Wills, Trusts & Estates
If you die without a Will or Trust in the State of Georgia, your assets pass automatically to your closest living relatives. That may be exactly what you want. It might not. If your heirs and beneficiaries are underage or simply do not know how to manage money and property which you leave them, you can provide guidance, or limitations, in trusts and creative Will provisions. In addition to Wills and Trusts, you need to consider execution of Advance Healthcare Directives, to provide guidance to your family and physicians about medical decisions to be made if you can no longer make them for yourself. If a loved one has died, probate or estate administration may be necessary. You may be able to avoid probate or estate administration altogether, either by executing "living" trusts, or by simply transferring property into "survivorship" names. We can help you and your family navigate your way through these often complicated things.
Wills: The most common form of estate planning, of course, is a Will. In a Will, you provide for payment of your debts and administrative expenses after you have died. You designate beneficiaries who will receive the remainder of your properties, and perhaps contingent beneficiaries if your principal beneficiaries fail to survive you. You name executors or personal representatives who will control management and disposition of your estate. You define what authority such people will have. You can include "testamentary trusts," which only take effect at death, to guide how some assets will be managed for the benefit of people who cannot, or should not, manage certain assets themselves.
We help our clients create Wills which best serve their own and their families' needs, and we supervise execution of the Wills they create with witnesses, notaries and other formalities required by law.
Trusts: "Trusts" are either "Living Trusts" (also called "Intervivos Trusts") or "Testamentary Trusts." Testamentary trusts are created under your Will, and only take effect at death. "Living Trusts" are trusts that you create during your life to manage certain assets while you are alive and to allow management of those assets to continue relatively seamlessly once you have passed away.
Favorable tax benefits can often be obtained by properly written trusts and testamentary trust provisions. They can maximize use of the "unified credit" for gift and estate taxation, and other deductions and exemptions, which may be available to your estate when you die. In some cases, creation of living trusts can avoid the probate or estate administration process altogether.
The formal probate and estate administration process applicable in Georgia is relatively simplistic compared to those of other states. So, we normally only recommend creative trust arrangements to clients who can truly benefit from them. But, for some clients, trusts can be of great benefit to your family and loved ones. We can help you create a trust suitable to your particular needs.
Survivorship Deeds, Joint Accounts, and Beneficiary Designations: For certain clients, in proper circumstances, we recommend trying to minimize, or to avoid altogether, probate or estate administration, or the complexities of trust administration, by using "survivorship" deeds, joint accounts, and/or properly executed beneficiary desigation forms.
If you own real estate jointly with your spouse or partner, you can "quit-claim" that property in joint names with rights of survivorship. As long as that "joint tenancy" is still in place at the time of death, when one owner dies the property automatically passes to the survivor without passing through the deceased partner's estate. Tax issues may arise, however, if the original transfer is not between traditional spouses. Other issues arise if the property is mortgaged.
Depending on your bank and the type of accounts which you hold, you may be able to hold bank accounts jointly with your spouse or partner in such a fashion that they automatically pass to the other owner at the time of your death. The legal presumption in Georgia is that a jointly-held bank account will pass outright to the surviving partner, unless that presumption is properly rebutted. Certain banks also offer accounts with "payable on death" (POD) options, where you specifically designate, without question, that you want the account to pass to your joint owner when you die.
Life insurance policies and certain types of investment accounts, especially deferred tax accounts such as 401(k) plans, normally allow you to designate specific beneficiaries to receive the proceeds of such policies and accounts in the event of your death. We can help you make sure that the necessary forms are properly completed. For example, we generally recommend that you first name individual beneficiaries for such policies and accounts, unless there is a reasonable basis for doing otherwise. For tax deferred accounts, that can help to avoid premature accrual of income tax liabilities for such accounts. But, you should always name your estate or trust as the last contingent beneficiary, so that you can ultimately control where your assets go.
Probate and Estate Administration: If you or a loved one dies, we can handle the probate and/or administration proceedings for you or family. This includes drafting the necessary petitions and supporting documentation, running necessary newspaper publications, sending notices to and negotiating with creditors, settling controversies among heirs and beneficiaries, litigating Will contests if necessary, and helping finalize and complete the estate settlement process.