Hurley Elder Care Law Newsletter - November 2017
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November 2017   

Dying in Debt

Earlier this year, a study of 220 million consumers showed that 73% of consumers had outstanding debt at death. Those consumers carried an average total balance of $61,554, including mortgage debt. Without home loans, the average balance was $12,875. With such staggering numbers, it is obvious that most of us are likely to die with some debt. So, what happens to those debts when we die?
“What do you mean there’s nothing left for me? But mother listed me in her will!”
Many survivors are shocked when they learn that those debts must be paid before heirs receive any of the deceased’s assets. After the probate process is initiated in Georgia, the personal representative must publish a notice of the probate proceeding in a local newspaper within 60 days. This notice lets creditors know that they have three months (after publication ends) to present a formal claim to the estate. Most creditors don’t make formal claims; they just send regular bills to the deceased person’s address. The personal representative then collects all of the bills and starts to prioritize them based on state law. In Georgia, the priority list of claims against the estate is as follows:
1.    Funeral expenses
2.    Costs of probate (court filing fees, lawyers’ fees, and more)
3.    Expenses of the last illness
4.    Taxes
5.    Judgments against the deceased, secured loans, and other liens created by the deceased during life
6.    All other debts
The assets that remain after these claims are paid are to be distributed pursuant to the will or intestate laws. If there is no will, state law determines who inherits the assets. Georgia law provides that the deceased person’s closest relatives inherit his or her assets. For example, if a person dies while married, the spouse will inherit the estate. If there is a spouse and one child, each will inherit half. If there is a spouse and more than one child, the spouse will inherit one-third of the estate, and the children will inherit the remaining two-thirds (a spouse can never be left less than one-third of the estate according to intestate law). If the bills consume the entire estate, there may be nothing left for the heirs. This often comes as a big shock to some family members who were expecting an inheritance.

“But what about the kids? Isn’t there anything that can be done?”
It’s easy to imagine how often the claims against the estate leave nothing for the heirs. Medical bills, mortgages, and taxes can easily come to thousands, and the report from earlier this year said that the average amount of debt a person dies with is $61,554. Compare that with our national average for savings of around  $33,766.49, and you can imagine how little if none could be left for many Americans after their loved one dies. Can anything be done to protect dependents? Georgia law offers a safety net for surviving spouses and children under 18. This protection, called Year’s Support, is the highest priority claim against an estate. It is put before even funeral expenses and is paid before all creditors. If applied for correctly, Year’s Support can protect all of the assets (even the house) from being claimed by the creditors. To ensure proper filing and full protection of rights, legal representation by a seasoned probate attorney is highly recommended.
 “But she’s dead! Why do I still have to pay?!?”
In some cases, the assets in the estate are not enough to pay all of the bills. In this situation, the personal representative of the estate will pay what claims can be paid and pay them according to the priority. After the money is all gone, most debts are wiped away and the creditors get nothing.  But some debts do not die with the person. Accounts or loans with co-signers or co-applicants can continue to be a burden to the other person.
Dying in debt can complicate the probate process. If not handled properly, the personal representative can be held liable for any errors in payments. For help with a messy probate or to learn more, please contact our office for a complimentary phone consultation at (404)843-0121 or


Family Business
Pumpkin Pie is a staple at many Thanksgiving tables.  The Hurley family recipe was developed by Miles’s late grandmother, Esther Crawford Andes  - “Nannie”.  She was born in the early 1900s in rural Idaho, the granddaughter of Smokey Crawford - a real live pioneer who trekked to Idaho to settle and farm the land.  Nannie graduated from college in the 1920s from what is now Washington State University.  Not many people were offering employment to young female scientists in the 1920s  but a job offer from the University of Tennessee brought her east.  She settled in Knoxville where she eventually married and raised a family.  Miles grew up next door to his grandparents.  


CEU Events for Healthcare Professionals:

Tuesday, November 14th- Join Danielle Humphrey, JD, CELA, for a Complimentary CEU on "Ethical Dilemmas in Geriatric Care: A Case Study Approach” at Dogwood Forest Acworth

Unique challenges exist at the intersection of ethical decision-making and geriatric care. Even though we have clear ethical principles, the messy realities of patients and families often leave helping professionals questioning the best course of action. Are there times when you should advocate for the family caregiver instead of the patient? Is it sometimes okay to disclose confidential information? Does your patient have the right to make her own decisions? Please join Hurley Elder Care Law in a discussion of unique ethical dilemmas in geriatric care. With the use of case studies, we will explore issues related to client identification, capacity, confidentiality, undue influence, conflicts of interest, and informed consent. Each case is unique, and we look forward to your input. CEUs available: 1 core or ethic hour for social workers; 1 contact hour for case managers and RNs. 5:30 PM-6:00 PM- Registration and Dinner, 6:00 PM- 7:00 PM- CEU education. Dogwood Forest Acworth, 4461 South Main Street, Acworth, GA 30101, RSVP:

For more details and a complete list of upcoming events, please visit Hurley Elder Care Law Community Education.
Recent BlogsGraying of America is Costly-  Find out why the costs are increasing.

Who Decides? Several decisions you can make for your own aging process.

Increasing Long-Term Care Costs- Findings of a new 2017 report.

Happiness and Health- Tips to find more joy in your life!

Elder Care Resources

Pre-paying for Funeral Expenses- Using the  Medicaid “spend down.”

Lower Cost of Hearing Aids- Find out about the changes.

 Medicaid- Do all nursing homes accept it?

Miles P. Hurley, JD, CELA  Miles P. Hurley founded Hurley Elder Care Law in 2006 to provide legal assistance to the elderly population on issues relating to aging including retaining independence, quality of life and financial security. Mr. Hurley is one of eleven attorneys in the state of Georgia to receive the Certified Elder Law Attorney Certification, and one of approximately 400 nationwide. 
Hurley Elder Care Law is dedicated to the process of long-term care and estate planning. 
Call us today for a free phone consultation with a client coordinator at (404) 843-0121.

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Hurley Elder Care Law
100 Galleria Pkwy, Suite 650
Atlanta, GA 30339

Satellite Offices
2011 Commerce Dr. Suite 100, Peachtree City, GA 30269   
225 Creekstone Ridge, Woodstock, GA 30188       
6340 Sugarloaf Parkway, Suite 200, Duluth, GA 30096

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