Probate is the legal process that administers the estate of a deceased individual. This process varies between states, and in Ohio, estates are probated in the appropriately named Probate Court (other states may use terms such as Surrogates Court or Orphans Court). The probate process for an estate encompasses the following tasks:
- Filing a notice of death, offering and validating a will if one exists, and filing forms to begin the process;
- Appointing an Executor of the estate. An executor is normally named within a will, but if a will does not exist, the Probate court will appoint an Administrator, which they usually refer to as a fiduciary, one who has an obligation to administer the estate on behalf of the deceased.
- Inventorying and determining the value of assets and filing the inventory with the Court;
- Identifying and paying creditors;
- Filing a final tax return for the deceased.
- Distributing assets to heirs or beneficiaries.
- Closing the estate and filing the final paperwork with the Court.
As you can see, probate in Ohio can be a time-consuming and complex set of tasks, and it can take a year or more to completely settle an estate. There are also probate fees involved based on a percentage of the value of an estate. As such, estate planning often focuses on avoiding probate using estate planning tools such as trusts.
For smaller estates, the Ohio probate process is less time consuming. Ohio defines a small estate as:
- An estate with property, both real and personal, of less than $35,000 for a single individual; or
- An estate valued up to $100,000 if all property passes to the surviving spouse of the decedent
In the case of these small estates, they may be released from administration by the Probate Court, but appropriate filings and paperwork must be filed.
Due to the complexity of probate law, most individuals who have filings before the Court are represented by an attorney. While a will does smooth the probate process for an estate, planning to avoid probate and preplanning the financial aspects of an estate may be the most cost-effective and efficient strategy for you and your family, and an attorney experienced in wills and trusts, probate law and estate planning can handle this on your behalf.