Ohio inheritance laws govern distributions made to a husband or wife when their spouse dies and are more than a little complex. Unfortunately, revisions by the Ohio legislature in 2012 didn't help much. As Cleveland attorney and estate planner Kevin Purcell notes, the laws are a "labyrinth of arbitrary rules, a majority of which served no apparent public policy." When a spouse dies and leaves a will excluding the surviving spouse, she may still claim part of the estate. However, when a spouse dies intestate, or without a will, the situation becomes more complicated.
Rights Under a Will
In Ohio, if your deceased spouse leaves a will, the terms of the will usually govern the amount of inheritance you and other beneficiaries receive. However, if a deceased spouse leaves little or nothing to his surviving spouse in his will, she is protected by Ohio Revised Code § 2106.01, and may claim as much as 50 percent of her deceased spouse's estate, known as her "elective share," depending upon the number of children produced by the couple.
Intestate and No Children or Natural Children
As you might expect, when a couple has no children and the deceased spouse doesn't leave a will, all remaining assets left in the estate, after debts and taxes are paid, go to the surviving spouse. If a couple had one or more children together, either natural or legally adopted, all the remaining assets from the estate go to the surviving spouse.
Intestate and Natural and Non-Natural Children
If a deceased spouse had only one child and that child was with someone other than the surviving spouse and the surviving spouse never adopted the child -- perhaps because the deceased spouse was previously married when the child was born -- the surviving spouse is entitled to the first $20,000 of the estate, plus 50 percent of the estate's remaining balance. The remaining 50 percent of the estate goes to the child. If a deceased spouse had more than one child, the surviving spouse receives the first $60,000 of the estate if she is the natural or adoptive parent of one, but not all, of the children. Alternatively, she can only claim the first $20,000 plus one-third of the estate if she is not the natural or adoptive parent of any of the children. The remainder of the estate goes to the decedent's children in equal shares.
If your spouse dies intestate, you can elect to receive all of your late spouse's share in the marital residence. Living expenses of either $25,000 or $40,000 and free use of the family home for one year may also be available to a surviving spouse, in some circumstances. However, to simplify matters and ensure the wishes of both you and your late spouse are carried out upon death, it is best if you both write a will. Without a will, the court is bound by Ohio's laws of intestate succession, which may or may not be in accordance with how either of you want your estate distributed upon your death.