When someone dies, their personal possessions can offer sentimental comfort to loved ones. One of the primary duties of an executor is to distribute an estate's property efficiently to the proper beneficiaries. Usually, personal items are transferred to heirs after probate of the deceased’s will. But in Ohio, the law allows possessions to be distributed, in many cases, well before the estate formally completes probate.
Surviving Spouse and Minor Children
In Ohio, a surviving husband or wife has two options after the death of a spouse: take the share of the estate provided in the will or take that portion he or she is entitled to under Ohio law had the spouse died without a will. In either event, Ohio law requires an executor to hand over certain property to the surviving spouse and minor children almost immediately. This may include cash and automobiles, but the value cannot exceed $40,000. Additionally, the executor must pay the surviving spouse a statutory living allowance of $25,000 and allow the spouse to remain in the family home for one year. If it’s necessary to sell the house to pay the estate’s debts, the surviving spouse is entitled to fair rental value of the family home.
Early Distribution State
An executor need not wait until an estate is ready to close before handing over personal property to heirs. Ohio allows early distributions. However, the executor must get permission from the probate court to make early distributions. An early distribution is often made when property shouldn’t sit unused and unattended, such as computers or automobiles. Also, early distribution is common in large complex estates which can take considerable time to administer. The executor should not consider early distribution unless he or she is sure there will be enough assets left in the estate to cover creditors, taxes, costs and expenses.
Coming Up Short
Creditors can make claims against the estate for up to six months from the date of death. In cases of early distribution, the executor may have to instruct heirs to return property if it's necessary to sell such items to pay creditors. The same may be true for a surviving spouse who chooses to reject the will and take a statutory share of the estate. In such cases, heirs can return the property or, if the property is no longer available, its cash value.
Closing the Estate
Once the estate’s creditors, taxes and administrative expenses are paid, the executor must distribute the balance of the estate, if any, to the heirs named in the will. Most simple estates in Ohio can be administered in a minimum of six months, but large estates or those subject to challenges can take years to close. An Ohio executor should get legal advice before making a final disposition of estate assets. If the return of distributed property is necessary to meet expenses and cannot be obtained, the executor may be held liable.