Anyone who’s lost a loved one knows that the person’s death is a drop in the ocean of the grieving process. During this time, it can be overwhelming to also deal with the practical side of the loss, which is handling personal belongings and property after they pass away. What’s more, the passing of a loved one sometimes introduces new concepts of estate planning and probate, and the terms might be confusing. 

Estate planning refers to the set of documents that allow you to choose what should happen to your money, belongings, and body if you are injured, ill, or pass away. These documents vary depending on your needs and what you hope to accomplish when they are carried out.

Probate is a court-supervised process to either prove a will or administer an estate without a will (called an intestate estate). The probate process gets your estate, or in essence, your property, house, savings, and any other property or belongings you own at the time of your passing, to your heirs. During the probate process, the court designates an Executor or Administrator (both also called Personal Representatives) to act on behalf of a decedent’s estate. 

In short, estate planning is creating the plan, and probate takes people through the process. 

How Long Does Probate Take in Georgia?

While probate does follow a timeline, the process can vary based on the size and complexity of the estate. The process will most likely be delayed if an heir contests the will. If it’s a fair assumption that no complications will arise, you can expect probate to take between eight months and one year. 

Is Probate Always Required in Georgia? 

The short answer is no. In the state of Georgia, an estate is allowed to not go through the probate process as long as the heirs agree with the distribution of assets, if there was no written will, and if the creditors agree to the plan for distribution. But while probate isn’t always required, it is necessary by law if the assets belonged solely to the person who passed with no named beneficiary or when the estate is named the beneficiary. 

Do All Estates Have to Go Through Probate in Georgia?

No, not all estates must go through the Georgia courts for probate. Suppose the property was owned with joint tenancy (shared ownership). In that case, the property will automatically go to the surviving owner, which in many cases, is a spouse or partner. Life insurance policies and other assets with a named beneficiary are also automatically transferred without the need for probate. 

What is the Best Way to Avoid Probate? 

The best way to avoid probate in Georgia is by creating a revocable living trust for the estate. A revocable living trust is a document that can be changed over time. To set up a revocable living trust, a person can place all assets (e.g., bank accounts, investments, real estate) in the trust and name a beneficiary who will receive those assets after the person is deceased. 

Another option is joint tenancy with rights to survivorship, as stated above. This option is one of the most cost-effective estate planning tools available. Again, with this choice, all assets automatically go to the other person, without any need to go through the probate process. 

Choosing an Estate Planning Lawyer is Key 

If you’re concerned about avoiding a long, drawn-out probate process, one of the best things you can do to prepare for the future is enlisting the help of an estate planning lawyer who can guide you through the options to best fit your situation. While it may be uncomfortable to discuss unforeseen circumstances, it’s an essential step in potentially avoiding worse circumstances down the road. Reach out to schedule a conversation about starting your estate planning process today.