Georgia wills addressed in overview

ALBANY — Dougherty County Probate Judge Nancy Stephenson drew a capacity crowd at the East Albany Community Center Saturday when she discussed basic will creation in Georgia.

Always an entertaining speaker, Stephenson livened her presentation with “probate” humor from time to time. She took a serious note when recommending everyone have a valid Georgia will that is drafted by a competent attorney.

“It’s always a good idea to have an attorney draft your will,” Stephenson said. “Just go to one who knows something about wills, not just personal injury or something.”

Stephenson said that although do-it-yourself kits or forms are available, attorneys understand the important of legal terminology, which can help avoid unintentional or nasty outcomes later on.

The group was reminded by Stephenson that even the most perfectly executed will may fall short, at least on certain directives, if it can’t be found easily by the heirs. She said funeral or burial directions are especially critical. She recommends putting a copy on file at the probate office. Above all, Stephenson says, be sure to tell someone where to find your will.

“Don’t keep your will in the glove box of your truck,” Stephenson said, “or in your freezer.”

In her presentation Stephenson stressed the value of a self-proving will — properly drafted, signed by the owner and witnessed by another in the presence of a notary. She went further to say that once something is entered in the will it must not be changed by alteration, such as “white out.” Instead, an addition or “codicil” must be added to explain or modify the part.

“And be as clear as you can,” Stephenson cautions. “Spell things out. Little words count.”

In answering questions from those present, Stephenson outlined probable outcomes in various will situations and made suggestions on how a will might be made less vulnerable to contest. According to Stephenson, Georgia law upholds provisions in a personal will prohibiting challenge from anyone. Those who do challenge are at risk for losing anything they would otherwise receive.

Also covered in the presentation was an overview of Georgia’s advance directive for health care, a single document which, according to Stephenson, has combined the medical power of attorney with the so-called living will. The document provides for a representative, selected by the owner, who will make medical decisions for the owner’s benefit when the owner cannot or chooses not to make them for his or herself. It also outlines specifically which treatments may be allowed to keep the document’s owner alive, assuming he or she is unconscious or unable to make that decision, Stephenson said.

Stephenson distributed blank copies of advance directive forms to interested individuals. She stated she would provide the forms free of charge to anyone requesting them from the office of the probate court.

Saturday’s program was a part Ward I Commissioner Jon Howard’s town hall series.