What Happens if I Find More Assets After the Estate is Closed?
As probate attorneys, one of our duties is to guide the personal representative of an estate through their many responsibilities. One of the first things a personal representative must do is identify all assets belonging to the decedent’s estate, safeguard those assets, and inventory them. That allows all interested parties to know what property is part of the estate. After the estate’s debts are paid, remaining assets are distributed to heirs or beneficiaries. But what happens if there are assets found after the estate is closed? After an estate is closed, can it be reopened?
These questions are not uncommon. Few people have a thorough list of all the property they own, and a deceased person (decedent) may own assets of which their personal representative is unaware. There may be a safe deposit box at the bank, or money owed to the deceased may be discovered. Whatever the source, those assets of the estate need to be properly distributed. An experienced probate attorney can help.
Once an Estate is Closed, Can it Be Reopened?
An estate is closed after its legitimate debts have been paid and any remaining assets are distributed according to law or the decedent’s will. If additional assets are located, there is a process for dealing with them. While the assets must usually be dealt with through the probate court, it may not be necessary to fully reopen once the estate is closed.
Let’s say that you have served as the personal representative of your late uncle’s estate. You did your best to gather his assets, including his house, car, furniture, personal effects, bank accounts, retirement accounts, and some collectibles. Fortunately, your uncle had little debt—just some utility, medical, and credit card bills. You paid those with the decedent’s estate funds, liquidated the remaining estate assets, and distributed the funds equally among your uncle’s heirs, as his will provided. A few months later, you look in a cardboard box that you had mistakenly believed contained only old papers, and find that your uncle had $20,000 in savings bonds. What do you do?
The first thing to do is contact an experienced Ohio probate attorney to help you, especially if there is any concern that the other heirs may believe you intentionally concealed estate property. Your attorney can help you file an amended inventory with the probate court that oversaw the probate case. Ohio law requires the probate court to schedule a hearing on an inventory filed for a decedent’s estate, including an amended inventory. Notice of the amended inventory must be given to all interested parties. It is typical for heirs to waive their right to a hearing on the inventory.
So, in the scenario described above, your attorney would help you provide the amended inventory of estate assets, notify all required parties, and obtain waivers of a hearing on the inventory. Then, you can go ahead and liquidate the savings bonds, deposit the proceeds into the estate bank account, and disburse them to the heirs.
What if, instead of savings bonds, you discovered a deed to a piece of real estate? In that case, the initial steps are similar: you need to file an amended inventory with the probate court, notify interested parties, and obtain waivers of a hearing. The probate court would prepare a Certificate of Transfer, which would then be filed with the Recorder’s Office for the county in which the real estate is located.
Avoiding Problems With Assets Discovered After an Estate is Closed
One of the most common mistakes by personal representatives is rushing the administration of the estate. It’s understandable to want to wrap up the estate business as quickly as possible so that heirs and beneficiaries can claim their inheritance and move on with their lives. However, hurrying through administration often means failing to identify and inventory some assets, which means you may have to go back to probate court to file an amended inventory.
Once you have been appointed as personal representative by the probate court and granted letters testamentary or letters of administration, it is not only your right to search for estate assets; it is your duty. If the deceased had a will, that’s a good place to start. Try to find any assets referenced in the will. If the will is older, there is a possibility that some assets have been sold, given away, or otherwise disposed of, but you should make efforts to confirm an asset is no longer part of the estate, rather than assuming it is not.
If the decedent had an attorney or accountant they may be able to help you understand what you are looking for. Go through the decedent’s personal papers to see if you can discover deeds to real estate, titles to vehicles, or references to bank or investment accounts that you may not have known existed.
How Long Does an Executor Have to Close the Decedent’s Estate?
There is no time limit by which an Ohio estate must be closed. The estate must be kept open long enough for creditors to have a chance to make claims against the estate, but there is no requirement that the estate be closed within a certain timeframe. That said, often an estate is closed within a year or so after they are opened, but if you need more time to look for assets, you should take it.
If you are a personal representative just beginning the task of managing a decedent’s estate, make sure you have the help of an experienced probate attorney. A probate attorney who has handled many estates can help you make sure you conduct a thorough search for estate assets before closing the decedent’s estate, saving you time, money, and frustration later.