Dying Without a Will in Georgia

It is important to have a Will. A Will enables you to lay out your preferences for how you would like your estate to be handled before your passing.

A Will ensures that you leave your assets and belongings to those you choose. It enables you to designate individuals and organizations as beneficiaries who would receive nothing if a Will were not in place. A Will also takes considerable pressure off your loved ones. While everyone may not be happy with the distribution of assets in the Will, they will know that it was based on your wishes. Further, if you have minor children and both biological parents are deceased, without a Will the court will determine the guardian of your children. With a Will you can designate someone to serve as their personal guardian.

Things are very different if you don’t have a Will. If you die without a Will in Georgia (intestate), the state legislature has passed laws that dictate how your estate will be distributed. In most cases this will include a probate process in which the probate court appoints an administrator to handle the payment of debts and distribution of assets.

Regardless of whether you have a Will or not, there are certain types of assets that automatically pass to the surviving co-owner or to a named beneficiary. This includes the following:

    • Life Insurance proceeds.
    • Real estate owned in joint tenancy with right of survivorship with someone else.
    • IRA, 401(k) or other retirement accounts.
    • Bank accounts or other assets held in joint tenancy.
    • Stocks or other securities held in a transfer-on-death (TOD) account.
    • Funds in a payable-on-death (POD) bank account.

Without a Will, estate property will be distributed as follows:

  • Surviving spouse with no children; everything to spouse.
  • Surviving spouse with children; estate split evenly between spouse and children. If a spouse and one child (each receive 50%), spouse and two children (each receive 33%), spouse and three or more children (spouse receives 33%, remaining 67% split equally among the children).
  • No surviving spouse but with children; entire estate split among the children on an equal basis.
  • No surviving spouse or children; estate split equally between grandchildren of deceased children.
  • If no grandchildren; entire estate to parents
  • If no parents; estate split evenly between siblings
  • If no siblings; estate split evenly between nieces and nephews

If there are no traceable heirs, under Georgia intestate succession law "the estate is transferred to the board of education in the county where the estate’s probate proceeding was filed."

If a Will is not in place, a minor child’s guardianship is in the hands of the court. If both parents die leaving behind children, who will be the children’s guardian? If you are a single parent and die, who will be the guardian for your children? Judges will do their best to ensure a guardianship that is in the best interest of the children, but the fact is that judges may not know family dynamics, relationships, or other factors that help in determining what is best for the children.

Contact Dozier Law P.C., Wills, Trusts, and Estates Lawyers handling Probate Court matters in Rincon, Effingham County, Chatham County, Bulloch County, Screven County and Bryan County, Georgia.

For additional information, go to the our Wills, Trusts & Estates Practice Area.