An estate settles eventually, with or without an heir’s instigation. This is particularly true in Georgia. The probate court permits an estate's executor – called an administrator when there isn't a will -- to act or not act according to her own timeline. However, it’s possible that an administrator might defy the system, requiring an heir to get involved.
Heirs are individuals who have standing -- a close blood kinship -- with the decedent, so they inherit from him if he dies without a will. Beneficiaries, however, are individuals named to inherit in a decedent's will. If an heir finds himself in a position where he must take action to force closure or settlement of the decedent’s estate, he is probably dealing with an intestate probate proceeding, meaning the decedent did not leave a will. However, intestate probate and testate probate are much the same in Georgia. They proceed according to the same time frames.
As an heir, you might think that probate of your loved one’s estate is moving slowly, when it’s actually moving along on a proper schedule. Administrators have a certain amount of time by law to accomplish a variety of duties. For example, an administrator has two months after she takes office to notify the decedent’s creditors that his estate is in probate. She must run a newspaper ad for an additional four weeks, alerting unknown creditors. These creditors then have three months to make claims against the estate for payment. Therefore, by law and to accommodate these statutory deadlines, a Georgia estate cannot close or settle for at least six months. At the six-month mark, the administrator must make a report to the court, detailing the estate’s condition and what she’s accomplished so far. Realistically, estates may take more than a year to settle, and Georgia’s legislative code anticipates this. It also includes provisions for the administrator to submit an annual report to the probate court within two months of her one-year anniversary of taking office.
Objections to Administrator's Performance
If the six-month deadline passes and you have heard nothing from the administrator regarding the progress of the estate and she does not file her report with the court, you might have cause to take action. You can ask the administrator for an inventory and accounting of what she’s accomplished. In fact, the court will eventually contact her as well to prod her along if she misses the six-month deadline. She may submit the accounting and you’ll know probate is moving along through normal channels. If she does not produce it, you can petition the probate court for an order requiring her to appear before a judge, either to produce the accounting or explain why she refuses to give one. If she’s mishandled the estate, the court will most likely remove her from office and appoint someone else instead. This should get things moving along toward a proper resolution of the estate.
If you don’t have good cause for questioning the administrator’s performance, Georgia law allows the court to penalize you for filing pleadings without reasonable justification. This might be the case if you’re impatient and jump the gun to try and force settlement of the estate before the probate deadlines have passed. The judge might order you to pay the administrator’s legal fees, if she incurred any in defending herself. If you take matters into your own hands and claim any of the decedent’s property before an administrator is appointed or before she can inventory his assets for the court, Georgia law requires you reimburse other heirs at twice the value of the assets you took.