Sometimes, married people put off preparing their wills because they often figure (frequently erroneously) that “my spouse will get everything I have.”
This unfortunate assumption has many flaws. First, a couple could easily pass away together. Married couples sometimes ride in the same vehicle together. A single automobile accident could lead to both of their deaths.
Second, today’s world includes a host of blended families that are each incredibly unique. Sometimes, stepchildren are adopted. Sometimes, they are not. Sometimes, one or more stepchildren are adopted while others are not, due to the others being older or for other reasons. Sometimes, only one spouse has kids from a previous relationship. Sometimes, one spouse has or both spouses have adopted kids from previous relationships. Sometimes, a spouse passes away after a divorce or dissolution filing has been started but not finished. Sometimes, a couple will separate with one of them dying before the couple reunites or formally ends their marriage.
Of course, Ohio law provides a set of priorities of distribution of assets for married people who die without wills. That distribution plan is not as detailed as some people would like. For other people, the distribution plan is too complex.
Additionally, the law sometimes distinguishes between adopted and biological children, and the law sometimes does not treat adopted and biological children differently.
The bottom line is that with the uniqueness of relationships, marriages and values in our society, it makes sense for each married person to confirm his or her expectations in a will.
Nevertheless, intentionally or unintentionally, some married people do not complete their wills before the good Lord ends their earthly lives.
If someone dies without a will while married, the priorities of distribution are generally as follows:
• If a deceased person has no children, everything goes to the spouse,
• If all of a deceased person’s children are also the spouse’s children, everything goes to the spouse,
• If a deceased person has one child that is not the spouse’s child, the spouse gets an initial $20,000 and half of the rest of the deceased person’s assets, with the other half of the rest of the deceased person’s assets going to that child or the child’s kids.
• If a deceased person has more than one child that is not the spouse’s child and the spouse is the parent of at least one child of the deceased person, the spouse gets an initial $60,000 and one-third of the rest of the deceased person’s assets, with the remaining two-thirds of the rest of the deceased person’s assets going to the children that are not the spouse’s children,
• If a deceased person has more than one child that is not the spouse’s child and the spouse is not the parent of any of the deceased person’s kids, then the surviving spouse gets an initial $20,000 and one-third of the rest of the deceased person’s assets, with the remaining two-thirds of the rest of the deceased person’s assets going to the deceased person’s children.
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.