First, review the deed which evidences your ownership of the property. Under Georgia law, if the transfer occurred after January 1, 1977, unless the deed includes the language "joint tenants," "joint tenants and not as tenants in common," or "joint tenants with survivorship" or as taking "jointly with survivorship" then the ownership was as tenants in common. If the property was owned as tenants in common, the decedent's interest in the property passed to his/her estate. This legal guide does not discuss the steps to take in such a situation.
If you confirm that the deed did create a joint tenancy with rights of survivorship, the survivor became the legal owner of the property as of the death of the deceased joint tenant. Please see the next step of this legal guide.
Obtain a certified copy of the Death Certificate of the Decedent
Death certificates are public record, so even if you are unable to get a death certificate from the funeral home or the family of the decedent, you can obtain one from the county in which the decedent died or resided.
Review Mortgage Documents
If the property serves as collateral to a loan, you should carefully review the loan documentation to ascertain what your rights are with regard to the loan given the death of the joint tenant. In some cases, the death of the co-borrower/co-owner may affect the rights of the lender or your rights (as the borrower) under the loan agreement. You may wish to seek legal counsel to assist you in reviewing the loan documents and the specific steps you should take with regard to any loan or lien on the property. Proper loan review should likely be conducted prior to filing the Affidavit of Ownership.
File an "Affidavit of Ownership"
Although not required to perfect title in your name, you may wish to file an "Affidavit of Ownership" with a certified death certificate attached to put evidence of the joint tenant's death in the public record. These documents should be filed in the Superior Court of the County in which the property is located.
By filing such an affidavit, you'll be putting the world on notice of the joint tenant's death and your sole ownership of the property. This filing will also make it easier for people conducting title searches to figure out that you have title to the property. This may make the future sale or transfer of the property go more smoothly. If you elect to file an "Affidavit of Ownership", please see the next step for an important task to complete.
Re-Apply for an Exemptions which You Were Previously Receiving or New Exemptions to Which You are Entitled
Any time that title changes hands, the tax commissioner expects to get a return. When you file an "Affidavit of Ownership" the Superior Court clerk notifies the tax commissioner of the transfer. Thus, the tax commissioner will be looking for a return.
Because exemptions such as the homestead exemption and exemption from school taxes (in some Georgia counties, such as Cobb) are claimed on the return, it is important that you file a return with the county tax commissioner (of the county in which the property is located) by the deadline of the year following the year you filed the "Affidavit of Ownership" claiming the exemption in order to retain the exemption. You may also claim a value of the property for tax purposes on the return. The deadline for filing the return varies from county to county, but most that I have seen have March 1 or April 1 deadlines. Typically, the county tax commissioner's website indicates the deadline and includes a copy of the form to file.
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