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Do You Have a Will? What Happens To Surviving Spouses And Children When Breadwinner Dies With No Will

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About half of all people who die in the United States die without a will – a legal directive of what will happen to their money, debts and properties after they’re gone.

To date, more than 800,00 people have died from COVID-19 in the United States, which means hundreds of thousands have died without wills. Many surviving spouses and minor children have been left without support and income. In many cases some children have lost both parents to COVID-19. This brings up an important Georgia law designed to help surviving spouses and minor children.

Petitions for a Year’s Support

Year’s support is a probate petition designed to ensure that a surviving spouse and/or minor kids do not wind up on the street after the family’s primary breadwinner passes away. It is a very old law from a time when the family was primarily supported by the husband, while the wife stayed at home to raise the kids. The “Year’s Support” is a law very specific to Georgia. In most states, surviving spouses and minor children are entitled to a portion of the estate by law, regardless of what the Will says. However, in Georgia, the spouse and minor children can be excluded from the estate under a Will.

How And When Year’s Support Is Most Commonly Used

The only people allowed to petition for Year’s Support are the surviving spouse (man or woman) and/or minor children. Adult children are not entitled under this law.

The most common use of Year’s Support is when an estate is unable to pay its debts. Year’s Support takes precedence over all other claims on an estate. It has a higher priority than funeral expenses, last illnesses expenses and creditor claims, with the exception of loans that are secured such as a mortgage or car loan.

Year’s Support is also a strategy that is used both, when the estate is very small and/or when the decedent did not have a Last Will and Testament. When one dies unexpectedly without a will, the family may often be left destitute which is why in Georgia this law takes the highest precedence. Also many people who do not have high incomes also do not create wills. As you can imagine the past two years have been difficult and challenging for many families.

In cases where the estate is very small, it’s typically more expedient and less expensive to handle a very small estate through a Year’s Support petition, and it also allows the avoidance of creditor claims as mentioned above. The same holds true in cases where there is no Last Will and Testament.

Another reason Year’s support is used is to set aside real property taxes on the residence.  The Georgia statute allows the property taxes on the decedent’s primary residence to be “set aside” either in the year of death, or alternatively in the year of the filing of the petition.  This means the property taxes are waived for that year.

There are other uses and reasons for filing petitions for Year’s support. If your spouse has passed on and the examples I’ve briefly reviewed in this article apply to your circumstances, a petition for Year’s support may be an option. Give our office a call and let’s see if this is a beneficial path to pursue.


Looking to find an experienced estate lawyer in the Georgia area who is skilled in asset protection and estate plan preparation? Shannon Pawley is an attorney in Georgia with expertise in estate planning and asset protection. Shannon can provide assistance with creating an estate plan to include making a will and how to establish a trust properly. If you have questions about asset protection or questions about making an estate plan, reach out to Shannon and she will be glad to help answer all the estate planning questions you might have!

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