There can be many reasons why someone might not leave a will. Some think their estate is too small to warrant it. Others believe that the line of inheritance is clear and that a will isn’t necessary. And some people either don’t like planning for their passing or have passed away suddenly and didn’t have the opportunity to create a proper estate plan.
Whatever the reason, it can make the difficult time of a loved one’s passing even more stressful. Without a will, there is no guidance to follow when unexpected complications arise in managing the estate. Heirs can sometimes get into conflict over who is entitled to inherit what.
When someone passes away without a will, this is referred to as “dying intestate.” According to Ohio’s intestate laws, the deceased’s property is distributed thusly:
In general, the above (minus willing an estate to the state) reflects how most people would plan to distribute their assets after they’ve passed, but having a will in place will ensure your intentions are carried out exactly how you want. This would be especially important for individuals who would go outside the standard line of inheritance and, instead, will their assets to a life partner or close friend. This would also apply to those who choose a charitable organization to receive their assets instead of a family member.
Without a will, those wishes would likely not be recognized by the court.
If you don’t have a will already set up, you should understand how a probate court will handle the distribution of your assets.
A relative or heir may volunteer to serve as the administrator of your estate, or the court may appoint one. The administrator files with the court to open probate, and the process of intestate succession follows below.
In cases when the estate is worth either less than $35,000 or less than $100,000 for a surviving spouse, the estate administrator can file for a release of administration. This simplifies and quickens the whole probate process. By contrast, if the estate requires full administration, the probate will undergo a more extensive procedure.
Any bank or retirement accounts or insurance policies listing co-owners or beneficiaries, properties held in trust, and assets with a transfer-on-death clause can go straight to the named beneficiary and not have to go through probate.
A complete list of all assets and properties owned by the estate needs to be made. After all the items have been appraised, the list is then turned over to the court.
Some bills need to continue to be covered by the estate administrator if they are eligible for inheritance. These usually included mortgages and car loans. Credit card debt, utilities, and some other bills do not need to be paid, but debts such as medical bills might. The estate’s administrator should determine which debts need to be handled and which can be ignored.
Once debts are addressed and assets are distributed, a final accounting will have to be filed with the probate court to close the estate fully.
You should always have expert guidance when drawing up a will. Some assets, such as insurance policy benefits or joint property, will go to your named beneficiary or surviving spouse and do not need to be included. Wills also should not be used to avoid estate taxes. If you want to protect your assets, you should speak to a trusted estate planning attorney about setting up a trust.
Also, remember that a will can be challenged if there is any evidence to suggest mental incapacity, fraud, or coercion. Having an attorney help write up your will can lessen the grounds for someone to challenge your final wishes.
Being an estate administrator is a big job. Whether or not the estate requires full administration, it’s always best to have a qualified probate attorney on hand to help. In case something goes wrong, you want to have the best legal representation possible.
No one has more knowledge of probate litigation than Heban, Murphree, and Lewandowski. We keep you involved in the process from start to finish, so there are no questions and no loose ends. Don’t go through probate litigation alone—contact us today.