Grief is a draining, gut-wrenching but natural process after a loved one dies. A sad fact of life is that
after someone dies, their affairs need to be settled. While you are reeling, you also need to start
thinking about taking care of the estate, even if a person only left bills and no property. So, while you
are grieving, how do you handle the process of settling your loved ones’ affairs?

The process gets more complicated if the person died without a will. When a will is written, someone
is named a personal representative, also known as the executor. This can be a sticky situation if the
deceased person has no children or surviving spouse and it can get contentious if the person had
several children and perhaps other relatives all wanting to be in charge.

Whether the death was expected or sudden, you will need time to grieve and adjust to your “new
normal.” Unless the deceased was on Social Security, most bills can wait. If the person was
collecting Social Security, you are required to notify the administration within a month. Continuing to
collect the checks knowing the beneficiary is deceased is fraud.

Another task that must be done as soon as possible is making a list of the decedent’s property. This
includes everything. You will be surprised what can be at the center of a fight between friends and
family members and it’s just not large items like a house or car. Cheap items can have sentimental
value and could be wanted by several people. Of course, if the decedent has a will this task is much
easier.

Very few people are experts at handling estates. That’s why you need a probate attorney to help
you. You can allow yourself some time to grieve before making this important step. Make sure you
have gathered the property list, any outstanding bills, tax information and any other financial
information that is needed. Once the attorney has all the information, you can begin settling the
estate. Here are some of the steps you and your attorney will take.

  • Filing the will or petition in probate court. If no personal representative was named in a will,
    this will be done as well so that person can be approved by the court.
  • You will organize the assets and the debts. The list of what your loved one owned will be
    called inventory when it is filed with the court. The bills and other expenses will be paid from
    one account so you can keep track of what is spent.
  • The personal representative is responsible for handling not only the bills, but the taxes. The
    good news for Georgia residents is there is no estate tax. The personal representative is also
    responsible for the last income tax return. You can apply for an extension from the IRS if you
    need time to gather the necessary documents.
  • The personal representative is not only responsible for the bills, taxes and other expenses,
    he or she will also distribute the assets to the heirs. This cannot be done until all the creditors
    have been paid.
  • Once the bills have been paid and the assets are distributed, a final report must be filed with
    the court. The court must approve the report.

Settling an estate usually takes several months and can go on more than a year. One way to simplify
the process is to make sure you and your loved ones have a will and keep excellent records of your
finances. Hiring a probate attorney to handle a will is less expensive than having the attorney handle
the case after a person dies without a will.