When a Loved One Dies
There are a number of different proceedings that may be filed in the Probate Court following the death of a Georgia resident or a non-resident owning property in the State of Georgia. Proceedings are filed in the Probate Court of the county of the deceased person's residence in Georgia or in the county where property of a non-resident is located.
This information briefly describes the usual initial proceedings. For each proceeding described, there is a standard form, which the court will provide to any petitioner.
It is suggested that you discuss the matters of concern with an attorney who practices probate or estate law. The attorney can assist you in determining which proceeding is the most appropriate for your particular situation. Very often, there are other matters (e.g., tax returns, preparation of deeds, title transfers, etc.) that may also make it appropriate or necessary to seek the services of an attorney.
Proceeding Without an Attorney
If you proceed without an attorney, it will be your responsibility to determine or select the proceeding appropriate to your situation. The staff of the Probate Court may not make the determination or selection for you, since to do so may constitute the unauthorized practice of law. Neither the court nor the county can accept responsibility for incorrect decisions made by the staff, and they have been directed to refrain from giving that kind of advice.
It is also your responsibility to properly complete all forms, which must either be typed or legibly printed in black ink. The staff are not permitted to perform clerical tasks for the public. The staff will be able to answer any basic questions about the standard forms and about any deadlines for the filing of proceedings. They will also be able to schedule uncontested hearings and tell you how other matters are scheduled by the court.
The probate judge is required by law to remain impartial to all parties. The judge must treat every case as though it may become contested. Therefore, the judge also may not advise you on which proceeding is most appropriate to your case. The judge is prohibited from discussing the facts or evidence in any contested case with a party unless all parties are present. You should not ask to discuss your case privately with the judge, and you should understand if the judge stops any discussion that appears to require the presence of others.
Twelve Months' Support
This proceeding may be filed only by a surviving spouse or for minor children of the decedent. Minor children must be given a share of a 12 months' support award. The petition asks that specified property be awarded to the spouse and/or children. Notice must be given to all interested persons. Property awarded as year's support is free of all unsecured debts of the estate and takes precedence over any disposition by will.
Petition to Enter Safe Deposit Box
This proceeding is usually used when the will is thought to be in a safe deposit box. It permits the bank to open and examine the contents of the box in the presence of the petitioner. If a will is found, the bank must deliver it directly to the Probate Court. Insurance policies may be delivered directly to the named beneficiaries. The petitioner may receive only burial instructions and any deed to a burial plot. Other property must remain in the box until an executor or administrator is appointed.
If the deceased person had no will and the only asset is money deposited in a bank or other financial institution, and the amount is less than $15,000, an heir-at-law may be able to claim those assets by completing an affidavit for financial institution without petitioning for Letters of Administration.