Written By Courtney Newton
Sadly, I have had a number of estate sales happen and many times the heirs have zero clue as to what to do. The first piece of advice that I want to offer if you are reading this is to immediately go and get a will in place. Having a will can cause your heirs to certainly have a better chance of being able to carry out your wishes.
If you have a will it is very straightforward what needs to happen to the estate because you have put it in writing and been very clear as to what you want. When you don’t have a will it is more of a fairness test as to what will happen. The other reason a will is easier is it clearly states who will handle everything and be the decision maker. If you have multiple children this can get sticky and create challenges with the relationship if one “gets their way” and the other doesn’t.
If you leave a house you would think it would be as simple as just selling it and dividing the proceeds. There is more to it than that. You have to consider who will pay for the maintenance, mortgage payments, if you have those, any HOA fees, utilities, and anything else it takes to get the property ready to sell. These are all considerations. If you leave money in your bank account then the money can’t be touched without a will causing someone to have to have the financial wherewithal to be able to fund the probate process.
Which brings me to what happens should you not have a will and your estate will be required to do what is called probate. This is where they go before the court system and request a judge to allow them to be the executor and they create a posthumous or after death decision for your estate. This takes time to do and is a major headache. When selling the house it can’t be put on the market, sold or rented without this process being done. The reason is the person that technically owns it is DEAD. You may say well what about a power of attorney that may have been in place prior to the person passing. That wont work because it is for a living person and when that person dies it is no longer legal.
When an heir goes through the probate process they have to post notice to the world that a-you have died and b-they are going to be the point of contact for the estate. This allows anyone who may have a “claim” to the estate to make their claim known. This can include debtors, heirs or anyone who comes out of the woodwork believing they are entitled to some of the estate.
The heirs can be tricky if someone dies without children, parents or a spouse. Then you are subject to a sibling, niece/nephew, or cousin or whomever can be determined to be the most closely related relative. This is tough because you may want your belongings, money and house to go to a significant other, or person who is closer to you than those previously mentioned family members. Without a will this doesn’t always happen like that. I have had situations where nephews from five states away are just giving the house away and trashing any belongings and there is a close friend who actually cared for that person. It is heartbreaking and having a will could have prevented it.
Once your probate has been examined by the judge and all debtors or claims have had enough notice to the world to stake their claims then the judge will determine if you are able to do the judge will issue the Letters of Testamentary this is where the judge says you are the person that is handling the estate. This is what you need plus the death certificate to be able to make moves. This should allow you to be able to speak with the bank, mortgage lender, or any other institution that requires written authorization to speak with someone on behalf of someone else.
It will also allow you to sell a good and marketable title in the state Georgia with title insurance. The process can take somewhere in Cobb County Georgia around 4-8 weeks to make happen. This is from the date you file the paperwork with the court. I never recommend doing this process by yourself. I believe that the estate should be willing to spend for a basic estate with minimal non contested assets around $3000 to get this done properly, limit exposure/liability and protect the assets in the estate. Keep in mind simply getting a solid will drawn up is less than $1000 in most cases. See why I believe a will is so important and can save you time, heartache, money and headache. The grieving process is a tough process and by having a will in place can cause those you leave behind to grieve while still handling your final business.