Your Guide to Navigating Estate Planning in Georgia

Do you know how your assets will be divided after your death? Or who will take care of your children if the worst happens while they’re still minors? Estate planning is about more than just passing on your wealth after you’re gone, and it’s not just for those already in retirement or the very wealthy.

Here’s what you need to know about estate planning in Georgia to ensure you protect your loved ones and preserve your legacy.

Key Components of Estate Planning

The specifics of your estate plan will vary depending on your individual circumstances and requirements, but will probably contain the following:

  • A Last Will and Testament, which sets out how you wish your assets to be distributed.
  • A Financial Power of Attorney (POA), which grants a trusted individual the authority to manage your financial affairs in the event of incapacity.
  • An Advanced Healthcare Directive, which specifies your preferences for medical treatment if you become unable to communicate.
  • Trusts can also play a pivotal role in estate planning by offering flexibility, privacy, and potential tax benefits.

Writing a Will in Georgia

Creating a will in Georgia is a crucial step in directing the distribution of your assets after your passing. If you die without a will, Georgia’s intestacy laws determine how your property will be distributed among your relatives. To make a valid will in Georgia, you need to be at least 14 years old, have a clear desire about property disposition, and execute the will freely and voluntarily. Witnesses must sign the will in your presence, and while notarization is not obligatory, you can choose to make your will “self-proving” with an affidavit.

Naming an executor in your will is advisable, and changes or revocations can be made at any time. In Georgia, corporations like limited liability companies or partnerships can serve as executors, but they must be authorized fiduciaries in the state. However, it’s generally recommended to appoint individuals as executors, reserving corporate choices for complex situations. Unlike some states, Georgia doesn’t impose special requirements on out-of-state executors, but practical considerations, such as proximity, are advised.

The Probate Process

The probate process starts with the filing of the deceased person’s will, if there is one. The executor will manage your estate, identify and appraise assets, notify creditors, and pay outstanding debts and taxes. Once these obligations are met, the remaining assets are distributed among the heirs or beneficiaries as outlined in the will. If you die without a will in Georgia, the state intestate succession laws mean that your closest relatives receive your assets.

In Georgia, a simplified probate process is available for small estates valued below $25,000, without real property, and with no outstanding debts (or debts secured by exempt property). This streamlined procedure provides a quicker and more cost-effective alternative for qualifying estates, sparing them from the more complex and time-consuming aspects of the standard probate process.

Strategies such as utilizing a revocable living trust can streamline asset distribution, potentially reducing associated costs and expediting the transfer of assets to beneficiaries.

Living Trusts

Establishing a living trust in Georgia involves drafting a trust document that outlines your wishes regarding the management and distribution of your assets. Typically, you’ll appoint yourself as the initial trustee, retaining control during your lifetime, and name successor trustees to manage the trust in the event of your incapacity or passing.

To make the trust effective, you’ll need to transfer ownership of your assets into the trust to ensure a seamless transition and potential avoidance of probate upon your passing. Even if you do set up a living trust, having a will is important to cover guardianship of minor children and account for any property not included in the trust.

General Tips for Estate Planning in Georgia

  • Regularly review and update your strategy: Life is dynamic, and so should be your estate plan. Review your plan on a regular basis to ensure it reflects your current wishes and life circumstances.
  • Ensure open communication: Clearly communicating your intentions with family members and key individuals involved in the estate planning process can prevent misunderstandings and potential disputes.
  • Seek professional guidance: Estate planning is a complex field, and seeking the guidance of a qualified estate planning attorney is highly advisable. A professional can help navigate the legal intricacies, ensuring your plan aligns with your goals and complies with Georgia’s specific requirements.

At Black Oak Wealth Management we want to help you secure your financial future, and that of your loved ones. Contact us for a consultation on personalized estate planning and wealth management strategies today.