Pulling a Family Through Probate

By Chris Miller, Esq.

Losing a loved one is a tough event to endure, and each member of a family experiences it different. A good estate attorney will not just answer questions about the law, but will also take time to hear the pain a client is feeling and be a source of comfort and unity.

The law books are filled with cases where families have torn themselves apart in a quest to right some perceived wrong or to achieve a greater inheritance. The path through these challenges is not always through the court of law. Instead, bring to the table a sense of perspective and gratitude for the past. Recognize that future relationships between people are precious sources of support. Money does not fill the hole created by the loss of a family member. The paths of probate and estate administration have been with us for centuries. Tax consequences might change from year to year, but two key actions can hold a family together through the grief and loss with which they are coping.

First, be transparent. Too many executors try to minimize suffering by holding onto secrets, or keeping the assets or wishes of the decedent under wraps. A good executor, though, takes positive steps to show that he or she is doing things fairly and following the instructions in a Will or Trust. This means delivering regular updates on what the executor has been doing and updating beneficiaries about what the next steps are.

Second, set reasonable expectations. Many people are eager to get closure and reap the financial rewards of an inheritance. However, a calm and methodical approach to estate administration will often be more efficient and yield greater benefits. The axiom of “measure twice, and cut once” applies to dividing an estate just as well as it does to carpentry. Executors have obligations to a decedent’s creditors, but not all creditors get treated equally. Georgia law sets claims against an estate into priority order, and if notice is published correctly, it sets a deadline for creditors to notify an executor of their claims. Sharing information and getting good advice along the way is a good trail to follow. Those tools hold a family together as they find their way toward accepting the loss that each feels individually.

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