Probate is generally required before a deceased person's assets can be distributed to his heirs or beneficiaries. Toward the beginning of the probate process, Georgia courts appoint a personal representative to act on behalf of the deceased's estate. That personal representative is charged with collecting the deceased's assets, paying his debts and distributing any remaining assets to the deceased's heirs or beneficiaries. To do this, he must provide notice of the probate proceeding to the deceased's creditors.
Deadline for Notices
Georgia law requires personal representatives to publish a notice to creditors within 60 days of the day the personal representative assumes his duties. Thus, the personal representative cannot simply wait to publish notice until he is ready to pay the creditors. Even if the personal representative does not yet know what assets are included in the estate, he must publish the notice no later than 60 days after he takes office. However, this may be months after the deceased's death since it may take a while for a probate case to be established and the personal representative to be appointed.
Publish in the Newspaper
The personal representative must publish the notice to creditors in the official newspaper for the county where the probate court is located. This is typically the newspaper where other legal notices are filed and creditors could most easily find the notice. The notice must run for four consecutive weeks. To save on printing costs, the personal representative can consolidate this notice to creditors with a notice to debtors of the estate letting them know where to send payment. Probate courts typically have sample copies of these notices for personal representatives to use.
Notices Start the Clock
The earlier the notice is published, the sooner the estate can be closed. That is because publication of the notice starts the period in which creditors must submit their claims against the estate. Though creditor debts are not automatically erased if a creditor fails to file his claim on time, there are consequences under Georgia law for those who do not submit their claims within three months after the fourth publication of the notice. Creditors must make their demands directly to the personal representative, not the court.
Creditors Must Be Paid
Once the personal representative becomes aware of a creditor's claim, he must determine whether the claim is valid and should be paid. Georgia law sets a priority to govern the order in which the estate's debts must be paid, starting with a year of support to the family, funeral bills and the expenses of administering the estate. If the estate has more assets than debts, there will be money left over to distribute to the heirs or beneficiaries. However, if there are more debts than assets, creditors lower on the priority list are simply not paid once the money runs out.