The Georgia Supreme Court handed down the probate case of Myers, Executor v. Myers, today.
In some ways, the case is an unremarkable example of an executor using an estate as a cash cow for his personal expenditures and, among other things, granting himself
$53,000 in executor's fees while so doing.
The case books are littered with such fact patterns. Perhaps the most important take-away from Myers is the holding that an executor may not continue to run a single-member-LLC business in the estate, when that LLC's operating agreement calls for its dissolution upon the death of a member.
This is particularly useful information for the estate practitioner, because nearly all form operating agreement forms call for exactly this. Yet, it is common enough for an executor to continue to run and fund an estate business for months after a decedent's death. According to the Supreme Court today, so doing may be grounds for the executor's removal.
Full text of the opinion follows after the "read more" break.
Under Georgia law, a gift can be made for a specific purpose without the necessity of a trust. OCGA § 44-5-87. However, if it appears that the expressed purpose of the gift cannot be accomplished, then the law imposes a trust over it, in favor of the grantor. Id.
A case announced yesterday by the Court of Appeals addresses this question about the above law: How do we know when it's clear a gift's purpose can't be accomplished? In Choi v. Immanuel Korean United Methodist Church, the Court of Appeals considered whether a trust should not be imposed over a large donation to a church's building fund, when no building had yet been constructed. 2014 Ga. App. LEXIS 218.
HB 683 was signed into law this week by Georgia Governor Nathan Deal. The law allows banks, employers, and other non-lawyers to file answers to summonses of garnishment in any Georgia court, whether or not represented by an attorney. The Georgia legal newspaper of record, the Daily Report, posted a write-up of the law here.
Essentially, the law cuts against the basic notion that practicing in court without an attorney is engaging in the unauthorized practice of law. The reason is that banks and employers are organizations. In practice, they cannot "represent themselves" because they are not people. Paying an employee to represent the institution is essentially like hiring a lawyer without a bar license.
Attorney opinions are mixed on the question of whether this is a good development. On the one hand, responding to a summons of garnishment is fairly routine, and once a bank officer has done it, the procedure varies little in the second and succeeding iterations.
On the other hand, the courts simply are the province of attorneys according to Georgia law. Carving out an exception for garnishment responses makes no sense when there is no exception for other, equally routine legal matters. A strictly libertarian answer to this inconsistency would be to allow anyone, for any reason, to represent a company, lawyer or no. And then we could leave it to lawyers to prove their worth to potential corporate clients.
As this firm practices frequently on behalf of creditors in collections matters, we can say from experience that allowing non-lawyers to practice before courts, at the very least, will increase the rate of error and resultant burden on society in the form of court time and backlogs.
Tanner Pittman, LLC is a West Georgia law firm that specializes in estate services, civil litigation, and legal transactions.
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