If your loved one has passed away in Ohio with assets, one of your first tasks will be to file an application to open the estate in probate court. This process can seem daunting at first, but with a little guidance, it can be straightforward and relatively painless. In this article, we will outline the steps you need to take to file an application to open an estate in an Ohio probate court.
First, you’ll need to gather the following:
- The original death certificate
- The original last will and testament, if any
- A rough list of the decedent’s assets with estimates of their values
Next, identify the county of residence on the death certificate. This will be the county where the probate estate must be opened. If the county is incorrect, you can call the funeral home or the board of vital statistics to request a correction.
Then you’ll need to complete probate forms to open the estate, which have standardized numbers throughout Ohio. Some forms are county-specific, and can usually be found on the website for the probate court of the county of the decedent’s residence.
Here is a list of a few forms that are usually required to open an estate:
- Form 4.0 – Application to Administer an Estate
- Form 1.0 – Next of Kin
- Form 2.0 – Application to Probate Will (if applicable)
This form is the main document that the probate uses to consider your application, and is needed in all cases when a full estate is opened. The form requests information on the decedent, the estimated value of the decedent’s assets, and whether the decedent died with a will. It is best practice to have all the persons listed on the Form 1.0 (explained below) to sign the waiver section of this form to avoid delays in opening the estate.
The decedent’s assets do not include assets that transferred through other means, like Transfer-on-Death or Joint and Survivorship. Joint bank accounts are not probate assets either and are not included in the assets.
If the decedent died without a will (intestate) or you are not appointed as executor under the will, or the will does not waive the requirement of bond, then you will need to provide the court with a surety bond in the amount of double the value of the personal property (not the real estate) of the estate.
If you need to provide the court with a bond, you can obtain it online through filling an application and submitting to a credit check. The probate court bonding company will then mail you a signed and stamped bond which you will sign and submit to the court with your application. Some courts require the original bond to be filed with the application, but others may allow you to submit the bond later, after a court order.
This form lists all the next-of-kin of the decedent, and is also required in all estates. This is the document that determines who needs to be notified of the estate, and whose consent is needed for certain estate actions like selling a house or car.
Next-of-kin in the context of this form only means two things: the surviving spouse (if applicable) and only the people at the closest level of consanguinity who are still alive. Roughly speaking, the order of priority goes like this:
- Children (if any children are deceased, their grandchildren would be listed instead of the deceased child)
- If the decedent had no children, or if all children died without children of their own, then any living parents
- If no parents are alive, then brothers and sisters
- If no brothers and sisters, then cousins (the children of the brothers and sisters)
The list is more complicated than that, but in most cases we don’t need to go further than that to find living relatives.
As you go down the list, you can stop when you’ve found a class of living people. For example, if the decedent had living children, you shouldn’t list the parents or brothers on the Form 1.0.
It is also important to make best efforts to list the addresses of these heirs, since the court will use this address to check if you’ve notified them of the estate. If you can’t find their address, you can ask the court to serve them by publication.
This form is used to submit a decedent’s last will & testament to the probate court. It is fairly straightforward, but it adds another group of people who will need to be notified – the beneficiaries of the will. If there is a will, all the people on the Form 1.0 (front and back) will have to be notified of the will by certified mail, or they can waive service by signing the Form 2.0. Once they are notified, they have three months to contest the will, but if they aren’t notified in accordance with the law, their contest people doesn’t expire.
After the application is accepted
Once the application is accepted, the court will either issue Letters of Authority to you, or they will order a hearing. If you are appointed by the will as executor, or if you have submitted waivers for all persons on the Form 1.0, then usually there will be no hearing on the application. However, if you are unable to obtain all the waivers, then the court will require you to send notice of the hearing to the heirs by certified mail. At this hearing, everyone will be given the opportunity to object to the application or submit an application of their own.
Once you’ve received the letters of authority, your job is not done — you must gather the assets, close the decedent’s bank accounts, and open an estate account to deposit the funds. Once you’ve determined the extent of the decedent’s estate, you are expected to file an Inventory and Appraisal within 3 months of appointment. The Inventory lists the valuations of all the assets, which typically includes bank account values at closing, blue book values of cars, and the auditor’s tax value of real estate. Once the inventory is filed, the court will again set a hearing to review the inventory and set a deadline for objections, and you will again be expected to notify everyone of the filing of the inventory (usually by certified mail). Usually, if the clerk accepts the inventory, and no one objects, the court will approve the inventory on the hearing date.
After the inventory, you may distribute the assets in accordance with the will or the law of intestate succession. Caution: if you distribute assets before the inventory is approved, you may be held personally liable for any improper distributions! No deviations are allowed from the will or the law, but of course if you are receiving an inheritance and you would like to cut somebody in, you’re free to give them assets or funds after they have been transferred into your personal name.
After the distributions are complete, the court will expect you to file a Final Account, no more than six months from appointment. If you haven’t distributed all the assets yet, you can ask for an extension which will be granted with good reason. The Final Account will list all the transactions you made to distribute the funds, and include copies of all your receipts. Like the process with the Inventory, the court will set a hearing date and require you to serve all interested parties. Once the Final Account is approved, you will be discharged of your duties and the estate will be closed.
For simple and straightforward estates, this process can be relatively straightforward. However, unique assets or situations can cause complications where you might need help. If you do, we’re here for you — book a 15-minute phone call with us and we’ll talk about it.
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