Unless you create a solid estate plan, your property may be distributed after your death in ways you never intended. If you die without a will in Ohio, property you wanted to go to your children may instead go to your spouse. Many elderly persons have specific ideas of who should inherit their assets, and only proper planning can ensure these assets will go to the right people. Under Ohio laws, wills, trusts and transfer-on-death designations facilitate estate planning.
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Probate vs. Non-probate Assets
Probate is the court-supervised process whereby an administrator gathers your estate’s assets, pays your final debts and distributes the remaining assets to your beneficiaries. Assets, such as real estate and personal property will be distributed through Ohio’s probate process unless they are considered non-probate assets. Non-probate assets, such as insurance benefits and jointly held property and bank accounts with rights of survivorship, pass directly to the named beneficiaries rather than through the probate proceeding.
A will directs the distribution of your assets and names an executor to manage your estate. In Ohio, you may not disinherit your spouse, who has a right to a portion of your estate even if you leave her entirely out of the will or attempt to disinherit her. To be valid in Ohio, the maker must be over 18 and of sound mind; the will must be in writing and signed in front of two competent witnesses who must also sign the will. You can change your will at any time as long as you are still of sound mind and not unduly influenced by anyone else.
If you die without a will, or “intestate,” your estate will be distributed by rules set out by Ohio law. Your surviving spouse will inherit your entire estate if you have no children from a prior relationship. If you have one child from a prior relationship, your spouse will receive $20,000 plus half of your estate; if you have multiple children from prior relationships, your spouse will receive $20,000 plus one-third of your estate; and your spouse will receive $60,000 plus one-third of your estate if you had children with your surviving spouse as well as children from a prior relationship. If you leave no surviving spouse, your estate will be distributed evenly among your children, and if you have neither spouse nor descendants, it will pass to extended family members, beginning with parents and then siblings. If no relative qualifies to receive your estate, it will go to the state of Ohio to support its public school system.
Estate Planning Options
Ohio law provides other estate-planning tools to distribute your assets outside the probate process. If you create a Transfer on Death Designation Affidavit, your real property will pass automatically to a named beneficiary rather than being distributed under the terms of your will or by intestate rules. The Transfer on Death Designation Affidavit replaced Ohio’s Transfer on Death Deed in 2009; it must meet the state's specific legal requirements and must be recorded at the county recorder’s office. Similarly, if your assets have been placed in a trust, they will pass under the terms of the trust, not as probate assets.