Probate can be a very stressful time for anyone going through it. By its very nature, it’s generally considered to be a time consuming and confusing undertaking. But with the help of an experienced probate lawyer in Columbus, and other surrounding areas, you will get through the probate process with minimal troubles, and we can help with that.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. What IS probate actually, why might you find yourself facing it, and how can you avoid it? We’re here to help you navigate through the probate process and answer any questions you may have about facing probate in Ohio.
What is Probate, and Why Does it Happen?
When someone passes away, there is a legal process that settles the deceased person’s (i.e. decedent) estate, including assets, debts, expenses, tax, etc. That process is what we call probate. There are many aspects of probate that may appear overwhelming, but taken one step at a time, and with a quality Ohio probate lawyer at your side, you’ll get through it just fine.
However, the probate process can be costly, time-consuming, and can often be avoided altogether with a comprehensive estate plan. If you’re interested in eliminating the process of probate for yourself or your loved ones, you can read up on how to get started with estate planning in Ohio.
The probate process first requires a person to apply for and be appointed by the probate court to handle the decedent’s affairs. This person is known as an “executor” or “administrator”. This person is responsible for handling all the steps of the process on behalf of the deceased. The executor is usually named in the decedent’s Last Will & Testament. If there is no Will, then the person appointed by the probate court is named as the administrator. But what actually are those steps?
What Happens During Probate?
The first step in the probate process is to prove the validity of the deceased’s Will (if there is a Will) in court. This generally means verifying that the Will is in writing, that it was signed and dated by the person who made it, and that it was signed by at least two disinterested witnesses. Will contests can occur for many reasons including whether the decedent executed the Will under duress, coercion, undue influence, and even whether the Will maker was of sound mind and knew what he or she was signing at the time.
Of course, there are a number of technicalities to these rules, many of them involving a Will being written and signed on a computer or tablet (with witnesses) and being printed out later. Legally, the court just wants to confirm that the Will can be verified as having been written by the deceased. Again, having an experienced Ohio probate lawyer on hand can help with navigating some of the finer points of this process.
Once the Will is verified, it will be up to the executor to identify, catalog, appraise, and value all assets of the deceased. Afterwards, the executor will ensure that all outstanding debts and taxes are paid. Then, assets will be distributed in accordance with the Will. Along the way, the executor will report to the probate court all of this information.
What if There is No Will?
If a person dies without a Will, or if a document cannot be properly validated as a Will, the decedent is considered to have died “intestate.”
In this case, state law comes into play. In Ohio, probate law indicates that the court will appoint the administrator to act as the executor. By Ohio law, the administrator is usually the surviving spouse or the next-of-kin.
The next steps are the same as above for an executor – identifying and valuing assets, paying taxes and debts, and so on. Once debts are paid, the administrator is tasked with distributing assets to the family of the deceased in a certain order. If there would happen to be no heirs, the final net estate would go to the state of Ohio, called “escheat”.
There are a number of provisions and rules to determine how assets are distributed to family members, so if you’re looking for a probate lawyer in Akron, Canton, Columbus, Newark, or anywhere in Ohio, contact us so we can help you understand the probate process.
But again, the process of probate can be costly and stressful, and is best avoided. If you’d like to hear more about how to avoid probate so you have control over your assets with minimal burden and hassle on your family members, look into setting up an estate plan with us. We can discuss with you revocable living trusts, Transfer on Death Affidavits for real estate, Payable on Death accounts and more. The attorneys at Sheppard Law Offices are ready to guide you through your Probate case and provide the guidance you need to get through the process.