What has to be done when a person dies? That will depend on how the person's assets were titled. The survivors, or the person who wants to take responsibility, may have little or few obligations in Probate Court; on the other hand, he/she may have to negotiate several complex procedures within an estate. A good place to start is with documents such as deeds, car titles, and statements from bank and investment accounts. It is also helpful to notify life insurance companies and retirement plan administrators, who will then contact beneficiaries or ask for any needed court documents.
What is Probate? Probate Court is the court with jurisdiction to order the distribution of a decedent's assets when the title to those assets does not automatically transfer the assets at the owner's death. Some methods of titling assets, such as joint survivorship, are designed to transfer title to the co-owner immediately at death; hence the Probate Court does not need to authorize the transfer of the asset. Probate Court also has jurisdiction over other cases, such as guardianships, adoptions, and name changes, which our firm handles.
What if the deceased (also known as a decedent) did not have a Will? When no Will can be located, Ohio law determines the heirs, as well as the preference for who can be the fiduciary, i.e., the person who will administer the estate.
There may be disputes between the fiduciary and the beneficiaries/heirs. What can I do? The law provides certain powers for the fiduciary, who after all must complete the administration of the estate. The Will itself often enables the fiduciary to make many decisions. However, the heirs or beneficiaries have rights and can expect to be treated fairly. When there is a Will, the job of the executor is to execute the terms of the Will.
Who should take charge? Is there a risk? If the Will names an executor who is still available to serve, the executor has the first priority to handle the estate. If there is no Will or no available executor, the closest relatives then have priority. If you happen to be the person who wants to take responsibility, you may still become the fiduciary. Generally the decedent's debts do not attach to the fiduciary. In fact, Ohio has procedures to manage an insolvent estates if the assets cannot pay all of the debts of the deceased.