Unfortunately, some people pass away before having completed their respective last wills and testaments.
Generally, “will” and “last will and testament” mean the same thing. Wills must be in writing. Wills must be signed at the end of the will by the person who is “making” the will. At least two people must physically “witness” the will being signed. If someone is unable to sign his or her will, that person may instruct (not ask or simply consent) to someone else signing the will for that person, in the will maker’s presence.
Wills often include provisions asking that the probate court waive bond. A bond is insurance that the person who can transfer assets will not steal those assets. If someone dies without having ever effectuated a will, the probate court will likely ask the person who wants to transfer assets for the deceased person to submit a bond in an amount of twice the estimated net worth of the deceased person. The premium (cost) of these bonds can be thousands of dollars.
The person who transfers assets for the deceased person is called an executor if there is a will. Without a will, that person is called an administrator.
Ohio law provides distribution rules for people who die without wills. Those rules are collectively called the “statute of descent and distribution.” Administrators must follow both the statute of descent and distribution and the orders of the local probate court. The rules are entirely different depending upon the deceased person’s marital status.
The distribution process is generally intended to distribute assets to family members, in a general correlation with how closely each family member is related to the deceased person, with certain limitations.
If someone dies unmarried, regardless of whether the person was in a serious relationship (including being engaged to be married) at the time of death, any significant others will inherit nothing if there is not a will.
If someone dies without a spouse at the time of death, the priorities of distribution are generally as follows, in the following sequence:
• Everything goes to the deceased person’s children,
• If the deceased person has no children, then the grandchildren or great-grandchildren of the deceased person inherit everything,
• If the deceased person dies without kids, grandkids or great-grandkids, then everything is distributed to the deceased person’s parents,
• If neither parent survives the deceased person, then all assets are distributed equally to the deceased person’s full- and half-siblings,
• If there are no siblings alive at the time of death of the person, the deceased person’s nieces and nephews (or their kids, as to nieces and nephews who have already died) inherit everything owned by the deceased person,
• If none of the above people survive the deceased person, everything is distributed to the grandparents of the deceased person or their descendants (the deceased person’s cousins).
• If none of the above people survive, all of the person’s assets are inherited by the deceased person’s stepchildren.
• If none of the above people survive, everything goes to the State of Ohio.
Lee R. Schroeder is an Ohio licensed attorney at Schroeder Law LLC in Putnam County. He limits his practice to business, real estate, estate planning and agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. He can be reached at Lee@LeeSchroeder.com or at 419-523-5523. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.