The basics of Georgia probate

The former lead singer of the popular Georgia band "Atlanta Rhythm Section" died last week of heart failure. The 60-year-old singer led the Atlanta Rhythm Section in the 1970's through a string of hits that includes "I'm Not Gonna Let It Bother Me," "Imaginary Lover ," "So Into You," and "Champagne Jam," the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

Although the details of the singer's estate are not public, the death of a pop star usually raises questions of whether the singer had a will and whether probate is necessary.

Probate is the process of transferring property upon a person's death. The probate process is court supervised and often involves substantial fees, so many individuals try to avoid probate.

There are three main ways to avoid the probate process:

  • Joint ownership with the right of survivorship;
  • Gifts;
  • Revocable trusts;

Probate may also be contested or uncontested. The majority of probated estates are uncontested. Probate is usually contested when one of the heirs receives a smaller portion of the estate than he or she expects. In celebrity will contests involving singers, probate often involves access to music royalties and publishing rights.

Probating an estate involves these basic steps:

  • Collection all of the probate property of the deceased person;
  • Paying debts and taxes owed by the estate, including outstanding claims;
  • Collecting all rights to income such as publishing royalties or dividends;
  • Settling any outstanding disputes against the estate;
  • Distributing or transferring property to heirs after probate fees have been paid;

An experienced estate planning attorney can help individuals by organizing a comprehensive estate plan that will avoid the probate process and spare heirs of the emotional turmoil associated with a will contest.

Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Ronnie Hammond, 60, ARS front man, was great yet humble singer," Rick Badie, 3/15/11

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