most common barrier to a quick and painless probate process is conflict between the beneficiaries of the Will and the heirs. In my practice, this commonly occurs when heirs, likely a child or spouse, are cut out of the Will or do not receive what they expected. This also occurs when the caretaker of the deceased attempts to probate a Will in which they are the primary beneficiary.
To minimize the chances of this occurring, I recommend taking great care in the estate planning process. I would make sure that all of the family members understand the estate plan and, hopefully, are on board. To increase the likelihood of this happening, I strongly recommend that clients work with an experienced estate planning attorney.
Other than that, most people will find that the barriers are fairly small. Some clients have trouble dealing with the court themselves, but if you have an attorney to assist you in the process then they will guide you through it.
A Brief Timeline of the Probate Process in Georgia
The first step in the probate process is for the petitioner, who may be the executor as well, to file the Will the local probate court along with the necessary paperwork. At that point if the heirs have not been notified, then they will be served by the local court.
At that point, the heirs may object to the will for any number of reasons, but typically on the groups that it was not the intent of the testator to have this Will. The testator may have been subject to undue influence, fraud, or forgery. If that objection is not timely made or the heirs waive that objection, then the executor nominated in the Will would be granted letters testamentary. Letters testamentary is the document that allows the executor to serve and conduct business on behalf of the estate.
The executor will then gather estate assets, setup an estate bank account, and run a notice to creditors and debtors in the newspapers for four weeks. Any creditors would then make claims, which the executor would then resolve. After all creditors have been paid, the estate would be transferred to the beneficiaries in the Will.
Typically, this whole process takes about six months. By that point most estates have settled with creditors and have begun distributing to the beneficiaries. The distribution process depends on the complexity of the estate but, at our firm, is typically done within a year. At that point, the estate can be wound down and the executor can step down.
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