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Ohio Inheritance Laws

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In 2022, of the 100,339 cases filed in Ohio’s probate courts, 65,204 were cases dealing with decedents’ estates. This figure corresponds to 64.98% of the total caseload. Cuyahoga County had the highest number of total incoming cases, with 4,997 cases per judge for its two judges. 

With the sheer volume of cases probate courts have to deal with, it comes as no surprise that a typical probate case in the Buckeye State takes around nine months to settle. Going to probate court comes with various fees, and the costs can start piling up the longer a case stays in court. 

There are ways to avoid a more complex probate process, such as ensuring that the will you are leaving behind meets all the requirements of a valid will in Ohio. Having a good grasp of the probate procedures also helps prevent one from committing mistakes that can further complicate the process. Both of these topics will be discussed in the article, along with the Buckeye State’s rules on intestate succession.

What Happens if Someone Dies With a Will in Ohio?

When someone dies with a will in Ohio, the interested parties need to verify the validity of the will. Finding out whether a will is valid is a crucial step in every probate case, as this determines whether the contents of the will should be carried out. In Ohio, a valid will is one that meets the following criteria:

  • The person making the will (testator) is at least 18 years old. The testator must also be of sound mind, meaning that they are aware of the extent of their properties and understand the implications of making a will.

  • The will must be typewritten, printed, or handwritten. Oral wills will only be recognized under dire circumstances, such as when the testator is on the verge of death and has no sufficient time to prepare a will.

  • The will is signed in front of at least two witnesses, who preferably do not have an interest in the testator’s estate. The witnesses must also be at least 18 years old at the time of witnessing.

Wills do not need to be notarized to be considered valid. Notarization does not affect Ohio wills, whereas in other states, wills are notarized to make a self-proving will. To learn more about wills and other estate planning documents, you can seek advice from an estate planning lawyer.

Contesting a Will

When contesting a will in Ohio, you must keep in mind that you need to have a valid reason for doing so. Some of the legitimate grounds recognized by the state include:

  • The will has been revoked prior to the decedent’s death, or a more recent will that revokes the will in question exists.

  • The signatures on the will have been forged.

  • The testator was under undue influence from another beneficiary, or they were not of sound mind when the will was created.

  • There are procedural errors in the will, such as a lack of witnesses. 

The contesting party is required to gather evidence relevant to their claims on why a will must be declared invalid. They must also challenge the will within three months after an Application to Probate Will has been filed.

Individuals who can legally contest a will are those with a financial interest in the decedent’s estate. These include beneficiaries receiving a smaller share than what they were promised or heirs that were omitted from the will. If you believe you’ve been unfairly excluded from a loved one’s will, hiring a probate attorney or litigator can help fight for your rights.

Probate Process in Ohio

The probate process in Ohio can take several months or years to complete. Understanding what needs to be done in each step minimizes the risk of further problems down the line. 

1. Appointment of Executor or Administrator

For wills with a named executor, the process begins by filing a petition, along with the decedent’s death certificate and the will. The case will be officially opened at the scheduled hearing, where the judge could approve the named executor. If the named executor is being contested by other interested parties, another hearing could be held where the court would decide whether to replace the named executor.

Some of the reasons an executor may be contested are:

  • The executor is currently battling drug addiction or alcoholism.

  • The executor has a history of fraud or theft.

  • The executor is a minor or is not a U.S. citizen.

  • The executor is missing or is currently serving time in prison.

  • The executor has a conflict of interest that would prevent them from carrying out their duties.

Even after being appointed, an executor can also be replaced for the following reasons:

  • Failing to comply with court orders.

  • Processing the estate without obtaining the court’s permission first.

  • Squandering the estate’s funds for personal use.

  • Mismanaging the estate in such a way that it incurs losses, either by making poor investments or by selling assets for less than their supposed value.

  • Deviating from the instructions laid out in the will.

On the other hand, if the decedent did not name an executor in the will or did not leave behind a will, interested parties may ask the court to appoint an administrator. 

2. Notifying Interested Parties

A Notice of Probate of Will must be served to all interested parties within two weeks of the admission of the will to probate. This can be done via mail, personal delivery, or publication in a local newspaper if the recipient’s address is unknown. A certificate of giving notice must be filed no later than two months from the date the will was admitted to probate.

3. Inventorying the Assets

The executor or administrator must prepare a comprehensive inventory of all the assets and conduct an accurate appraisal of their respective values. Keep in mind that not all assets are subject to probate. For reference, see the table below.

Probate Assets

Properties and bank accounts that are solely in the decedent’s name
Automobiles and boats
Real estate
Personal property, such as jewelry and other luxury goods
Stocks and bonds
Investments and business interests

Non-Probate Assets

Properties and bank accounts held in joint tenancy
Life insurance and pension plans
Assets in a revocable living trust
Retirement benefits, including IRAs, TSAs, and 401(k)s
Payable-on-death accounts
Transfer-on-death assets

All beneficiaries of the estate shall receive a copy of the complete inventory. This will allow them to file objections before the executor or administrator proceeds with the next step.

4. Settling Claims Against the Estate

Debts or claims against the estate must be paid in order of statutory priority, listed as follows:

  1. Costs and Expenses of Administration. These include attorney’s fees and the personal representative’s reimbursement.

  2. Funeral and Burial Expenses. For costs billed by the funeral director for authorized funeral expenses, there is a cap of $4,000 per invoice. For burial expenses, the cap is set at $3,000.

  3. Allowance for Support. This allowance is provided to the surviving spouse and any minor children throughout the estate administration process.

  4. Debts Entitled to Preference under U.S. Laws. This refers to taxes the decedent may have missed and any other debts they owe the government.

  5. Expenses of the Last Sickness of the Decedent. Unpaid medical bills for the decedent’s end-of-life care and medication costs fall under this category.

  6. Additional Funeral Expenses. If the $4,000 cap has been exceeded, an additional $2,000 can be paid, provided the order of payment is being observed.

  7. Nursing Home Care. This refers to unpaid expenses incurred by the decedent while staying in a nursing home, residential facility, or hospital long-term care unit.

  8. Liabilities to the State of Ohio. These include claims made under Medicaid estate recovery and taxes on personal properties.

  9. Reimbursement for Manual Labor. This is capped at $300 per person and applies to individuals who have performed manual labor for the decedent within 12 months before the date of death.

  10. Other Debts. These refer to all other types of debts not listed above, as well as any excess funeral costs or reimbursement for manual labor.

An executor is usually given the authority by the will to utilize assets to pay the estate’s debts. On the other hand, appointed representatives must first secure the court’s permission before they can sell assets to settle claims.

5. Closing the Probate.

The executor or representative must conduct a final accounting to be filed with the court. A hearing will be scheduled, and the probate will be closed if there are no objections to the accounting. The remaining assets can then be distributed according to the will. In the absence of a will, the rules laid out by the state’s intestate succession will be observed.

Simplified Probate for Small Estates in Ohio

Ohio has two simplified probate processes: Summary Release from Administration and Release from Administration. The former is available for one of the following:

  • The decedent’s surviving spouse, provided the value of the estate is no greater than $40,000.

  • The individual who shouldered funeral or burial costs, provided that the value of the estate is no greater than $5,000.

The applicant for a Summary Release from Administration must complete all the relevant forms at the local probate court and provide documentation of assets and the decedent’s death certificate.

Release from Administration is applicable if the value of the estate is no greater than $35,000 or no greater than $100,000 and the surviving spouse inherits everything. For cases that meet the first criteria, a notice must first be given to the surviving spouse or heirs before the inheritor can proceed.

Once an application for Summary Release from Administration or Release from Administration is approved, the court will issue an order that will allow the assets to be directly transferred. 

What Happens if Someone Dies Without a Will in Ohio?

When an Ohio resident passes away without leaving behind a will, then their estate will be subject to the state’s statute of descent and distribution. This is only applicable to assets subject to probate; non-probate assets are automatically inherited by the designated beneficiary or co-owner.

Spousal Rights

The decedent’s surviving spouse inherits everything if they had no children or all their children are their common descendants. If the decedent has one child from someone other than the surviving spouse, then the spouse inherits the first $20,000 of the estate, plus half of the remaining balance. The other half is distributed among the children.

If the decedent has more than one child from someone other than the surviving spouse, the following conditions apply:

  • If the spouse is the adoptive or natural parent of at least one child, then they will inherit the first $60,000 of the estate, plus one-third of the remaining balance. Everything else will be distributed among the children.

  • If the spouse is not the adoptive or natural parent of any of the children, then they will inherit the first $20,000 of the estate, plus one-third of the remaining balance. Everything else will be distributed among the children. 

Children’s Rights

Children will inherit all of the decedent’s estate in the absence of a surviving spouse. The table below summarizes the eligibility of children under Ohio’s intestate laws:


Conditions for Eligibility

Biological children

Automatically eligible

Adopted children

Automatically eligible

Foster children and stepchildren

Must have been legally adopted first

Posthumous children

Automatically eligible

Children born during marriage

Automatically eligible

Children born outside of marriage

Paternity needs to be established first

Grandchildren

Only eligible if their parent (who is a child of the decedent) is already deceased

There are four ways paternity can be established in Ohio:

  • Adoption.

  • Marrying the children’s mother after their birth.

  • The father acknowledges the children in accordance with state laws.

  • The children establish the decedent’s paternity after his death.

A family lawyer can help you sort out paternity issues that could impact your or your children’s inheritance rights.

The Rights of Other Surviving Relatives

If the decedent has neither a spouse nor children, their surviving parents will inherit their estate. If there are no surviving parents either, then their estate will be distributed to surviving siblings, regardless of whether they are half or whole siblings. The line of succession then goes on as follows:

  • Grandparents.

  • Aunts and uncles.

  • Cousins.

  • Next of kin.

  • Stepchildren.

Estates With No Heirs

If the court cannot find any viable heirs despite carrying out due diligence, then the decedent’s estate will be escheated to the state of Ohio. This means all assets and properties will be possessed by the state.

Unique Situations in Ohio Inheritance Law

There are circumstances where an heir or beneficiary might sell real estate to a third party who is not aware of the will. If that third party resells or gifts the real estate to another person, the purchaser can keep the property if any of the following conditions are met:

  • If the decedent is a resident of Ohio and the will or a later will has not been submitted to probate within three months following the date of death.

  • If the decedent is not a resident of Ohio and the later will has not been provided for record within three months following the date of death.

Relatives can inherit from the decedent’s estate, regardless of their citizenship status. An exemption applies to relatives who have committed a serious crime against the decedent or are involved in their death.

Does Ohio Impose Inheritance and Estate Taxes?

Ohio is among the 33 states that have neither inheritance nor estate tax. The Buckeye State eliminated its estate tax in 2013, but citizens are still subject to federal estate tax and federal gift tax. As of 2023, the exemption for the former is capped at $12.92 million, while for the latter it was set at $17,000 per person per year. 

Resources Related to Inheritance Law in Ohio

The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland

Founded in 1905, The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland serves Northeast Ohio from its offices in Jefferson, Elyria, and Cleveland. Its lawyers help low-income elderly clients with estate matters and end-of-life planning and guide them through the process of preparing deeds, wills, and healthcare directives. You can reach out to any of their offices using their toll-free number, 888-817-3777. Alternatively, you can also call a specific office for general business using the details provided below:

  • Jefferson: 440-576-8120

  • Elyria: 440-324-1121

  • Cleveland: 216-861-5500

Greater Dayton Volunteer Lawyers Project

The Greater Dayton Volunteer Lawyers Project is a pro-bono program established in 1988 that works side by side with Legal Aid to connect volunteer attorneys with civil case clients. GDVLP can help you with wills, advance directives, and probate matters. You can reach out to GDVLP by sending an email to summer@gdvlp.org or calling 937-461-3857.

Pro Seniors

Pro Seniors helps the elderly residents of Ohio resolve their legal problems. Its volunteer attorneys are well-versed in navigating through issues regarding Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare and can also assist clients with estate planning. Pro Seniors also has many tailored programs for its beneficiaries, such as the Financial Exploitation Prevention Project, Mid-America Pension Rights Project, and Long-Term Care Ombudsman.

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