What is the Probate Process?
In a nutshell, the probate process involves identifying the assets of a recently deceased person (decedent), gathering them, inventorying and valuing them, and distributing them to the decedent's heirs. Prior to distributing assets, the personal representative or administrator of the estate must notify any creditors of the estate of the decedent's death.
If there is a will, it must be submitted to the probate court for authentication. If the will names a personal representative, the court will appoint that person to administer the estate unless he or she is ineligible, unwilling, or unable to do so. If there is no will, the court will appoint someone suitable as administrator of the estate, often a close relative of the decedent.
Understanding What Assets Go Through Probate in Ohio
In general, any assets that the decedent owned in his or her own name at the time of death go through probate. This means that property owned jointly, like joint bank accounts or jointly-held real estate, are not subject to the probate process. Those assets pass directly to the surviving joint owner entirely outside of probate.
Assets held in a trust also pass outside of probate. This is because the assets are owned by the trust, not the decedent, even if the decedent was the trustee and had control of the assets during life. Other assets that do not go through probate include life insurance policies, investment accounts with named beneficiaries, and payable-on-death (POD) accounts.
Duties of the Administrator of the Estate in the Ohio Probate Process
The probate process protects the rights of the decedent's heirs as well as creditors of the estate. Therefore, the process is carefully overseen by the court, and the administrator is accountable to the court for his or her actions regarding the estate.
The personal representative is responsible for:
- identifying, locating, and gathering the decedent's property
- collecting estate debts and receiving payments that are owed to the estate, including accounts receivable, interest income, and dividends
- identifying, locating, and notifying all heirs or beneficiaries
- notifying known creditors of the estate of the decedent's death and publishing notice for unknown creditors
- investigating whether any claims filed against the estate are valid, and paying the estate's legitimate outstanding debt
- preparing and filing any state or federal tax returns on behalf of the estate
- preparing and filing required accountings and reports with the probate court
- distributing assets that remain after payment of the estate's expenses to the heirs in accordance with the decedent's will or Ohio probate law if there is no will
- filing documents necessary to close the estate in the probate court
Many estate administrators or personal representatives have never served in that capacity before, and lack familiarity with the required tasks and their timelines. Others may live outside of Ohio or have obligations that prevent them from devoting the necessary attention to estate business.
An experienced probate attorney can help with all of the tasks of estate administration. And because legal advice is a benefit to the estate, Ohio probate law provides for an attorney to be paid out of estate funds. If you are named personal representative of the estate, it is in your best interest, as well as that of the estate and its heirs, to retain an experienced Ohio probate attorney at the outset of the process.