When a loved one passes away, the most important priority is grieving your loss and taking care of your family and yourself. Just as bereavement counseling may be helpful during this difficult time, getting help with estate legal matters also eases your burden and provides peace of mind. If you are wondering what to do when a loved one dies, our experienced Georgia probate lawyers at Asset Protection & Elder Law of Georgia can help. In this article, we provide a summary of the steps to take to ensure that settling the estate goes smoothly.
In addition to notifying other family and contacts, you need to make final arrangements for your deceased family member soon after their death. Their wishes about final arrangements may be included in an Advance Directive. If you don’t already have those documents, you should find them and review them. If they are in a safe deposit box and no one has access, you will have to contact a probate lawyer to petition the court for access to the box.
During the first few days after your loved one dies, you should secure all their property, both real estate and personal assets. That may include canceling any deliveries or subscriptions, notifying the Post Office to hold mail, and doing what is necessary to make certain your loved one’s residence is safe and secure.
Copies of the death certificate will be necessary to accomplish a number of tasks relating to your loved one’s estate. Asking the funeral home to provide them is the easiest way to get the copies.
If your loved one left estate documents, the Will likely designates the person to serve as executor of the estate. That person has no immediate legal authority over the property and estate, but must seek authorization from the probate court to serve as personal representative. Seeking assistance from a probate attorney to begin the process of administering an estate is strongly recommended. Our previous blog article, Does the Executor of an Estate Need an Attorney in Georgia?, explains the responsibilities of an executor and summarizes the Georgia probate and estate administration process.
If there is no Will, the estate will be administered under the Georgia laws of intestate succession, which determines who inherits the property in the estate. A person (usually a family member) needs to file with the probate court for authorization to serve as the administrator and personal representative of the estate.
Until a personal representative receives court authorization, no one has authority to act on the deceased person’s behalf. Unless someone had a joint bank account with the decedent, money cannot be disbursed from their accounts. That is true even if a person had a financial power of attorney from the deceased person. Authority under any power of attorney terminates when the principal (person granting the authority) dies.
Until there is a personal representative for the estate, no property of the decedent should be taken or distributed. The personal representative is the only person with legal authority to distribute the property and assets of your deceased family member.
There may be assets in the estate with named beneficiaries, such as a life insurance policy or retirement accounts. The beneficiaries of those assets should contact the issuing authority to secure distribution of those assets. A copy of the death certificate will be required.
To facilitate paying bills from financial accounts and beginning administration of the estate, it’s advisable for the person who will serve as the personal representative of the estate to initiate the steps for getting legal authority to perform the duties of that position within a few weeks of death. There are numerous legal requirements and rules that must be satisfied during administration and probate of an estate. Getting assistance from an experienced Georgia probate lawyer is the best approach for ensuring that all appropriate legal steps are taken.
The legal process of settling an estate takes time. The amount of time depends largely on the complexity of the estate. Family members should be patient with the process and continue to focus on making sure that everyone in the family takes the time to grieve.
In some circumstances, family disagreements and arguments may erupt in the months after a loved one’s death. It’s best to avoid these situations, but sometimes that is simply not possible. An experienced probate lawyer often can help families try to resolve differences, which is another reason that assistance from a knowledgeable attorney can be invaluable during administration of an estate.
Probate of a Georgia estate typically occurs in the county where the deceased person lived or where Georgia property in the estate is located. Our probate attorneys at Asset Protection & Elder Law of Georgia assist executors and administrators with probate in Bartow County, Cobb County, Cherokee County, Gordon County, Floyd County, and Paulding County. In addition to working with personal representatives of estates, we help out-of-state heirs and beneficiaries who are handling or have an interest in a Georgia estate. We welcome you to contact us for assistance with a probate or estate administration matter, especially if you are unsure what to do when a loved one dies.