As a Marietta probate lawyer, I’m often given the responsibility to help clients through the probate process after the death of their loved one.
I can say from experience that when people lose someone they care about and then go directly into dealing with courts, they just feel completely out of their element.
However, it is my job as a Marietta GA probate attorney to educate them and un-complicate their role as the executor or trustee of an estate as much as possible, using my extensive knowledge of Georgia’s probate laws and my years of experience in that arena.
One of the most difficult steps in the probate process is accounting for the deceased’s assets, debts and money owed to them.
If a clear estate plan does not exist with these lists already compiled, a Cobb County probate lawyer will most likely guide and even assist the executor in searching within the deceased’s county records for titles, deeds, and even judgments against the deceased.
Mail provides another useful source of information. During the first month or so after a death, the executor can be on the lookout in the mail for bills that will show debts owed by their loved one. However, as a general rule of thumb, the executor will want to continue to monitor the deceased’s mail for up to a year for any other important financial information.
The deceased’s checkbook and bank account records can also provide important clues. There might be automatic payments coming out for rental properties, personal loans, insurance policies and so on.
Finally the executor should look through the deceased’s personal address book. Lawyers, insurance agents, bankers and financial advisors should be noted and contacted.
If you, as the executor, uncover outstanding assets, a Marietta Georgia probate lawyer like me can then assist you to create accurate accountings and help you submit the documentation necessary to stay in compliance with probate laws here in our state.
If you have questions about going through the probate process after the loss of a loved one, please don’t feel like you are in this alone. Reach out to our office at 770-425-6060. We can assist you with your legal needs.
Twenty years ago, Jim and Sandy, age 45 at the time, went on their first vacation without their kids since they were married. They had no planning documents in place, and had to scramble quickly to get a simple will and a power of attorney to make sure their kids would be taken care of should something happen to them. They owned a home with a mortgage, and had very little in savings.
The will named a guardian for their minor children, and named a trustee to hold their children’s money in trust until they reached age 21. The durable power of attorney only addressed basic financial issues, naming an agent to act in their place (paying bills, writing checks for the kids’ various activities) in the event they were unable to. Jim and Sandy did not prepare a Living Will, or any type of document that named another person to make healthcare decisions for them if needed. Their main focus was their children, and making sure the mortgage and other bills were paid if something happened to them while they were away.
Jim and Sandy arrived home from their trip perfectly healthy, and the documents they signed sat in a safe deposit box for the next 20 years. Now age 65, Jim and Sandy are nearing retirement and have accumulated a nice “nest age” and just paid off their home. However, they recently had a friend suffer a near-fatal heart attack and it was a sharp reminder to them of how precious life is. The topic of their will from 20 years ago came up, and they both agreed it was time for an update.
Jim and Sandy now need to consult with a Marietta Elder Law Attorney about creating legal documents that address their current age and status – near retirement with substantial savings. Their durable power of attorney that worked for their purposes 20 years ago needs a major makeover. Jim and Sandy now need to consider who will step in and make financials decisions on all of their matters if they are unable to because of incapacity. Incapacity can result from a disease, like dementia, or it could come from a more sudden health event, like a heart attack or stroke. As Jim and Sandy grow older, the possibility of a debilitating health event increases. They have more assets than they did 20 years ago, including a number of online accounts that would need to be managed. A “general” form is usually not enough to cover the complex issues that arise as we get older, and as we acquire more possessions.
This increasing possibility of a health crisis also sheds light on the need to have their medical wishes properly documented through an advance health care directive. What type of life-sustaining measures should be undertaken for them? Who will make health care decisions if they are unable to? The natural choice is to choose the other spouse as agent, but what if the other spouse is unable or unwilling to act? If Jim and Sandy haven’t designated their agent through proper legal documents, then a court may be left to decide for them – an expensive and sometimes lengthy process that can be very stressful on the family.
Another issue that is important to discuss is what type of care should be provided if Jim or Sandy need it? Does Jim wish to stay home and receive care there? If so, who should provide that care? Do both of them want to transition to independent living at some point when keeping up a home and yard becomes too much? If the conversation isn’t held while Jim and Sandy are healthy, then other family members and friends are left to guess what Jim and Sandy would have wanted.
As shown above, age-appropriate legal documents that address health care and financial decision-making are critical. The other critical planning concern is what will happen to all of Jim and Sandy’s possessions if one or both of them get sick and need substantial care on a long-term basis? Our next blog will address this issue: How can Jim and Sandy take steps to prevent losing everything in the event their health fails?