Probate, Wills & Estate Planning

Estate Planning:

Guardianships and Conservatorships:

Probate, Estate and Trust Administration:

Estate Planning:

Our estate planning services begin at $500.00 for a simple estate plan per individual. These plans include a will, advanced healthcare directive, and financial power of attorney.

Estate planning services may also include the preparation of trust documents for special needs individuals, asset protection purposes, or trusts for children. We can also assist you with charitable and legacy giving.

Believe it or not, you have an estate. In fact, nearly everyone does. Your estate is comprised of everything you own – your car, home, other real estate, life insurance, furniture, personal possessions. Your checking, savings, and investment accounts are also part of your total estate but may or may not be handled as part of your probate estate. No matter how large or how modest, everyone has an estate and something in common – you can’t take it with you when you die.

When that happens – and it is a “when” and not an “if” – you probably want to control how those things are given to the people or organizations you care most about. To ensure your wishes are carried out, you need to provide instructions stating whom you want to receive something of yours, what you want them to receive, and when they are to receive it. Of course, you willwant this to happen with the least amount paid in taxes, legal fees, and court costs.

That is estate planning – making a plan in advance and naming whom you want to receive the things you own after you die. However, good estate planning is much more than that. It should also:

Estate planning is for everyone. It is not just for “retired” people, although people do tend to think about it more as they get older. Unfortunately, we can’t successfully predict how long we will live, and illness and accidents happen to people of all ages.

Estate planning is not just for “the wealthy,” either, although people who have built some wealth do often think more about how to preserve it. Good estate planning often means more to families with modest assets, because they can afford to lose the least.

Too many people don’t plan. Individuals put off estate planning because they think they don’t own enough, they’re not old enough, they’re busy, think they have plenty of time, they’re confused and don’t know who can help them, or they just don’t want to think it. Then, when something happens to them, their families have to pick up the pieces. This type of scenario can also include the need for Court appointed guardians and/or conservators.

If you don’t have a plan, the state has one for you, but you probably won’t like it. At disability: If your name is on the title of your assets and you can’t conduct business due to mental or physical incapacity, only a court appointed guardian and/or conservator can sign for you. The court, not your family, will control how your assets are used to care for you through a conservatorship or guardianship. It can become expensive and time consumingand it can be difficult to end even if you recover.

At your death: If you die without an intentional estate plan, your assets will be distributed according to the probate laws in your state. In Georgia, if you are married and have children, your spouse and children will each receive a share. That means your spouse will receive only a fraction of your estate, which may not be enough to live on. If you have minor children, the court will control their inheritance. If both parents die (i.e., in a car accident), the court will appoint a guardian without knowing whom you would have chosen.

Given the choice – and you do have the choice – wouldn’t you prefer these matters be handled privately by your family, not by the courts? Wouldn’t you prefer to keep control of who receives what and when? And, if you have young children, wouldn’t you prefer to have a say in who will raise them if you can’t?

An estate plan begins with a will or living trust. It also includes an advanced directive for healthcare and a financial power of attorney.

Estate planning does not have to be expensive. If you don’t think you can afford a complex estate plan now, start with what you can afford. For a young family or single adult, that may mean a will, term life insurance, and powers of attorney for your assets and health care decisions. Then, let your planning develop and expand as your needs change and your financial situation improves. Don’t try to do this yourself to save money. An experienced attorney will be able to provide critical guidance and peace of mind that your documents are prepared properly.

The best time to plan your estate is now. None of us really likes to think about our own mortality or the possibility of being unable to make decisions for ourselves. This is exactly why so many families are caught off-guard and unprepared when incapacity or death does strike. Don’t wait. You can put something in place now and change it later…which is exactly the way estate planning should be done.

The best benefit is peace of mind. Knowing you have a properly prepared plan in place – one that contains your instructions and will protect your family – will give you and your family peace of mind. This is one of the most thoughtful and considerate things you can do for yourself and for those you love.

 

 Guardianships and Conservatorships:

A guardian is someone appointed by the Court to manage your personal affairs if you become incompetent, incapacitated, and/or disabled and you can no longer make and/or communicate significant responsible decisions about your health and safety. When a guardian is appointed, you can no longer do many things without your guardian, including, but not limited to, make or terminate contracts, consent to medical treatment, establish or change your residence, or bring or defend lawsuits. The guardian will be responsible for making decisions about your support, care, health, and welfare.

A conservator is someone appointed by the Court to manage your property, including your financial, personal, and real property. If a conservator is appointed, then you can no longer buy, sell, or otherwise dispose of your property, among other things. The conservator will make decisions about how to manage your property and your financial affairs. They would also be responsible for receiving and collecting any funds payable to you.

Both guardians and conservators must report to the Probate Court. Guardians are required to file annual personal status reports. Conservators must file an inventory, asset management plans, and annual accountings. Conservators are also required to have a bond on file with the Court.

Despite the number of protections provided by law and the supervision of the Court, sometimes issues arise when someone has a guardian and/or conservator. These issues can range from not feeling like your preferences are taken into consideration to neglect and abuse. While severe issues are rare, they do happen. Anyone, who has had a guardian or conservator appointed, has the right to bring a claim to have a different person appointed or to have their legal rights restored.

 

Planning for Incapacity:

Planning for incapacity can powers of attorney and healthcare directives. These documents are included in our basic estate planning packages. But, these documents can be supplemented with trusts and other documents. Planning for incapacity makes it less likely that you would need a Court appointed guardian and/or conservator.

 

Probate, Estate, and Trust Administration:

Greer Tisinger can assist the Personal Representative of your estate and the trustee of any trust(s) created by you. The probate and estate administration processes have many steps that the Personal Representative must handle. The first step is petitioning the Court to officially being appointed as the Personal Representative. The term “Personal Representative” can refer to an executor (picked by you in your Last Will and Testament) or an administrator.

Once appointed, the Personal Representative must marshal the assets that belong to the estate, pay debts and expenses of administration, and sell, distribute, or otherwise dispose of real and personal property. The Personal Representative may also be responsible for filing taxes, including your final tax return and any returns that must be filed by the estate. Once all of the required steps have been completed, then the Personal Representative must petition the Probate Court, again, to close the estate.

 

Trust administration is different than the probate process. The trust instrument and documents provide the most guidance about how the trust is to be administered. Trusts are also governed by the applicable Georgia laws and fiduciary principles.

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When you are facing a challenging situation, you do not need to do it alone. We can help. Turn to Greer Tisinger. To
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