Probate in Ohio 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.
You might be surprised to find that many common assets actually do not need to go through probate. Examples of assets that you can transfer outside of probate include:
Other types of property will likely need to go through probate. However, small estates might qualify for certain probate shortcuts (see below).
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. Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 2113.03
No probate at all is necessary if the estate is worth less than $5,000 or the amount of the funeral expenses, whichever is less. 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 as an "administrator," which is essentially the same role as an executor. The surviving spouse, if any, has first priority to be appointed as administrator.
The court issues a document called "Letters of Authority" that gives the executor or administrator the authority to manage the estate. The executor or administrator then does the following:
The executor must keep careful records of how estate assets are handled and distributed. (Read more about The Executor's Job.)
Formal probate can be expensive; that's why so many people take steps to avoid probate. 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. Ohio used to have an estate tax, but it was repealed in 2013.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 signing the will. The contest must be filed within three months after interested persons are notified of the probate. Will contests, however, are rare.
If you're beginning a formal probate proceeding or have questions about Ohio probate laws, contact an Ohio probate attorney for additional guidance.