How Does Georgia Probate Court Work?
Georgia Probate Courts were established by the State Government of Georgia to facilitate the speedy resolution of disputes and prosecutions within the State. It is a trial court that specializes in civil and criminal cases. Under Article VI of the Georgia Constitution, the Georgia Probate Court has exclusive jurisdiction over:
- Probate of wills;
- Administration of estates;
- Appointment of guardians;
- Involuntary hospitalizations;
- Issuance of pistol licenses;
- Marriage licenses
Additionally, Article VI, Official Code of Georgia Annotated (OCGA), maintains that some Probate Courts in the State may perform similar functions as Superior Courts. Under the law, Georgia Probate Courts have concurrent jurisdiction with superior courts in matters relating to:
- Appointments of new trustees;
- Motions of DNA testing;
- Declaratory Judgement;
- Adjudication of petition
- Approval of settlement agreement;
- Tax-motivated estate planning dispositions of wards’ property
Probates primarily involve the appropriate transfer of a descendant’s asset to an heir (where there is no will), or devisees (as stated in a will). There are three essential stages in probating an estate in Georgia. These include gathering all the deceased’s assets, paying off debt and taxes, and distributing the assets to the appropriate persons.
There are two ways to submit a probate request in Georgia. The first is the Solemn Probate, which mandates the executor to inform everyone interested in the estate about the probate. Alternatively, executors may use Common Probate, which does not require public disclosure. Note, these types of probates usually take up to four years before it becomes binding.
Georgia’s Probate Courts are organized under the Uniform Probate Court rules established by the State. The rules are binding on all Probate Courts with no exceptions. There are standard forms for every Probate Court procedure in the State, which can be downloaded via the Probate Court’s official website.
In Georgia, only a U.S citizen and an adult of 25 years or more can be a Probate Court Judge. In counties with more than 96,000 people, Probate Judges must be at least 30 years old with seven years of experience. All serving and retired Judges of Probate Courts are members of the Council of Probate Judges of Georgia. It is an independent body that organizes and develops its constitution and bylaws.
The body regulates the affairs of Probate Court Judges in the State. The judges can also be members of the Probate Judges Training Council. The council is established by the State to educate serving Georgia Probate Judges. However, membership to this council is not open to all the Judges at the same time. Membership is by selection and is usually a single Judge from one district.
Generally, Probate Judges are elected, but in some cases, an elected Judge may appoint an associate Judge. Typically, Judges are elected by voters living in the county where each judge resides. In Georgia, a Probate Court Judge’s tenure lasts for four years, and until there is a new successor. Nevertheless, a Probate Judge’s term may be cut short for any of these reasons:
- Willful misconduct in office
- Persistent and intentional failure to perform the duties of judicial office
- Habitual intemperance
- Conviction of a crime that pertains to moral turpitude
- An act that is harmful to the administration of justice and brings the office of a judge into disrepute
The term of a Georgia Probate Judge starts on January 1st and ends on the same day four years later. Probate Court Judges can appoint individuals as associate Judges on a full-time or part-time basis under the county’s governing body’s supervision. Associate Judges of Probate Courts are included in the list of members of the Council of Probate Judges. However, these individuals report to the Probate Court Judge.
There are currently 159 Probate Courts and Probate Judges in Georgia as every one of the 159 Counties in Georgia has a working probate court. To locate any Probate Court in Georgia, interested persons may go to the Clerk Office of the relevant court or visit the county’s official court website.
Probates in Georgia typically last 12 to 18 months, depending on the case and size of the assets. However, all probate cases in Georgia take at least six months. All court records are public and available for inspection in Georgia. But this access may not be granted where it is limited by law or by specific judicial procedures.
These procedures include a motion for limitation, review, amendment, or the cost of the document. Georgia Probate Court provides an online resource for locating its case records. To access case records on the website, provide information based on the type of case record in demand. For example, to access a will record, provide the county, first and last name, executor, and deposit date.
Also, some counties in Georgia have an online resource for making case records available to the public. On Cobb County’s official website, interested persons may view, download and print copies of Probate Court records. The records are made available as soon as the requestor provides details of the type of document in demand, the case number, and full name.
Alternatively, persons interested in obtaining a record may submit a request to the Probate Court. Note, the request is made based on the county where the Court resides. Interested persons can submit a request via mail to the particular court’s mail address or book an appointment where applicable. For example, Carol County Probate Court accepts mail and walk-in requests. To make a request, send a mail to:
P. O. Box 338
Carrollton, GA 30112
Alternatively, visit in person at:
311 Newnan Street
Carrollton, GA 30117
Georgia Probate Courts charge fees to make court records available. However, the fees are regulated as part of the State’s Probate Court uniform rules. These fees are paid to the clerk of the Court or Judge where it is applicable. Georgia’s Probate Court accepts payment in the form of cash, check, or by credit card. Standard processing fees are:
- Copies - $1.00 per page
- Recording: $2.00 per page
- Certified Mails: $8.50
- Amendments: $15.00
- Examination of records: $10.00
- Issuance of Writ of Fieri Facias- $10.00 per name
- Certification - $10.00.00
- Exemplification - $15.00
- Processing appeal to a superior court- $30.00
- Issuance of Subpoena, each- $10.00
The clerk of court is in charge of processing the requests. This can be done alone or with the help of other court officials. The time it takes to process these records vary from one county to another. It mostly depends on the type of document requested. Upon completion, copies of the requested documents are sent to the requester via mail. Alternatively, the requester may visit the court clerk’s office to retrieve the documents. Most Probate Court offices in Georgia are usually open to visitors from Monday to Friday, except on holidays. Note, all fees are non-refundable.