Legalese — Grandma’s Last Social Security Check

Spring brings, along with pollen and warmer weather, the end of the Georgia legislative season.  I always like to paw through the legislative summaries to see if anything interesting has been enacted that didn’t make the news because it wasn’t sexy.  Usually there is.

This year’s interesting-but-not-sexy find is House Bill 490, which can be found by clicking here.  House Bill 490 deals with smaller bank accounts (though not small by everyone’s reckoning) held by people who die without a will.  It says this:

If someone dies without a will and has less than $15,000.00 in a bank, the bank, upon receipt of an affidavit can hand over the money to the following list of individuals.  (Interestingly, they crossed out ‘persons’ and substituted the word ‘individuals.’  I’m not sure why.)

  1. The surviving spouse.
  2. If there is no surviving spouse, then the children, divided equally.
  3. If there are no children or surviving spouse, then the deceased person’s parents.
  4. If there are no children, spouse, or parents, then the brothers and sisters of the decedent, divided equally.

If there are no spouses, children, parents, or siblings, then this part of the bill doesn’t count.

The affidavit has to say that the person claiming the money is in fact the person they claim to be, there is no one with a higher or equal claim, and there is no will.  There is a sample affidavit in the bill which, again, you can find and are encouraged to plagiarize by clicking here.

If none of the people in 1-4 above claim the money within 45 days of the person’s death, the bank can apply up to $15,000.00 of whatever a person has in the bank towards the person’s funeral expenses and “expenses of the last illness of such deceased depositor.”  They can only do this if they get an itemized bill and expense statement and an affidavit swearing that the bills and itemized expense statement is true and correct and haven’t been paid through other sources.  The bank can then pay them in the order received.

The bill then goes on to explain what happens when someone dies and has a check (or a right to a check).  This happens a lot when someone dies unexpectedly and then gets their last paycheck or gets a refund check for something or another in the mail.  According to HB 490, so long as the check is worth $15,000.00 or less the same list of four categories of people, in the same order, can cash the check, provided they submit the proper affidavit that the person didn’t have a will, etc.

What this bill doesn’t say is what the people cashing the check have to do with the money.  The bill is lodged in the banking section of the code.  The intended purposes of this code section is when someone dies without a will and doesn’t have enough money to make it worth going through probate, but they have a few odds and ends that need cleaning up.  This code section would seem to ‘catch’ a few situations where a person is intestate and has a whole bunch of money in some other bank but gets a $1,000.00 check from something.  If you are going to go through probate, then that money would be a part of the estate and needs to be accounted for through the estate.  But that’s a column for another day.

This law seems like it would be helpful for a lot of people.  There are a lot of folks who live check to check or on a fixed income.  It’s not sexy or headline grabbing like a lot of bills this legislative session, but the ones that truly affect the most people rarely are.

Nothing in this article should be construed as legal advice.  It is being offered for general informational purposes only.




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