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Understanding the probate process

The hallmark of the probate process is waiting. For some fortunate families, the waiting may only seem long, but the process is over in a matter of months. Not every family is so lucky.

It is true that fewer than half of residents in Ohio and across the country make an estate plan that includes provisions for streamlining or even bypassing probate. You may be among those who face an uncertain probate. It may help you to understand the process and what is happening while you wait.

Typical steps in the process

Probate is necessary to ensure that your loved one's estate is closed legally and completely. To do this, the estate goes through the following steps:

  • A member of your family notifies the court that your loved one has died and petitions for the opening of probate for the estate.
  • If there is a will, the court determines if it is valid in accordance with Ohio law. This usually involves a hearing to which all concerned parties are invited.
  • If the will does not name an executor, the judge will appoint someone who is qualified to oversee the rest of the process.
  • The executor will then have the responsibility of gathering, valuing and protecting the assets of the estate for the remainder of probate.
  • The executor's next task is to make sure all the heirs of the estate receive adequate notification. This includes making a good faith effort to locate any heirs that may have lost touch with the deceased.
  • The executor will have to notify each of your loved one's creditors. The next long months are for those creditors to make their claims against the estate and for the executor to verify that the claims are truthful.
  • Paying any outstanding debts may involve petitioning the court to sell some assets. It may also involve filing the deceased's last income tax and preparing the estate tax forms.

If there are no complications, probate should be over in nine months to a year. However, you and your fellow heirs may find probate especially frustrating if you experience delays.

What happens next?

If your loved one's estate qualifies for federal estate taxes, probate may extend an additional six months or even longer. It is essential that the executor follow the timeline and complete the appropriate forms. An experienced attorney can assist with this.

There is no estimating how long you may wait in the event that someone contests the will or raises other legal disputes. You may find that an attorney can be helpful in protecting your rights through this or any other stage of probate.

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