Probate And After Death Administration

What is Probate?
Probate is the court-supervised distribution of your assets at death. The purpose of probate is to make sure that your debts are paid, that all legal heirs have the opportunity to voice objections, to appoint a legal representative for your estate and to determine who is entitled to inherit assets from your estate.
What happens in probate?
In Ohio, the probate process has three main steps:

1. Appoint an executor and admit the will to probate. All of the heirs have the right to attend a hearing to determine if the will is valid and who should become the executor.

2. Prepare an inventory of assets All potential heirs are entitled to a hearing to determine if the inventory is accurate

3. File an accounting to show the receipts and disbursements of estate assets. All of the heirs are entitled to a copy of this accounting and can attend a hearing if there are questions.

What goes through Probate?
After your death, any asset that does not have a named beneficiaries or is not a trust asset must pass through Probate Court. Probate is the default process for administering an estate unless you take steps during your lifetime to avoid it.
How can I avoid probate?
There are a variety of ways to avoid probate by using a trust, by naming beneficiaries directly on your financial accounts, or using Transfer on Death designations for real estate and car titles. Each strategy has benefits and drawbacks. When making accounts payable on death it is important to understand the rules and limitation that your bank or financial institution may place on your beneficiary designations.
What's so bad about Probate?
For most people, Probate is unnecessary. It causes unnecessary delays and expense that are not required if you plan ahead. The actual process varies from state to state and some are more complex that others. In Ohio, the hassle-factor depends on the size of the estate, whether or not an original will is available, whether the spouse elects against the will and whether any of the potential heirs will challenge the will. If you own real estate in more than one state, you’ll probably have to initiate probate in each state.
I am the successor trustee of a trust, is there anything I need to do?
A trust is a very common strategy to avoid the cost, delays and hassles of probate but there can still be important steps that need to be taken after the creators of the trust pass away. The successor trustee has obligations under state law to protect the interest of the beneficiaries. There can be important tax implications to be considered and elections that must be made within a certain period of time. It is important for the trustee to understand the duties and responsibilities incumbent upon them and consult an attorney to protect themselves and the trust from liability.
I have a will, so what's the problem?
Many people assume that the only planning document they need to keep their assets out of Probate Court is a last will and testament. Actually, the opposite is true: Relying on a will to distribute your estate guarantees that your estate will go to probate court. However, there are ways to avoid the probate process entirely.
I don't have a will, so what?
If you don't have a Will or Trust and you have assets with no beneficiary, those assets must go through the Probate Court before they are distributed to your heirs. The Court will use state law, known as the laws of decent and distribution, to determine the rightful heirs of your estate. This is a complicated process that may disinherit those you love. Before you decide to do nothing, be sure you understand the implications of not planning!
Don’t forget that probate is also a matter of public record. Anyone can go to court and view a decedent’s probate file containing detailed financial records and estate planning documents.
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