Small Estate Limits for Georgia
In Georgia, there's no Affidavit procedure available for small estates. There is a summary probate procedure available for estates in which there is no Will, the estate owes no debts, and all of the heirs have agreed on how to divide up the property.
Ga. Code Ann. 53-2-40 and following.
What's Included in valuing the estate?
Not everything a person owns is part of their "Estate" for probate purposes.
If you're wrapping up the estate of a Georgia resident who died with an estate that's worth less than a certain dollar amount, you won't have to go through a formal probate court proceeding.
It doesn't matter whether or not the deceased person left a will; what matters is the value of the assets left behind. If the estate's value is under the "small estates" limit in Georgia, you can take advantage of a simplified probate procedure, often called a "summary probate." Instead of having a court hearing in front of a judge, you may need only to file a simple form or two and wait for a certain amount of time before distributing the assets.
In some states, it can be even easier: Inheritors can use a simple affidavit to claim assets. (An affidavit is a statement you sign in front of a notary, swearing something is true.) If you live in one of those states, you just have to wait a required period of time, then sign a simple, sworn statement that no probate proceeding is happening in your state and that you are the person entitled to inherit a particular asset--a bank account, for example.
Adding it up, what's in, what's not
When you are trying to determine whether or not an estate's value is below the Georgia small estates limit, the first thing to do is make a list of the assets. A simple spreadsheet or list will do.
Not everything a person owns counts, though.
Include only the things that pass to heirs and beneficiaries by will or, if there's no will, by Georgia intestacy laws, which determine who inherits if there is no will.
- assets that are held in joint tenancy,
- retirement plans,
- payable-on-death (POD) bank accounts,
- real estate transferred by a transfer-on-death deed, or
- transfer-on-death brokerage accounts.
These assets don't count towards the small estate limit because they pass to the named beneficiaries regardless of what a will (or state intestacy law) says. If a person had a life insurance policy with a named beneficiary, the insurance proceeds won't count either.
Loans on the property?
Some states also don't count the amount of money owed on a car, or a house, while others count the fair market value of an asset, even it is subject to a loan or a mortgage.
For example, say Donald died in Georgia and owned the following assets:
- A checking account with $2,345
- A savings account with $2,567
- A car with a blue book value of $6,500 (and no loan)
- An IRA with $32,000, naming his son and daughter as beneficiaries
- A life insurance policy worth $15,000, naming his son and daughter as beneficiaries
To figure out whether Donald is above or below Georgia's small estate limit, only the bank accounts and car would be counted, for a total of $11,412.
His IRA and the life insurance proceeds aren't counted towards the limit because they will go to his beneficiaries directly. The value of the car is included because he doesn't owe money on it.
That means the value of Donald's estate is under the Georgia small estates limit. His son and daughter, who inherit his assets under Georgia's intestacy laws because Donald had no will, would follow the small estates procedure.
Options for Small Estates In Georgia
Georgia offers options for more expedited probate procedures. The processes are commonly known as "Year's Support", "Small Estate Affidavit", and "Petition to Enter Safe Deposit Box". Remember to consult with a probate attorney for the most up-to-date legal advice.
In Georgia, a surviving spouse or minor children may file a Petition for Year's Support, which allows them to claim certain property of the deceased as exempt. This can effectively bypass the probate process.
- File a petition with the probate court for a year's support within two years of the date of death.
- Notice must be given to all interested parties.
- If no objection is filed within 30 days of notice, the court can issue an order transferring the property to the surviving spouse or minor children.
This process avoids the need for a full probate process, which can involve court hearings and extensive paperwork. This procedure is outlined in Georgia Code § 53-3-1.
Small Estate Affidavit
If the estate is valued at $15,000 or less, an interested party can file a small estate affidavit to collect the decedent’s assets.
- Wait 90 days after the person's death.
- Fill out a small estate affidavit, detailing the property, the value of the property, the names of the heirs, and their relationship to the deceased.
- Submit the affidavit to the person or institution holding the property.
This process bypasses the need for a full probate procedure, saving both time and money. This is governed by Georgia Code § 7-1-239. (see eForms document for this process)
Petition to Enter Safe Deposit Box
This is a special provision in Georgia law that allows a family member or interested party to open a deceased person's safe deposit box to search for a will or burial plot deed. The process is as follows:
- File a petition with the probate court to enter the safe deposit box.
- If the court grants the petition, the bank will open the safe deposit box in the presence of a bank employee.
- If a will is found, it must be filed with the probate court. If a burial plot deed is found, it may be removed and used.
This is a special expedited procedure that allows access to important documents without going through the full probate process. This is outlined in Georgia Code § 7-1-145.
- Georgia Probate Shortcuts for Small or Simple Estates
- Probate Shortcuts in Georgia (Nolo)
- What Should I Know About the Probate Process In Georgia (Georgia Legal Aid)