Probate comes from the Latin “to prove,” and is, in simplest terms, the process of submitting a will to the county probate court for approval. The petitioner in a probate process is seeking to have the will declared valid and, crucially, seeking to have the court issue a document called “letters testamentary,” which is confusingly used in the plural, even though it is usually a one-page document.
With letters testamentary, an executor of a will has become its “personal representative” and has full power to collect, administer, and deal with all the property (including money) of the deceased, eventually distributing that property as called for under the will.
We assist clients in all aspects of the probate process, including locating heirs, preparing petitions, assembling of the assets of the deceased, settling (or compromising) debts, dealing with final tax returns, and passing title to real estate.
When a person has died without a will, the process in probate court is known as administration of an intestate estate (“intestate” as in “without testament”). In ways, administration is like probate of a testate estate, but frequently more is required of the petitioner. Would-be administrators typically must be bonded up to the value of the liquid assets of the estate, must file inventory and accounting, and must petition the court before selling estate assets.
At Tanner Pittman, LLC, we regularly assist clients in estate administration and are skilled at efficiently, expertly guiding them through all aspects of the process.
WILL CONTESTS AND PROBATE LITIGATION
The wishes of a deceased in his or her will are strictly honored under our law. An entire estate can be left to one child or even to an unrelated party, to a televangelist if the testator wishes.
But occasions arise when a will is forged or was procured by fraud or undue influence. Recognizing the facts that can give rise to a will contest requires experience and a comprehensive understanding of the law. Actually litigating a will contest, more so.
In a garden variety will contest, the party challenging the will (known as the caveator) must file his or her challenge in a timely way and bear the steep burden of showing why an otherwise-valid document was procured by fraud. Doing so may require the testimony of the decedent’s physicians, family members, or attorneys. It may require the showing of the decedent’s pattern of gifting or caring for family members prior to death. In short, it requires the work of legal professionals skilled in litigating complex and difficult cases.
Some attorneys treat litigation as a quest to seek settlement. At Tanner Pittman, LLC, we take a different approach: every case is litigated with preparation for trial in mind. We have broad experience representing both sides of will contests and seek to aggressively support our clients’ rights.
A useful (though imperfect) way to think of a trust is to compare it to a company. Like a company, a trust has some property that it manages, and like a company it has one or more managers, known as trustees. Through its trustees, a trust must deal with property, sell assets, pay taxes, and perhaps account to its shareholders (its “beneficiaries” in trust terms).
Because they are essentially private arrangements, trusts must be handled with the utmost care and fiduciary duty by their trustees. In the wrong hands, trusts can be rife with mishandling and contention.
At Tanner Pittman, LLC, we have broad experience drafting, defending, and (as need arises) litigating or defeating complex trust arrangements.
In Georgia, the doctrine of year’s support can be bewildering to clients. At its most basic, our year’s support law requires that a surviving spouse or minor child receive enough of an estate’s value to support him or herself . . . for one year. Further, this support gets precedence over unsecured debts of the estate and the inherited shares of the estate’s beneficiaries.
How the amount of year’s support is determined is complicated. So is properly petitioning in probate court and giving notice, so that debts can be avoided. Title to real property may be passed on via year’s support, and so can the proceeds of bank accounts, if handled properly. At Tanner Pittman, LLC, we have helped surviving spouses properly receive entire, large estates via year’s support; we have litigated year’s support claims; and we have helped ensure that clients’ step parent, who married their real parent only months before death, receive no more than what the law requires.
Petitioning for, opposing, and litigating year’s support claims all call for experience, care, and expertise. We are pleased to provide these services to our clients.
REAL ESTATE TITLE
Real estate passing through a trust or through a decedent’s estate is a complicated legal matter. At Tanner Pittman, LLC, we assist clients in
Real property title examination and certification
Deeds of assent
Executors’ and administrators’ deeds
Single-member real estate LLCs
Real estate trusts
Survivorship deeds and probate avoidance through deeds or trusts
Among many other aspects of real estate title.
LIFE INSURANCE BENEFICIARY LITIGATION
On his death bed, a man changes his term life insurance policy such that his girlfriend receives the benefit, to the exclusion of his daughter. In another case, a life insurance beneficiary’s name is listed as “Larry” rather than Mary, and the beneficiary’s date of birth is wrong, even though the deceased knew no Larrys and had a mother named Mary with a similar birthdate. Our firm has successfully litigated these and other life-insurance-beneficiary cases.
Life insurance beneficiary designations are major ways that wealth is passed from generation to generation, and as a result, they are as frequent a source of fraud, misdeeds, or simple confusion as any other estate matter. Our firm has vast and broad experience dealing with life insurance beneficiary litigation and has helped clients aggressively pursue their rights in such cases.