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Ohio Probate Court Issues—and What You Can Do About Them

The death of a loved one is a difficult and emotional time. Beyond the grief, there’s the added task of navigating the legal system to settle the deceased’s estate. The words “probate court” rarely conjure friendly thoughts and only seem to add to the challenges of moving on from your loss. This appears to be especially true in Ohio, where probate matters can extend out for months, if not years.

The purpose of the probate court is to distribute a person’s assets after their passing, which seems straightforward enough. Unfortunately, complications can and do lead to significant delays. Here’s a look at six common issues people face in Ohio probate court and how you can take steps now to mitigate those challenges.

Issue #1. Will Contests

One of the most contentious issues in probate arises when the validity of a will is challenged. Will contests can take many forms:

  • Undue influence: Heirs may claim that the deceased was coerced or manipulated into writing the will as it currently exists.
  • Lack of capacity: If the person who wrote the will (known in probate court as the testator) was not of sound mind when the will was written, its validity can be challenged.
  • Improper execution: Ohio has strict signature and witness requirements for a will to be valid. Errors in the execution of the will may lead to invalidation.

Issue #2. Missing or Unclear Wills

Sometimes, the original will of the deceased cannot be located. It might have been lost or destroyed, or multiple versions of the will may exist. If there’s no will, the estate will be distributed according to Ohio’s intestate succession laws, which may not reflect the deceased’s wishes.

Even when a will is found, the language might need to be clarified. This can lead to disputes among beneficiaries who over-interpret the deceased’s intent.

Issue #3. Disputes Among Heirs

Family dynamics can be complicated, and these tensions often surface during probate. Heirs might disagree on the following:

  • Distribution of assets: Conflicts frequently arise over who is entitled to what, especially regarding valuable items or sentimental property.
  • Decisions of the executor: The executor (or administrator, if there is no will) manages the estate. Disputes can occur over the executor’s decisions regarding the sale of assets, payment of debts, or other aspects of estate administration.

Besides stress and delays, these disputes lead to damaged relationships and often expensive legal battles.

Issue #4. Creditor Claims

Before beneficiaries receive their inheritances, the decedent’s outstanding debts must be settled. Creditors have a specific period to file claims against the estate during the probate process. Dealing with creditor claims is a long process, including these steps:

  • Reviewing validity: The executor has to verify that creditor claims are legitimate.
  • Negotiations: Executors may negotiate with creditors to reduce or settle debts.
  • Insufficient funds: If the estate doesn’t have enough assets to cover its debts, beneficiaries might not receive their full inheritance.

Issue #5. Complex Assets

Administering estates that include complex assets, such as businesses, investment properties, or out-of-state real estate, can be incredibly challenging. Some of the issues may include:

  • Valuation: Appraising the value of complex assets might require expert help, which would add expense and time to the probate process.
  • Management: Businesses or investment properties require ongoing management during probate. The executor may not have the expertise or time to do this effectively.
  • Out-of-state property: Property owned in other states must go through probate in those jurisdictions, adding complexity and time to the overall process.

Issue #6. Tax Problems

The executor must ensure that all relevant estate and income taxes are correctly calculated and paid. Tax issues can be a significant source of stress, especially when dealing with large or complex estates. Errors can cause costly delays and penalties.

What Can You Do About Ohio Probate Issues?

While challenges in Ohio probate occur every day, there are steps to make the process smoother. 

However, most mitigations require planning in advance. Once issues arise in probate court, it’s often too late. At that point, your only option may be mediation, which offers a less adversarial and typically more cost-effective means of reaching a compromise than battling out in court.

So here are some things you can do today to ease the burden of probate down the road:

  • Estate planning: Thorough estate planning with an experienced attorney prevents many probate issues. Have a well-drafted will, updated regularly, that clearly expresses your wishes.
  • Early communication: The executor should communicate openly with beneficiaries throughout the process, which helps to alleviate misunderstandings and preempt disputes.
  • Seek professional guidance: Consulting an experienced probate attorney can help you navigate the complexities of the process, ensure compliance with Ohio law, and provide advice on how to resolve disputes effectively.

Start Estate Planning Now to Avoid Probate Issues

Perhaps the only way to avoid the issues of Ohio probate court is professional estate planning. The estate planning attorneys at Houck Meninger Law, LLC are here to help you and your family with wills and other estate issues, avoiding the lengthy and costly hassle of probate. To get started, contact us today.

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