Heirs at Law in Georgia
As a Cobb County probate lawyer, the question often arises: “What happens if I die without a will in Georgia? Who gets my stuff?”
The following outline is a summary of the Georgia law that determines who are heirs at law of a decedent (the person whose death without a will (intestacy)) requires the administration of his or her estate). The actual statute may be found in the Official Code of Georgia Annotated (OCGA) Section 53-2-1.
The heirs are:
- The spouse if there are no children (and no children who died before the decedent leaving living children of their own or descendants of living children)
- The spouse and children if there are children, and the children of any child or children who died before the decedent (as well as the deceased child’s descendants if any of the deceased child’s children also predeceased the decedent)
- The parents if there is no spouse or children, descendants of deceased children, grandchildren, etc.
- If no spouse, children, descendants of children, or parents survived the decedent, the brothers and sisters of the decedent and the descendants of any deceased brother or sister who predeceased the decedent
- If none of the above were living at decedent’s death, the grandparents
- If none of the above, uncles and aunts and descendants of any deceased uncle or aunt, but if all uncles and aunts are deceased, then first cousins share equally, rather than siblings taking their parent’s share
The more remote degrees of kinship are determined by a mathematical formula involving the relative in question and the closest common ancestor. If you have gotten this far, please consult OCGA sec. 53-2-1(b)(8). You may also need the assistance of a Georgia probate attorney. This information is also available in the form of a flow chart.
SOURCE: Athens-Clarke County.
You may not need an Atlanta GA estate planning lawyer to make a will (although that isn’t a wise decision), but what if you have no will at all? No one wants to think about their future demise, but death will be coming for all of us eventually. Without a will, what will become of your assets, your liabilities, and who will be the executor? Will any of your loved ones be left out in the cold?
Every state has its own specific set of laws, but by and large the basic rules are the same from state to state. A qualified Georgia estate planning lawyer is the best resource for uncovering what the laws are here. For someone to inherit intestate, or when there is no will, he or she must be a legal relative. Generally speaking a spouse (or civil partner in some states) inherits it all if there are no children. If there are children, the spouse may receive as little as 1/3 of the estate, and the rest is divided among the children.
The specifics concerning separated spouses, stepchildren, etc. can make things even more complicated, but there is one constant: no one can profit from a death they caused. If there are allegations or proof of abuse or murder, that person may be prohibited from inheriting at all. This makes sense; not only is abuse wrong, but the government wants to make sure that no one is rewarded for murder.
In cases where there are minor children and the other parent is still living, an estate planning lawyer will tell you that what is left behind usually goes solely to the spouse, with the understanding that he or she will use it for the benefit and welfare of him or herself and the children. If there are considerable assets, a will and trust lawyer in Atlanta can then help the surviving spouse to create living trusts for the children.
Sometimes, there is no surviving spouse or children. In these cases, distant relatives may be eligible to inherit some or all of the assets left behind. In no case, however, are friends and people not related to the deceased allowed to inherit. These people can only inherit based on the specifics of a will, and with no will, they have no claim.
Some assets aren’t passed along via a will, and so these items may also have clear beneficiaries listed on the specific documents.
- Life insurance policy proceeds
- Real estate, bank accounts, and other property held in joint tenancy or community property
- IRA funds, or other retirement plans that name a beneficiary
- Any funds held in a living trust
Perhaps the strangest thing that probate lawyers in Atlanta see is when there are no living family members and no will. When this happens, the assets are given to the state. If you want to make sure that your property is passed along to a friend or charity, be sure to make a will, because otherwise it goes to Uncle Sam.
Estate planning is very important, and your best bet is to hire an estate planning lawyer who has specific knowledge in this area of law. Each state has laws that change when and how people can inherit if you leave your estate intestate. So, do your loved ones a favor and leave a will. This way you can make sure that your estate is divided as you want it to be, without it going back to the government.
If one of your New Year’s resolutions this year includes getting your financial and legal affairs in order should something unexpectedly happen to you, I have a gift I think you’ll enjoy.
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All my best,