Much of estate planning is aimed at minimizing or eliminating the need to probate a deceased person's (decedent's) estate. Probate can be time-consuming as well as tying up estate assets. And while as a general rule probate is less complicated than it used to be, the cost of the process does consume some estate assets.
That said, there are some good reasons to go through probate, and in the final analysis, doing so may actually save the estate money. You should put a decedent's estate through probate:
In Ohio, creditors have six months from the death of the decedent to present any claims they may have against the estate. Otherwise, those claims are barred. Therefore, the probate process provides a level of certainty that unknown creditors won't pop up later, insisting on payment.
On a related note, the probate process offers heirs an opportunity and forum in which to challenge the validity of any alleged claims. If a creditor tries to collect payment of a debt outside of probate, directly from the decedent's heirs, the heirs' options are to pay it to have the matter done with, or attempt to challenge it through the creditor, which is likely to be time-consuming and unproductive.
Creditors are not the only ones who want a piece of the estate pie. Naturally, heirs of the estate want what they are entitled to, as well. If there are disputes about who should inherit, or what there is to inherit, it's best to have those issues resolved once and for all in the context of the probate process.
Probate disputes are often about much more than property. Conflicts over an estate often cause permanent rifts between family members—surely not what the deceased would have wanted. A family member who tries to mediate conflicts between other relatives may find him- or herself vilified by the warring parties. Typically, all parties are more willing to accept and abide by the order of a neutral judge.
The probate process offers a level of accountability for the personal representative of the estate. If an estate goes through probate, taxes must be filed, property must be inventoried, reports must be made. If a personal representative feels that he or she needs this accountability to make sure things get done as they are supposed to, probate may be the right choice. Furthermore, the fact that the personal representative's actions on behalf of the estate are so well documented gives peace of mind to creditors and other heirs.
To determine if your loved one's estate must go through probate, or if it would be beneficial, contact an experienced Ohio probate attorney.