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Passing Without a Will in Ohio

Posted in Probate Litigation, Wills & Estates. Tuesday, Sep 22nd, 2015

Drafting a will provides a variety of important benefits. It lets a person control how their property will be distributed. It can provide structure and clarity for people’s families during an emotionally difficult time. And, it can minimize probate disputes between relatives over how property ought to be handled after a person’s death. However, many people do not draft wills despite these benefits, and that can leave family members wondering how the law deals with those people’s possessions. Fortunately, the law has a set of default procedures in place to manage a person’s estate in the event that they did not leave any instructions behind. The two key things that the law does are to appoint an administrator to oversee the estate, and to provide a set of rules for how property is to be distributed.

A Court-Appointed Administrator

One major benefit to leaving behind a will is the ability to designate a person as an “executor.” The executor of the will is a person that the will’s drafter has chosen to be responsible for carrying out the plan in the will and overseeing the person’s estate. Without a will providing direction for who should be chosen, the court will step in on its own to appoint an administrator. Generally, the court will choose a person’s surviving spouse to be the administrator of the estate. If there is no spouse or if the spouse refuses for some reason, then the court will choose some other close relative or appropriate person as available.

Administrators have a variety of duties related to overseeing the distribution of the decedent’s estate. One of the most important things that an administrator must do is to find and value all the decedent’s property. This is particularly important in cases where there is no will because the lack of a will means there is no central record for a person’s possessions. Once the estate is properly inventoried, the administrator can start distributing the property. First, they pay valid claims out to creditors, and then they distribute the remainder according to Ohio law.

How Property Passes

Ohio has a special law known as an intestacy statute that governs the way that property should be distributed to a person’s family, if that person does not leave a will. First, the statute checks whether the person has a surviving spouse and any surviving children. If the decedent leaves behind a spouse but no children, then the spouse takes the whole estate. If the decedent leaves behind children who are also the children of a surviving spouse, then the spouse takes the whole estate. However, if there are children who are not descendants of a surviving spouse, such as children from a previous marriage, then the law divides up the estate between the surviving spouse and the children, with the exact share depending on the number of kids. If the decedent leaves behind only children, then the children take the estate in equal shares. Also, it is important to note that if a child predeceases a parent but is survived by their own children, then the deceased child’s offspring each take equal parts of their parent’s share.

Passing on without a will can make the probate process more difficult and more prone to disputes. If you have recently lost a loved one and have questions about the appropriate management of their estate, contact a Columbus probate litigation attorney at the Law Office of Mike Gertner today.