In Ohio, as in other states, certain assets are classified as probate or non-probate property. Non-probate assets are said to pass outside of probate; this means they automatically pass to a joint owner or beneficiary without going through probate administration. Probate assets are subject to probate administration, regardless of whether the deceased, known as the decedent, left a will, known as dying "testate," or didn't leave a will, known as dying "intestate."
Probate With or Without a Will
If a decedent died with a will, the individuals named in the will are referred to as beneficiaries. If the decedent didn't have a valid will at the time of death, his property passes to his heirs at law, according to Ohio's laws of intestate succession. In either situation, a decedent's estate usually must go through probate. In Ohio, however, there are a few exceptions. For example, if a decedent left everything to his surviving spouse in his will and his estate is less than $100,000, probate isn't necessary. Moreover, if a decedent's estate assets are $35,000 or less, his estate is not subject to probate.
Ohio's probate courts supervise the administration of a decedent's probate estate, which includes all probate assets. A probate asset is any type of property that the decedent owned in his name only. Probate property, such as real estate owned solely by the decedent, is transferred to will beneficiaries or heirs during the probate process. The estate administrator must ask an Ohio probate court to issue a certificate of transfer for each parcel of property; certificates of transfer are then filed with the county recorder where the property is located.
Ohio is similar to other states in that is recognizes joint tenancies as non-probate property. A joint tenancy is a form of shared real estate ownership whereby two or more people have interests in the same property. Joint tenancies come with a right of survivorship; this means that when one joint owner dies, his interest automatically passes to the surviving owner. Because the interest passes by operation of law, property owned as a joint tenancy is not subject to probate. Joint tenancy property, however, must be recorded by filing an affidavit -- along with the decedent's death certificate -- with the Ohio county recorder where the property is located.
Insurance and Payable-On-Death Accounts
Life insurance policies are contractual in nature and the proceeds are considered non-probate property. If a decedent had a life insurance policy, whoever he designated as beneficiary receives the proceeds automatically -- probate is not necessary. Furthermore, payable-on-death accounts are considered non-probate property. Oftentimes, individuals hold payable-on-death accounts for the purpose of avoiding probate; the assets in these accounts pass directly to the person the decedent named as beneficiary.
Retirement Accounts and Trusts
The funds in retirement accounts are also non-probate assets. For example, 401(k) accounts, Individual Retirement Accounts, or IRAs, and pensions are all types of retirement accounts that are not subject to probate administration. This is because, like life insurance polices and payable-on-death accounts, the proceeds pass directly to the designated beneficiaries. Further, assets held in trusts are also non-probate assets.