As in most states, if you die without a will in Georgia, or make an invalid will, your assets will be distributed according to state law. This is known as leaving an intestate estate, and Georgia probate laws determine which surviving heirs will inherit your assets. Residents of Georgia can prevent intestate estates by leaving valid wills that adhere to the state's probate laws.
In Georgia, your spouse inherits all of your intestate estate if you have no living children or grandchildren when you die. If you are survived by a spouse and children, they will equally share your estate. The law provides that a surviving spouse always takes a minimum of one-third of the estate regardless of the number of surviving children. If you die with no living children, but grandchildren survive you, they take the share that would have gone to your children were they living. Surviving children from other relationships inherit equally with the children you have with your surviving spouse.
Read More: Rights & Responsibilities of the Surviving Spouse in Georgia
No Spouse or Children
If a Georgia resident leaves no spouse, children or grandchildren, the state's intestate succession laws require that his surviving parents equally inherit the estate's assets. If the deceased is not survived by parents, the next in line to inherit are siblings, followed by nieces and nephews, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins in that order.
Intestate Estates Without Heirs
When a Georgia resident dies with no intestate heirs, the estate is transferred to the board of education in the county where the estate's probate proceeding was filed. The transfer is made when the estate's personal representative files a petition in probate court that verifies no heirs were located within four years after the estate opened. The law allows an additional 60 days for any unknown heirs to object before the estate becomes the property of the board of education.
Valid Wills Avoid Intestacy
A valid will avoids intestacy and ensures that your assets will be distributed according to your wishes. In Georgia, a mentally competent person, 14 years or older, can make a will. The document must be signed and dated before two witnesses who are familiar with its contents. The person who creates the will, or testator, must sign it freely and voluntarily. If the testator was subjected to fraud or duress in creating or signing the will, the document may be declared invalid and the assets of the estate pass to heirs under the state's laws of succession.
Maggie Lourdes is a full-time attorney in southeast Michigan. She teaches law at Cleary University in Ann Arbor and online for National University in San Diego. Her writing has been featured in "Realtor Magazine," the N.Y. State Bar's "Health Law Journal," "Oakland County Legal News," "Michigan Probate & Estate Planning Journal," "Eye Spy Magazine" and "Surplus Today" magazine.