If a person dies without a will, then the next of kin (or if there is none, then an interested party) must petition the court or go to the register of wills to obtain letters of administration. Once one has received letters of administration, they as administrator (not as an executor since there is no will) can act for the estate. This will allow the administrator to get an EIN for the estate and establish an estate bank account to allow for the deposit of the checks you mention. This will allow that person to transfer assets to the beneficiaries who are entitled to such assets under the laws of intestate succession but only after the estate administration has taken care of all debts, funeral expenses, administration costs, taxes, etc. You need to retain an estates lawyer to assist you or at least call the register of wills in that county to get more information about their procedures for obtaining letters of administration.
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You will need to file to be appointed Administrator. If the estate is small enough, you may have a small estates option but you will not have the legal authority to cash the checks or act on his behalf until you are appointed.
Use the AVVO.com web site to find an attorney in your area. In addition to that, contact your local bar association for referral to an attorney who specializes in this or talk to friends and neighbors to ask about an attorney they have used and liked. Often, but not always, the attorney will do an initial consultation free of charge. You will then be in a better position to determine what to do next. Best of luck to you!
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Neither of the answers you got are helpful as neither lawyer is in Georgia. (As to the one answer that talks about a small estate option, there is no such thing in Georgia).
Before you do anything meet with a lawyer.
First of all, if the checks are the only assets and there is no other estate, you may find it is not worthwhile to spend the money to become administrator. And there may be other options. (By the way to do anything you need to be a legal heir or perhaps a creditor).
Be aware also that a headstone may not be the proper usage of the monies.
If all the legal heirs are in agreement and there are NO creditors (or if there are creditors and creditors agree), Georgia has a shortcut procedure called a No Administration Necessary that might be the fastest and cheapest route, if you qualify.
A regular Administration is also a possibility.
You can often hold the costs down by consulting with a lawyer and using him for some tasks, but doing other legwork yourself.
Also, if you are a surviving spouse, you may have a third probate option called Year's Support.
In any event, see a lawyer.
In answering questions on AVVO, the law office of Glen Ashman is not undertaking to represent you, and you should consider hiring counsel to assist you. In that answers here are based on brief and limited information there may be facts that would affect the accuracy of an answer here, so again, hiring counsel is always prudent. If you are in the area and wish to retain Mr. Ashman, you will need to call for an appointment and sign a retainer agreement.
Becoming an estate administrator in Georgia is more involved than one quick filing. At a minimum, you must serve notice on all the heirs of the deceased, publish notice in the local newspaper, pay a substantial filing fee (usu. $200 or more) and post a bond. A good start can be found at www.gaprobate.org. The local probate court will also have some forms for you. Find them here: http://www.benhillcounty.com/probate.htm
That said, Georgia law contains a quick end-run around administration when an estate is worth $10,000 or less and there is money on deposit in a bank account (or that can be deposited in an existing bank account, where the bank is not yet aware the owner is deceased). Known as a "small estate affidavit," a quick statement under oath can allow a surviving spouse or (if none), children to access cash proceeds. See the Ga Code in OCGA § 7-1-239.
If my firm can be of service in this matter, feel free to let me know.