When you make a Will, you decide exactly how your property is distributed after your death. If you die without a Will, Georgia inheritance laws determine who receives your property and administers your estate.
A person who does not make a Last Will and Testament is described as dying intestate. In that situation, a specific Georgia law, referred to as the law of intestate succession, determines who receives the decedent’s property. The court applies the law during the probate process. The deceased person’s wishes do not factor into the distribution of the estate at all.
The Georgia statute distributes the estate to relatives of the decedent in a priority order. If you die without a Will, people unrelated to you that you care about and your favorite charities receive nothing. The only way to avoid that result is to make a Will during your lifetime.
Some types of property in a Georgia estate do not go through probate. Beneficiary accounts, like life insurance or an IRA or 401(k) account, go directly to the named beneficiary. Property owned in joint tenancy with a right of survivorship passes automatically to the surviving joint owner(s). Transfer-on-death and payable-on-death accounts also transfer automatically. If you have an estate plan, property placed in a trust also does not go through probate.
If you die without a Will, any property in your estate must go through probate. The court designates a person to administer your estate and navigate through the probate process. That person could be someone you would not want to manage your estate. When you make a Will, you avoid that possibility by naming an executor to handle your estate.
The estate administrator determines property distribution according to state law when you die without a Will. The statute establishes a complex system and a priority order of heirs for your estate. The priority of persons is based on their familial relationship to you. Distant relatives could end up inheriting your estate if there are no living relatives with a closer relationship. Ultimately, if no relatives at all can be located, your property goes to the State of Georgia.
Under the complicated intestate succession law, distribution of property depends on which relatives survive a decedent. Following is a general summary of how intestate distribution works.
If the deceased person has a surviving spouse and no children, the spouse inherits everything. If there are children and a surviving spouse, the property is shared equally between the spouse and children, with the spouse entitled to at least one-third of the estate. If there are surviving children, but no surviving spouse, the children inherit the entire estate.
If there are no surviving children and no surviving spouse, more distant relatives inherit the property in the estate, according to a priority order established in the statute.
If an unmarried decedent has children, they inherit the entire estate. If there are no surviving children, grandchildren of any deceased children share equally in the estate. In the absence of children and grandchildren, the entire estate goes to the decedent’s parents. If there are no surviving parents, siblings of the decedent share the estate. If none of these individuals survive the decedent, the priority order continues, first to nieces and nephews, then grandnieces and grandnephews, then to more distant relatives.
If no relatives entitled to inherit under the law of intestate succession can be located, the property in the estate escheats to the State of Georgia. The law provides that the property is transferred to the board of education in the probate county.
The only way to avoid application of the Georgia laws of intestate succession is to put a valid Will in place during your lifetime so you don't die without a will. A complete estate plan also protects you and your family during your life. In many circumstances, including a trust in your estate plan can provide significant benefits for you and your family.
You should never attempt to create your own Will or estate plan without assistance from a knowledgeable Georgia estate planning lawyer. Using forms or a DIY online service creates substantial risks for you and your family.
In our Cartersville estate planning practice at Asset Protection & Elder Law of Georgia, we focus on protecting our clients and their assets, whatever their unique circumstances may be. We help clients who wish to create a Last Will and Testament, to ensure that their estate is distributed according to their own wishes. We also provide advice about all other aspects of estate planning that relate to a client’s individual circumstances. In addition, our services include assisting with probate and administration of an estate, whether a person dies with or without a will.
We provide services to clients throughout the communities northwest of Atlanta, including in Bartow County, Cobb County, Cherokee County, Gordon County, Floyd County and Paulding County.