Online Legal

Are online legal forms worth it?

Shortly after the world discovered it was possible to do all their Christmas shopping in their pajamas without leaving the house, online legal assistance websites sprouted on the Internet. The owners of these sites—and some are famous attorneys—claim you didn’t need a local attorney to write your will, settle your estate or even get a Georgia divorce. You just fill out some forms and file it in court and you are done, according to these sites.

While the need to save money is understandable, are you really saving money using online legal forms? This question is explored in articles by the Today Show, MarketWatch and CBS. The conclusions are mixed. Here are some points to consider:

Are the forms applicable to your state and updated?

The 50 states have different laws and procedures and each county in the state may have different procedures. Often the generic forms online have changed. Be aware that forms also vary from county to county. Local attorneys keep up with the rules and procedures of the court.

Are you filling out the forms properly?

This is a challenge for court clerks across the country. Even some lawyers will make a mistake in a filing from time to time. If you chose to use an online legal assistance website, take time to fill out the form correctly and completely.

What happens when you get in over your head?

Georgia divorces that involve custody disputes or alimony are not settled by filling out a legal document and filing it in court. This is also true for other cases such as settling estates or pleading guilty to a crime. Some of the online legal assistance websites refer you to an attorney for a fee. Ask the attorney if he she is familiar with the local legal rules. Does he or she know the judges and other judges? Will he or she take the time to get to know you and your case?

Want free forms?

Yes, you can get some forms without spending any money. Many courts include forms on their website you can download and fill out. Keep in mind that complicated legal matters cannot be solved by filling out a form and sending it in to the clerk of court. Also, some legal forms such as leases or contracts are not found on these sites.

Hiring a local attorney

Legal matters are not the same as buying your nephew’s favorite toy online for his birthday. Before you click on that cart for a will or estate plan, consider the mistakes you can make with do-it-yourself legal planning. Local attorneys meet with you one-on-one, handle all the paperwork for court and are with you in the courtroom when you appear before the judge. Can you get all this from an online legal assistance website?

 

Handling Your Loved One’s Affairs

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.

Why a Probate Attorney?

Georgia probate attorneys deal with subjects that we don’t really like to think about but death and taxes are inevitable. The good news a bill passed by the Georgia Legislature eliminated the estate tax. And you only need to worry about a federal estate tax if you are going to inherit more than $5 million.

But when a loved one dies you have other legal issues besides taxes. Probate attorneys help clients sort through the legal issues. Here are just a few of the issues Georgia probate lawyers handle:

  • A Georgia probate attorney helps determine the assets of the deceased. Even if a person doesn’t own a home or a vehicle, he or she likely had something of value in their possession. While some assets are not relevant to probate, some are. A probate attorney helps locate and secure the assets.
  • When property is involved, a probate attorney handles the appraisals. This is important whether or not the person died with a will or without a will. A current appraisal is needed to determine the value for probate. If the property is to be sold, the probate attorney may oversee the sale.
  • Before a loved one dies, many people probably don’t know where the probate court is in their county, much less how it works. This could lead to miss deadlines for filings and once the case is filed, missed court hearings. The probate attorney keeps you up to date on when and where you need to be.
  • No matter what kind of court case you have, there is always a lot of paperwork. Many people google an online legal site and fill out paperwork there and think they are done. Often these sites do not take into account the different requirements of each state or the preferences of local courts. A probate attorney will make sure the paperwork is filled out property for your court.

Just because someone passes away, that doesn’t mean their financial obligations do. This is where a Georgia probate attorney is very helpful. They can help you:

  • Communicate with the life insurance companies so that you can pay for final expenses such as the funeral or hospital bills.
  • Handle any retirement accounts. Theses could be rolled over or transferred to a survivor.
  • Advise on how to pay the final bills of the deceased and help with the checking account.
  • While there are no estate taxes in Georgia, any income that the deceased person made could be subject to income taxes.
  • Setup, and eventually close, an estate account, and the associated Federal Tax ID Number, for the deceased person’s estate.

A probate attorney works with what the courts call the executor of the estate, also known as the personal representative.  If the deceased person had a will, the executor may have been determined in the will.

Without a will, determining the personal representative can be controversial. For example, if a parent dies suddenly without a will, the surviving children may argue over who will handle the estate. When a person has no children or surviving spouse and dies without a will, it may be difficult to find a relative or friend to handle the estate. In some extreme cases, the court may appoint the County Administrator to handle the estate if the family members cannot come to an agreement, this is a step that will cost the family.

Many of the above issues happen when a person dies in what is described as intestate—without a will. Working with a Georgia probate attorney to plan your estate will make it easier for you loved ones when you die. Again, you can find many websites and even books in the library that contain sample wills. Before you complete a will online on your own, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Am I familiar with my local probate court and its rules? Remember, these issues are handled through the Georgia probate court. While you are only handling one case, a probate attorney has likely handled hundreds of cases and is very familiar with the court and its staff.
  2. Have I included all my assets? Some assets are a given—a house, car, or vacation home. But some family members may squabble over collectibles or a treasured heirloom. While some relatives may not be happy with the terms of your will, in most cases your wishes will be honored and squabbling will be reduced.
  3. Have I secured the will in a place where it can be found when I die? A 90s movie “Daddy’s Dying, Who’s Got the Will?” is a comedy but it raises a serious question. If you complete a will, make sure it is in a place and that surviving family members know where it is.

If you don’t have a will, what are you waiting for? Even if you don’t have a multi-million dollar estate, you likely have assets and sadly, financial obligations that will need to be handled after your death. Working with a probate attorney will assure you and your loved ones that your matters are being handled properly.