Probate Court

Monday, December 28, 2020

What’s the difference between an heir and a beneficiary and why does it matter?

An heir is the person or persons who are related by blood that would inherit from a decedent ( a person who has died) if the decedent had no will.

A beneficiary is a person (or charity or institution) named in a will to whom the decedent wishes to leave his or her assets at the time of death.

Who are your heirs?  Take your wrist and place two fingers on your other hand and place them on your wrist.  Do you feel a pulse?  If so, you don’t yet have any heirs.  That is kind of a snarky way to explain that we cannot know who your heirs are until you are dead.

Read more . . .

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Important Things You Should Know Before Deciding to Seek Guardianship or Conservatorship of an Adult

What exactly is a guardian, what is a conservator and when should you become the guardian or conservator of an adult?

Aunt Mary is 86 years old and has always been a little eccentric, but lately she’s been giving money to John, a much younger man that she calls her special friend.  Aunt Mary says that she knows her family doesn’t approve of her giving him money and gifts, but she has plenty of money, John has been her friend for many years, he has always helped her with her home and yard, and she doesn’t have anyone else she would rather spend her money on.  Does she need a guardian or conservator?

What is a guardian and conservator?

A guardian is a person who is legally responsible for someone who is not able to manage his or her own affairs. Guardians and conservators are appointed by the judge of the probate court in the county in which the person in need of a guardian/conservator, called a ward, resides or can be found.

In Georgia, a guardian is the term that is used for the person responsible for managing affairs related to the health and safety of the ward, while a conservator is responsible for the financial affairs of the ward.

Read more . . .

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Minor Guardianships: Letters of Instruction In Case of the Unimaginable

Writing Instructions to Potential Guardians


If you have minor children, or children with disabilities, the thought of leaving them suddenly is unimaginable.  Parents know their children- their schedules, their health, their likes and dislikes- but keep most of that knowledge in their heads.  When my kids were growing up, I knew when they needed to be at soccer practice and church, who their doctor was and how to reach her, and how to tell when they were sick.  Other than abbreviations on my calendar and names in my database, there was no formal written schedule of activities or list of important contacts.

Most parents can’t imagine how someone would be able to step in and take care of their children.  It is difficult to comprehend that someone else would have to figure out your children’s complicated schedule, let alone how to raise your child with the values you want them to have.

One of the ways you can help someone who might have to take over for you is to create a letter of instruction for a potential guardian.  What should go in that letter?  Here are some suggestions:

1.  Healthcare Information

The letter should include a detailed guide to your child’s healthcare, including vaccination records, contact information for their physicians and dentists, information about any allergies or prescriptions.  Note which pharmacy you have used in the past, and any over-the-counter medications your child uses on a regular basis.

2.  Your child’s Preferred Activities and the Important People who help with those activities

Although your children’s schedules will change monthly and yearly, the letter could include information about the activities your child enjoys, contact information for coaches, scout leaders and church youth leaders.  You might include a sample of the weekly, monthly or yearly schedule you and your family currently follow.  If your child goes to a summer camp, include information about deadlines for registering for camp.

3.  How to find Important Papers

The letter should include instructions on where to find the child’s birth certificate and passport, and should include the child’s social security number and a copy of the social security card.

4.  Religious Philosophy

If you practice a religion, include instructions on your religious philosophy along with contact information for the church you attend.  Let the potential guardian know if you would like your child to continue to be involved in the religion you practice, or whether you would like your child to accompany the guardian to their religious activities.

5.  Educational Philosophy

Discuss your thoughts and hopes for your child’s education.  Do you want your child to go to public or private school?  What are your plans for secondary education for your child?

6.  Family Tree and Other Important People

List all of the important people in your child’s life – and include contact information for those people.  If you nominate a person who is not a family member, will they know who your family is and how to reach them?  Let the guardian know if it is important for your child to be able to spend time with grandparents, aunts and uncles, or other important people.   

7.   Things that Comfort

What does your child like to do when he or she is upset, unhappy or frightened?  Do they have a special toy or piece of clothing?  Do you read a certain book to them or play music?  Do they have any pets that they rely on for comfort?

8.  Food Likes and Dislikes

Maybe the guardian won’t want to fix macaroni and cheese every night, but they may wonder why your child won’t eat what they fix for dinner.  Let them know any food preferences – as well as quirky food habits.  Be sure to mention any food allergies your child has and any reactions they’ve had to foods in the past.

Of course, this list is just a suggestion for some basic points you might want to cover.  Remember that the information in the letter will need to be updated on a regular basis as your child grows and changes.  If the letter is never needed, you will have a great written record of your child’s life that you can give them when they are adults and don’t remember that they refused to eat anything but hot dogs and used to love to cuddle with Winnie the Pooh when they were sad!




Monday, October 24, 2011

Naming Guardians for Minor Children



Phew!  I’ve reached that point in life where I can relax – not much, but a little- because both of my children are adults and, for the most part, out of the nest.  Until just a couple of years ago, I broke out in a sweat every time I had to go out of town on business by myself.  Not only did I worry about whether my kids would get fed, get their homework done and make it to soccer practice on time, but I also worried about what would happen to them if I had an accident and didn’t make it home. 

If you have minor children, children under the age of 18, I’m sure you worry about that, too.  If you are not around, who will feed them, help them with their homework and get them to soccer practice?

Choosing someone to care for your children is difficult.  No one will care for and love your children the way you do, and, as far as I know, we can’t clone you.  However, if you don’t choose someone to raise your children if you’re not there, the probate court will have to make that choice and the court may not choose someone that you would like to raise your children. 

The only way to nominate a guardian in Georgia is in a will.  However, many people put off doing their estate plan because this choice is so difficult.  Here are a few tips for choosing guardians for your children.

First, make a list of everyone you would trust to take care of your children.  When making this list, don’t restrict yourself to the obvious choices.  Remember that if you choose no one, your children could end up in foster care.  If you had the choice of this person or foster care, would you choose this person?  If so, put them on the list. 

Most people limit their list to family members – parents and siblings- but think about your extended family.  Maybe your aunts, cousins, nieces or nephews would be good choices.  Try to think about whether their philosophy about raising children is similar to yours.

Second, would any of these people truly love your children?  Would they raise the children with the religious, social, and moral values that you would like?

Third, look at the personality.  Are they affectionate?  Good role models?

Fourth, be practical.  Would raising children hamper their lifestyle?  If a couple divorced, or one died, would you choose either one of them?

Fifth, look for someone who’s good, not necessarily perfect.  Remember, as we discussed above, you cannot be cloned.

Sixth, talk to everyone you are thinking of naming.  Make sure they are willing to serve, and explain what will be required of them.  Let them know that they should tell you now if they do not want to be nominated as a guardian of your children.

Finally, above all, make sure that you are the one that makes the choice – not the court.

In the next blog post, we’ll talk about writing letters of instruction for guardians.




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