Georgia and South Carolina Probate Laws: Streamlining the Process for Smaller Estates

The process averages six to nine months to complete. However, it may take up to two years or more for some complex estates, tying up the assets that your family may need immediately.
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Written by:Tim J. Wooten

Attorney at Law

Tim has 20 years of practice experience and has wide experience with federal and state courts throughout the country in insurance coverage, insurance defense, complex litigation, construction and design, product liability, breach of contract, federal tax controversy and disputes before the IRS and U.S. Tax Court, settlements and probate, and multi-jurisdictional litigation.
estate planning blog

In Georgia and South Carolina, recent revisions to probate laws are designed to expedite the settlement of smaller estates. While probate processes have become less burdensome compared to the past—especially for those who die intestate (without a will or estate plan)—there are still significant drawbacks. According to a recent analysis in the Cape Gazette titled “Bypassing Probate,” one major concern is the probate costs, which can be as much as 5% of an estate’s total value for larger estates.

Avoiding Probate: Strategies from an Experienced Estate Planning Attorney

To circumvent the probate process, consulting with a skilled estate planning attorney such as Timothy Wooten is essential. Here are some key strategies to consider during your consultation:

  1. Establishing a Revocable Living Trust: Think of a revocable living trust as a separate legal entity that holds your assets. This type of trust, also known as an inter vivos trust, allows you, the grantor, to retain full control as trustee during your lifetime. You can modify the trust’s assets, change beneficiaries, and even dissolve the trust if necessary.Upon the grantor’s death, the successor trustee will distribute the assets according to the trust’s terms. It’s important to note that revocable trusts do not shield assets from creditors, estate creditors, or estate taxes. For greater protection, you might consider an irrevocable trust, which limits your control but offers substantial asset protection. Learn more about trusts in our article, Estate Planning in Georgia With the Power of Family Trusts
  2. Joint Tenancy with Rights of Survivorship (JTWRS): For certain assets, such as real estate, titling them as JTWRS can be beneficial. This approach requires modifying real estate deeds and titles. Assets like vehicles, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and bank accounts can also be titled under JTWRS.However, be cautious about how JTWRS might affect your estate’s distribution. For instance, if the family home is titled in JTWRS with one child, it could result in unequal distribution among your heirs.
  3. Updating Beneficiary Designations: Regularly review beneficiary designations for accounts like life insurance, IRAs, 401(k)s, and brokerage accounts. Keeping beneficiaries updated is crucial, as outdated designations can lead to unintended consequences. Remember, these assets are not governed by your will.
  4. Making Lifetime Gifts: Consider making gifts while you are alive, such as to your spouse, qualified charities, or paying for tuition and medical expenses directly. These gifts can be made tax-free, but they should be strategically planned with your attorney to manage potential tax implications.

Consult With Estate Planning Attorney Timothy Wooten

We can help you discover the most effective tools for protecting and distributing your assets. A well-crafted estate plan offers significant benefits for safeguarding your legacy and ensuring your family’s future. Remember, proactive planning is key to achieving the best outcomes for you and your loved ones.

Reference: Cape Gazette (April 21, 2024) “Bypassing Probate”

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