When I have clients in Marietta and Atlanta with questions about probate court and probating the will or estate of a loved one, they often ask about ways to avoid for themselves and their surviving family members the costs, delay and public nature of probate proceedings. This article addresses the most popular options in Georgia for avoiding those perils of probate.

How to save your family time, money, and hassle.

Probate court proceedings (during which a deceased person’s assets are transferred to the people who inherit them) can be long, costly, and confusing. It’s no wonder so many people take steps to spare their families the hassle. Different states, however, offer different ways to avoid probate. Here are your options in Georgia.

Living trusts

In Georgia, you can make a living trust to avoid probate for virtually any asset you own — real estate, bank accounts, vehicles, and so on. You need to create a trust document (it’s similar to a will), naming someone to take over as trustee after your death (called a successor trustee). Then — and this is crucial — you must transfer ownership of your property to yourself as the trustee of the trust. Once all that’s done, the property will be controlled by the terms of the trust. At your death, your successor trustee will be able to transfer it to the trust beneficiaries without probate court proceedings.

Joint ownership

If you own property jointly with someone else, and this ownership includes the “right of survivorship,” then the surviving owner automatically owns the property when the other owner dies. No probate will be necessary to transfer the property, although of course it will take some paperwork to show that title to the property is held solely by the surviving owner.

In Georgia, this form of joint ownership is available:

  • Joint tenancy. Property owned in joint tenancy automatically passes to the surviving owners when one owner dies. No probate is necessary. Joint tenancy often works well when couples (married or not) acquire real estate, vehicles, bank accounts or other valuable property together. In Georgia, each owner, called a joint tenant, must own an equal share.

Payable-on-death designations for bank accounts

In Georgia, you can add a “payable-on-death” (POD) designation to bank accounts such as savings accounts or certificates of deposit. You still control all the money in the account — your POD beneficiary has no rights to the money, and you can spend it all if you want. At your death, the beneficiary can claim the money directly from the bank, without probate court proceedings.

Transfer-on-death registration for securities

Georgia lets you register stocks and bonds in transfer-on-death (TOD) form. People commonly hold brokerage accounts this way. If you register an account in TOD (also called beneficiary) form, the beneficiary you name will inherit the account automatically at your death. No probate court proceedings will be necessary; the beneficiary will deal directly with the brokerage company to transfer the account.

Transfer-on-death deeds for real estate

Georgia does not allow real estate to be transferred with transfer-on-death deeds.

Transfer-on-death registration for vehicles

Georgia does not allow transfer-on-death registration of vehicles.

SOURCE: Nolo.com in an article by Mary Randolph

Marietta estate planning, divorce and family law attorney Stephen M. Worrall is an experienced, professional, compassionate and strong advocate. He concentrates his practice in all areas of estate planning, including wills, trusts, guardians for minor children and incapacitated adults, probate and trust administration, and family law, including divorce (litigated and collaborative), adoption, prenuptial agreements, domestication of foreign decrees, child custody, child support, property division, alimony, modification, paternity, legitimation, contempt, enforcement of judgments, domestic violence, grandparent’s visitation, and name changes. He practices primarily in the Probate and Superior Courts in the metropolitan Atlanta area, including Cobb County, Fulton County, Bartow County, Paulding County, Cherokee County, DeKalb County and Gwinnett County, among others throughout Georgia.