Probate is a court-supervised legal process that may be required after someone dies. Its purpose is to make sure the deceased person’s debts and taxes are paid and that assets are transferred to the people who are entitled to inherit them.
Generally, only assets that the deceased person owned in his or her name alone go through probate. Everything else can probably be transferred to its new owner without probate court approval.
Many common assets do not need to go through probate. Examples include:
A simplified and less expensive probate process is available in either of these situations:
The simplified process should take only two to four months. The probate court will then order the estate assets distributed to the people who inherit them.
No probate at all is necessary if the estate is worth less than $5,000 or the amount of the funeral expenses. In that case, anyone (except the surviving spouse) who has paid or is obligated to pay those expenses may ask the court for a summary release from administration.
Alternatively, the surviving spouse may ask for summary release from administration if:
The person named to serve as executor in the deceased person’s will generally takes charge of the estate. If there is no will, or the person named in the will isn’t available or willing to serve, the probate court will appoint someone to serve an administrator. The surviving spouse, if any, has first priority to be appointed as administrator.
Once the court issues a document called “Letters of Authority,” the executor or administrator must:
The executor must keep careful records of how estate assets are handled and distributed.
Formal probate can be expensive; that’s why so many people take steps to avoid it. In Ohio, costs commonly include:
If the estate is large enough, it may also owe federal estate tax, but this tax will be due whether or not there is a probate court proceeding. The Ohio estate tax was repealed effective January 1, 2013.
Most straightforward probate cases can be wrapped up within about nine months after the executor or administrator is appointed. Creditors have six months to file a claim, so probate must last at least that long. If the estate owes state or federal estate tax, it’s likely to take a year or more.
The case will also be delayed if someone files a will contest, alleging that the deceased person wasn’t of sound mind or was unduly influenced when he or she signed the will. The contest must be filed within four months after interested persons are notified of the probate. Will contests, however, are rare.