» Probate Process

What Are Reasonable Attorney Fees in Estate Administration?

In Ohio, as in other states, attorneys who assist a personal representative in the administration of an estate are entitled to have their reasonable fees paid out of the estate. Attorney fees are governed not only by ethical guidelines established by attorneys' Rules of Professional Conduct, but by other Ohio rules and statutes. As such, attorney fees in estate administration are perhaps some of the most strictly regulated. Although attorney fees are paid out of the estate, Ohio case law has established that it is the personal representative, rather than the estate itself, who is the attorney's client.

What is a reasonable attorney fee for estate administration, and how is it determined? Essential guidance comes from Rule of Professional Conduct 1.5 (Rule 1.5), which states that a "lawyer shall not make an agreement for, charge, or collect an illegal or clearly excessive fee." A fee would be illegal if it violated a statute or some administrative regulation. A fee would be considered "clearly excessive" if an attorney of ordinary prudence would be left with a "definite and firm conviction" that the fee was excessive.

Factors in Determining Whether an Attorney Fee… Read More

Identifying (and Proving) Undue Influence

Probate litigation is on the rise, in Ohio and across the United States. One possible reason for the uptick in cases is tied to the increase in divorce over the last several decades. More people divorcing means more people remarrying, which means children from a first marriage might be pitted against a stepparent or step-siblings when it comes time to inherit. Of course, there are other reasons there might be an fight over a will or trust. A close relative who receives a smaller inheritance because of a bequest to a friend or caretaker might be suspicious that that person exerted "undue influence" over the deceased. Much, if not most, probate litigation regarding the validity of a will or trust is based on claims of undue influence. Let's take a look at what is involved in identifying (and proving) undue influence.

Proving Undue Influence in Ohio

The same scenario could be looked at in two completely different ways. Let's say that Mary is an older woman with limited mobility whose only child, Jeff, lives across the country. He rarely visits Mary, though he calls once a week or so. Mary has a neighbor, Tim, who drops by regularly. He helps her with things like cha… Read More

Rental Property in Probate: Four Important Considerations

The Ohio probate process can be daunting to navigate at the best of times, but when the estate includes rental property, the process becomes even more complex. If you are serving as executor or personal representative of an Ohio estate that includes income property, there are some important factors you must take into account. Here are some things you need to consider if you are dealing with rental property in probate.

Consideration #1: How the Property was Titled

If the deceased owned rental property, you, as executor, may need to step in and take action regarding the property, but this depends on how the property was held. If the property was held in trust, it will not need to go through probate at all, and will be managed by the named trustee.

If the property was not held in trust, but was held jointly with another person, the form of ownership will be important in determining what happens next. If the property was held as joint tenants with rights of survivorship, it will not go through probate. The surviving joint tenant(s) will automatically take the deceased person's interest in the property. If the property was held as tenants-in-common, there is no… Read More

Serving as Executor? Avoid These Mistakes.

Serving as executor of a loved one's estate carries many responsibilities, and often, it seems, nearly as many pitfalls. Most family members who serve as executors have little experience doing so, making the task even more challenging. Unfortunately, it is possible to make missteps in administering an estate and not realize it until after the harm is done.

It may be helpful to become aware of some of the more common, and sometimes surprising, mistakes that executors make, and learn how you can avoid them.

Rushing Administration of the Estate

It's very important to open a probate case promptly, but take enough time to make sure you're doing the right things in the right order. Mishandling of estate business, even inadvertently, can result in personal liability for an executor. Even if you're not held liable for a mistake, errors caused by haste could delay the resolution of the estate.

For instance, Ohio law forgives almost all unsecured creditor claims if the estate is not opened for six months after the death. Opening the estate too soon could result in the loss of thousands of dollars.

Paying Bills as Soon as They're Received

Chanc… Read More

Private Probate: How Private is Your Ohio Probate Matter?

You don't tell the neighbors your salary, or your coworkers your bank balance, or your friends how much your stock portfolio is worth. And they wouldn't think of asking, because financial matters are considered private.

If you surveyed 100 people, it's likely that none of them would want their personal and financial affairs to be available to anyone who chose to look them up. But few people consider, when making their will, that that's what happens when you open an Ohio probate case.

What Do You Mean, My Probate Case is Public?

Probate court in Ohio is public. Hearings are typically held in open court, which means anybody can be present for a hearing. As a general rule, most probate matters are not terribly exciting, and it's not likely that the general public is going to flock to (or even know about) a routine hearing. Still, you may find it unsettling to know that people you don't know may be able to hear about your family's personal matters.

This is especially true if you think there is even a remote possibility of a will contest or other probate litigation… Read More

Who is Allowed to Open an Ohio Probate Case?

Most people know that when an Ohio resident dies, if they have any property in their name that needs to be distributed, the estate must go through the Ohio probate process. But just who is allowed to open a probate case on behalf of a deceased person (decedent)?

Who Should Open an Ohio Probate Case if There is a Will?

If the decedent had a will, the will should name an executor (also known as a personal representative) for the estate. The named executor, whether he or she is a family member or heir, can open a probate case. The probate case should be filed in the Ohio county where the decedent lived. (If the decedent owned real estate in another state, a probate case might have to be filed there, too).

The named executor should present the will and an original death certificate to the probate court along with the petition. If the person named as executor is unable or unwilling to open the probate case or to administer the estate, any interested party may petition the court to have a probate case opened. The court will then appoint an administrator,… Read More

What Happens if You Wait Too Long to Claim Your Inheritance?

Receiving an inheritance is often bittersweet: on the one hand, you've likely lost someone dear to you, but are receiving some tangible remembrance of them. How long do you have to claim? And can you wait too long to claim your inheritance?

Chances are, you won't have to do much at all in order to receive what you are entitled to. The executor of the deceased person's estate is required to notify you if you are named in the will. If the deceased died without a will or estate plan, the administrator of the estate is required to notify you if you would inherit from the deceased under Ohio intestacy law.

If your whereabouts are known and you are entitled to inherit, the executor or administrator will distribute your share to you in order to be able to do a final accounting and close the estate. You don't have to affirmatively request it. Understand that even if you were bequeathed a certain amount, you may receive less than that if the estate didn't have enough assets to both satisfy creditors' claims… Read More

When Going Through Probate is a Good Idea

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:

If Heirs Want Certainty Regarding Claims Against the Estate

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 col… Read More

How Long Does it Take for Probate to Complete?

This is one of the most common questions for personal representatives of a deceased person's estate and for many heirs. The answer, of course, is "it depends." The chief determining factors are the size of the estate, the complexity of the assets, the number of heirs, and whether there are likely to be any disputes or will challenges. Taking into account those factors, it is possible to at least estimate how long an Ohio probate estate will take to administer.

Summary Release from Administration in Ohio

For very small estates, summary release from administration is available. This means that there is no probate process at all. An estate qualifies for a summary release from administration if it is valued at $5,000 or less, or if it is valued at $45,000 or less and a surviving spouse inherits the entire estate and is entitled by law to a family support allowance, and the surviving spouse has paid the decedent's funeral expenses or is under obligation to do so.

Release from Administration

Not to be confused with summary release from administration, Read More

What Happens if No One Moves to Settle an Estate?

There's no automatic process for probating an estate when someone dies in Ohio. Someone must take steps to file a will with the probate court or otherwise open a probate case. But what happens if no one does?

The answer depends in part upon whether the deceased person (decedent) is known to have left a will. If they did, and an heir has the power to submit it for probate but without good cause intentionally fails to probate the will within a year of the death, they could lose their right to inherit under the will. If there is no will, and a person (like a close family member) would be entitled to administer the estate, they are obligated to open a probate estate within a reasonable time. If they do not, they could lose their priority to administer the estate..

Risks of Failing to Settle an Estate

One risk of failing to settle an estate is that estate assets cannot be properly transferred to others, Read More