What are the first legal steps I should take after someone dies?
The first step is to determine whether the individual who has died left a will. If there is a will, then the executor or some other person may offer the will for probate in the Probate Court.

Even if the will is not going to be probated, anyone who is in possession of the will of a decedent must bring the will to the Probate Court for filing.

If there is no will, then the usual procedure is to have an administrator appointed to take care of the decedent’s estate.

Whether or not there is a will, if a spouse or minor child (under age 18) survives the decedent, they may want to consider whether to file for Year’s Support.

You may want to consult our webpage on this subject, What to do When a Loved One Dies.

Do I need to have a lawyer?
People are not required to have a lawyer to represent them, but in many cases it is advisable to have a lawyer. The Clerks of the Probate Court may not serve as your legal advisors, and you should not expect them to perform legal or clerical services for you. They work for and at the direction of the Probate Judge. It is their responsibility to process the volume of paperwork filed in the office and to attend to the administrative aspects of the operation of this office. They are here to serve you, and they will want to do so to the best of their abilities. They are not allowed to complete any paperwork for you, nor can they make a legal determination or advise you on which proceeding is most appropriate or advisable.

The information on this web page and the Probate Court Standard Forms are designed to help you perform simple filings on your own. However, if you find that the filing is more difficult than you expected, you should seek the assistance of an attorney. A lawyer may not cost as much as you think.
When deciding whether or not to hire an attorney, you may want to consider how important the outcome of the case is to you. In a guardianship case, you are advised that an attorney will be appointed who will vigorously represent the Ward and who will oppose the guardianship if that is what the Ward wishes.

To which Probate Court should I go?
The Probate Court in the county where the decedent was living at the time he or she died.

What is the procedure in the Probate Court?
First, a formal document, called a petition, must be filed.

For most routine petitions, you are required to use a form that is standard throughout Georgia. The forms are available at the courthouse or online. They may also be completed online at that web site.
If you have questions about what to put in a certain blank of a form, you should write down in your own words what happened (or what the circumstances are, or what other factual information is required).
Next, you file the petition and pay the filing fees. The clerks will tell you what fees are due when you have finished filling out the petition.

Notice is given to the people who might be affected if the petition is granted.

If no one objects after notice is given and after the deadline for objections has passed, the Court will either have a hearing or will issue an order, depending on the case.

Can a clerk tell me if I filled out a form correctly?
A clerk cannot tell you whether the information you have provided is complete or correct; only you know whether it is correct or complete.

I can’t read or write. Can a clerk fill out the forms for me?
A clerk can fill in the form for you, but you must tell her what information to put down. She can write down what you say and read it back to you to make sure that is what you said.

Can I see the Judge before the hearing takes place?
The judge talks with all parties in a case at the same time. You would not want the judge to be talking to the other side about your case if you were not present. You will be notified by mail when the case is scheduled for a hearing. Then you can talk to the judge.

What will happen in court?
The judge will call on the petitioner(s) to present their case first. Each witness will be questioned in turn. Then, the judge will call on the other side to present its case. The lawyers and the judge will ask questions if needed. After all evidence, the judge will either announce her decision or that she will consider it further. A written order will then be issued.

What happens if I don’t go to the hearing?
The judge will decide the case based on the evidence presented at the hearing. If another party objects to your petition, or if you are the only one objecting, and you present no evidence, you run the risk of losing your case.

SOURCE: Probate Court of Athens-Clarke County