Few documents are more important to the average citizen than wills and property deeds. A will is a written statement by an individual that sets out who they have chosen to inherit their property when they die. A deed is a written document signifying ownership of real property. Deeds are also used to transfer title to real property. Public access to these documents is different in different states.
In the state of Georgia, wills are generally considered public records available for viewing once they are filed with the probate court after the testator has died. Property deeds, likewise, are public once they are recorded. Anyone living in Georgia will want to know how these documents can be accessed.
Wills in Georgia
In the state of Georgia, as in most other jurisdictions, an individual's will is generally private during the lifetime of the person making it, termed the testator. Nobody has a right to demand a copy of someone's will or has the right to see a will as long as the testator is still alive. One of the reasons that wills remain private during the maker's life is that they can amend, revoke or replace it at any time while they are of sound mind.
Once the person dies, however, the will can no longer be amended. In order to administer the will, it must be filed in the probate court in the Georgia county where the deceased was living. Probate of wills in Georgia is a court-supervised administration process during which the diseased person's assets are gathered, their debts and taxes are paid, and their beneficiaries are located. At the end of the probate process, with court approval, all remaining estate assets are distributed according to the terms of the will.
Locating Wills in Georgia
In the state of Georgia, the Probate Courts are the sole courts that have original jurisdiction over probate matters, including estates and wills. That means that these specialized courts are charged with the administration of estates. This includes determining the validity of a will, appointing an executor to oversee moving the estate through the probate process, and locating intestate heirs if a person dies without a will.
While Georgia Probate Courts handle all probates in the state, they are not limited to this function. Some Georgia Probate Courts also handle other matters. These can include the appointment of guardians for minor children, issuing marriage and weapons carry licenses, and even traffic offenses and misdemeanor cases. Each Probate Court in the state is unique in its responsibilities, but all handle the administration of Georgia wills.
Accessing Wills Under Georgia Law
It is possible to access an original will that has been filed in Georgia Probate Court by visiting the court where the will is being probated. This is usually the court nearest to the place in which the deceased lived right before death. For the court clerk to access the probate file, it is necessary to provide the case number or as much information as possible about the deceased, including full name, date of birth, date of death, and last residence address. There may be a small charge to obtain a copy of a last will and testament from the court.
However, this may be inconvenient for someone living far from the court or outside of the state. Fortunately, Georgia makes it possible to access probate records online with their Probate Courts login. A person who signs up for an account can access probate cases, including copies of wills, check information and the ability to upload files. This is not limited to attorneys – anyone can create an account and access these records free. Once registered, select the website of the county in which the probate was opened and enter the deceased's full name and probate case number, if known. There are several types of searches available including last name, date of death and residence address.
Note that there are also numerous private companies that offer access to public records in Georgia. These can be identified by an online search. One example is InfoTracer; another is Court Reference. It is a good idea to do a little research on the company before using their services to get an overview of the pricing since most require payment.
Deeds in Georgia
Real estate ownership is documented by deed in the state of Georgia. In Georgia as in most states, property deeds are also the method by which real property is transferred from one person to another. The state recognizes a variety of different types of deeds, including warranty deeds that contain guarantees of title, and quitclaims that do not.
Georgia deeds must be recorded with the recording office in the Superior Court in the county in which the property is located. An unrecorded deed is valid as between the parties, the grantor and grantee named in the deed. But in order to give notice to all of ownership and to prevent fraudulent transfers or encumbrance of the property, a property owner must record the deed. Once recorded, it becomes public record. At that time, a buyer or lender is on notice that ownership of that particular property has changed, and the new owner is protected.
Accessing Property Deeds in Georgia
It is possible to visit a Superior Court in Georgia and obtain a copy of a particular property deed. This is easy if a person has the recording number of the deed. If not, the clerk will have to conduct a search to find it. In order to allow the court clerk to locate the specific deed, it is best for the person seeking the deed to provide all the information they have about the property, including the address, name of the owner or name of the grantor and grantee. Some counties permit individuals to order copies of filed documents by phone or mail, but this depends on the rules of the particular court.
However, there is a statewide online system that is efficient and useful for locating property deeds filed with Georgia courts. The Clerks’ Authority and the Clerks of Superior Court in Georgia gives round-the-clock access to Georgia deeds and property transaction information in the state. It can be accessed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Available documents include deed indexes for all counties in Georgia and deed imaging for all Georgia counties.
Many other types of property documents can also be accessed including grantor/grantee search features, sales price data and street address search features. The complete list of property information available from the Clerks' Authority is described on their website.
Teo Spengler earned a JD from U.C. Berkeley Law School. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an MA and an MFA in English/writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.