Probate is a court-supervised process whereby the court appoints a representative for your father’s estate to manage his property until it can be distributed. If your father left a will, the court will also determine its validity. Once the representative is appointed, he must provide notice to creditors, pay valid creditor claims from the assets in your father’s estate and then distribute the remaining assets to your father’s heirs and beneficiaries. Georgia allows two types of probate: common form or solemn form. Common form probate does not require notice to your father’s heirs but also does not become final until at least four years have passed. Most probate is done in solemn form, since it can be concluded sooner.
Generally, your father can leave his property to anyone he wishes, by writing a will that outlines his desires. His will can even disinherit certain individuals, including his children. While you can dispute a will, such disputes can take a long time to resolve. If the will is properly drafted and signed, its terms will stand, even if the rest of the family disagrees with them.
If your father dies without a will, he is said to have died “intestate,” and Georgia’s intestate succession laws determine who inherits his property. In most cases, your father’s surviving spouse and children inherit equal shares of his property. Thus, if there are two children plus your father’s surviving spouse, each child and his wife will inherit one third of the estate. If your father’s spouse did not survive him, his estate will be split equally among his children. If one of his children is deceased but has living children of his own, those children will inherit his share. This is called “per stirpes” distribution.
Your father can name his illegitimate children, or anyone else, as a beneficiary under his will. In Georgia, children born out of wedlock can inherit from their biological father under intestate succession laws, but only under certain conditions. For example, if the father signed the child’s birth certificate or sworn statement that a parent-child relationship existed -- acknowledges the child is his -- the child could inherit the same share as the father’s legitimate children.