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The Probate Process in Ohio 

Gregory, L. Williams, Jr., Esq., Partner.  Sept. 16, 2022

We’ve all seen TV dramas where, after the death of someone in the family, heirs, and others gather in a study where someone reads the terms of the decedent’s last will and testament. Suddenly, a gasp arises from someone who feels cheated or left out. 

Whether this type of scene happens in real life is debatable, but odds are that the administration of someone’s estate will more likely take place under the supervision of a judge in a probate court. The executor of the estate, either so designated in the will or appointed by the court if there is no representative named by the deceased, will then oversee the details of the will. 

Probate is the legal process to validate a person’s will, pay off all outstanding debts and obligations, and ultimately distribute assets to beneficiaries according to the decedent’s wishes as expressed in the last will and testament. Probate is also mandated if a person dies without a will. 

If you’re setting out to do your estate planning by executing a will, you should keep in mind that wills – unlike living trusts – must go through court supervision. If you’ve been named the personal representative in a will, when the time comes for probate, you may have questions about your role. If you’re a family member of the deceased, you may need clarification of what probate is and how it proceeds. 

For all your estate planning questions, concerns, and needs in or around Columbus, Ohio, contact me. 

Whether you’re establishing an estate plan, being thrust into the role of an executor in a probate proceeding, or seeking to understand the estate process as a family member of the deceased, I stand ready to help. I am an experienced estate planning and probate attorney dedicated to providing a helping hand so everyone can achieve peace of mind when it comes to creating and carrying out estate plans. 

Understanding Probate 

When someone dies, family members and beneficiaries named in the person’s will may feel they can – after a suitable period of mourning – just descend on the decedent’s home and collect what’s theirs. While the deceased’s will may be specific about who gets what, Ohio laws mandate a process for fulfilling the wishes of the decedent. This legal process is known as probate. 

For one thing, a person’s possessions after death may be subject to claims by creditors. Probate is the process by which creditors may make a claim on the decedent’s estate to be paid what’s owed them. This includes Uncle Sam and state tax collectors. After all outstanding obligations have been met, then assets can be distributed according to the person’s will. 

Such is the basic purpose of probate, but in the process, the executor will have to carry out detailed accounting for all assets and liabilities and make detailed reports to the probate court.  
Every step can take time. Probate generally can be concluded in nine months, but if there are contests to the validity of the will, or if the estate is particularly large or complex, probate can stretch on past a year or even more. 

What Is Considered One’s Estate? 

When people hear the word “estate,” images of gated communities and chauffeured limousines may come to mind, but an estate refers to anything owned by a person in his or her name only. This leaves a wide range of possessions and valuables that fall outside the definition of estate. For instance, a home held in joint tenancy passes to the co-tenant upon the death of the other tenant. No probate is needed. 

The same holds true for life insurance policies and retirement accounts that name beneficiaries. These instruments and their proceeds pass without probate to the named beneficiary. In short, anything held jointly or in a payable-upon-death account is not subject to probate. 

A person’s estate thus consists of everything not held with others as beneficiaries or co-tenants. This can include real property held in one name only; personal property such as jewelry and vehicles; stock, bonds, and other investments; individual checking and savings accounts; art, gun, and other collections; and even family heirlooms and memorabilia. 

When Is Probate Necessary? 

According to Ohio law, full probate is required except in cases where the decedent’s estate is not large enough for full court administration. Under Ohio law, estates valued at under $35,000 are exempt from formal administration and can file papers to go through what is called summary release from administration. 

If the estate is valued at $100,000 or less and the surviving spouse is the only beneficiary, full probate administration can also be avoided. 

Seek Trusted Legal Counsel 

Probate, of course, can be avoided through the creation of a living will. When planning to care for your loved ones after you’re gone, you may want to consider the option of creating a living trust to save your heirs the administrative pain and costs of formal probate proceedings required if you leave only a will.  

When we meet to discuss your estate plan, I can explain your options to you, so you can decide on the best course of action. 

If you’re already involved in the probate process as an executor, or as a beneficiary who wants to understand your rights under probate, feel free to contact me. I will explain everything to you in detail and with compassion to make sure that you and everyone involved understand probate and its many stages and requirements. 

I proudly serve clients in and around Columbus and throughout Central Ohio.