Is there a Time Limit to File for Probate in Ohio?
The short answer to this question is: sort of. Unlike other states, like Colorado, which require a will to be submitted to probate within days of the death, or Pennsylvania, which has a criminal statute for failing to submit a will for probate, Ohio has neither a strict time limit nor a criminal penalty for failing to probate a will.
However, with or without a will, there are a number of reasons you might want to open a probate case if one of your family members has passed away.
What Happens if I Don't Open a Probate Case?
You won't go to jail for failing to open a probate case in Ohio, but that doesn't mean there won't be consequences. Under Ohio law, if you are the beneficiary of a will, and you know of the will's existence and have the power to do so, you are obligated to have it submitted for probate within a year. If you intentionally withhold or conceal it or cause it not to be probated absent reasonable cause, you lose your right to inherit under the will.
What if the will is filed with a probate court, but it's the wrong one? A will is supposed to be submitted to probate in the county in which the deceased person (decedent) resided. Let's say that Joe Smith, a resident of Montgomery County, passes away, and his daughter Mary files his will in Greene County, where she lives. Mary could lose her inheritance under the will for knowingly having it probated in the wrong county.
In either of the situations above, the inheritance forfeited by the individuals who violated the statute would pass to the decedent's heirs at law, other than those who violated the statute.
Do I Have to File Probate if There's No Will or Probate Property?
Probate proceedings aren't only for situations in which there is a will. Even if there is no will, a probate case should be opened. It is the probate proceeding, not a will or relationship to the deceased, that gives an executor or administrator power to act on behalf of the estate. An executor has no authority—in fact, is not even really an executor—if the probate court has not conferred that authority through a probate proceeding.
Any of the decedent's probate property that is distributed by someone without the authority granted by the probate court has been distributed in violation of law. If this happens, the person who distributed it could be subject to civil liability, and the property itself would have a clouded (unclear) title, potentially making it difficult to sell.
What if the decedent had a trust, and all the decedent's assets were in the name of the trust, leaving no probate property? It may seem fruitless to file a probate case, but even in this situation, it's a wise idea. It is possible that the decedent has unknown assets or assets they forgot to include in the trust. If a probate case is opened, the executor or administrator would have the legal authority to identify, locate, manage and distribute these assets.
In short, there's never really a good reason NOT to open a probate case for a deceased person's estate. If there truly are few or no assets to distribute, the estate will close quickly and with minimal expense. If there are assets, they will be distributed under proper authority, and if there is any dispute, the Probate Court will provide a venue for its resolution. A knowledgeable Ohio probate lawyer will guide you through the process, and the attorney's fees are paid by the estate.