What Happens If You Die Without a Will in Ohio?

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Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, is one of the top amusement parks in the United States. Visitors there can ride on 17 different roller coasters, including "Magnum XL-200", "Millennium Force," and "Steel Vengeance," and if roller coasters aren't for you, there are many other fun activities.

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Life is like a roller coaster. It has its ups and downs, its thrills, and its terrors, but eventually, it must come to an end. This is why it's essential to write a will. A will is a legal document that specifies how you want your assets (your money, property, and stuff) to be divided among your loved ones after you die. But what happens if you fail to write a will and die without one in Ohio?

Ohio's Intestacy Laws Explained

When a person dies, they leave behind all of their stuff: maybe a car, a house, or some valuables and money. An issue then arises about who now owns the deceased person's assets.

The surviving family can easily resolve this issue if the deceased has written a valid will about should receive all their assets after death. However, if there is no will to lay out these instructions, there can be uncertainty over who should own the deceased's assets.  

To avoid this, every state has laws that define "default" rules for who should be the new owners of assets on death. These laws are called "intestacy laws."

In Ohio, the intestacy laws will transfer your assets to the following beneficiaries and new owners if you die without a will:

  • If you have a surviving spouse but no surviving descendants, everything goes to your surviving spouse.
  • If you have a surviving spouse, and surviving children, all of whom are children you had with your spouse, everything goes to your surviving spouse.
  • If you have a surviving spouse, one surviving child (or surviving descendants of that predeceased child), and your surviving spouse is not the parent of that child, then your surviving spouse gets the $20,000, plus one-half of the rest of the assets. The remaining assets go to your surviving child or to the descendants of that child.
  • If you have a surviving spouse, more than one surviving child (or surviving descendants from a predeceased child), and your surviving spouse is the parent of one, but not all, of your children, then your spouse gets the $60,000, plus one-third of the rest of the assets. Your children and/or grandchildren split the remaining assets.
  • If you have a surviving spouse, more than one surviving child and your surviving spouse is not the parent of any of your children, your spouse gets $20,000, plus one-third of the assets. Your children and/or grandchildren split your remaining assets.
  • If you have no surviving spouse, but you do have surviving children or grandchildren (descendants), everything goes to your surviving descendants.
  • If you have no surviving spouse or descendants, but you do have surviving parents, everything goes to your surviving parents.
  • If you have no surviving spouse, descendants, or parents, but you have surviving brothers and sisters or nieces and nephews, everything goes to your siblings or their children.
  • Suppose you have no surviving spouse, descendants, parents, siblings, or nieces or nephews, but you do have surviving grandparents. In that case, half of your assets go to your surviving paternal grandparents and the other half to your maternal grandparents.
  • If you have no surviving spouse, descendants, parents, brothers or sisters, nieces, nephews, or grandparents, but you have surviving aunts or uncles, the state will split your assets among them.
  • If you have absolutely none of the above, everything goes to your surviving next of kin.

It's good to know the term "per stirpes" because this is how the state divides your assets if you have, for example, several children. "Per stirpes" means assets will be split (a) equally among children of the same person and (b) by representation to the descendants of a deceased child. What does "by representation" mean? Here's an example:

Molly dies. She is predeceased by her son Peter and survived by her two children, Connor and Sara, and her grandchildren, Ellie and Rhonda. Ellie and Rhonda are the surviving children of Peter. If Molly doesn't write a will, Connor and Sara will both receive one-third of her assets, and Ellie and Rhonda will both receive one-sixth. Ellie and Rhonda are "represented" by their deceased father, Peter.            

How Does Probate Work in Ohio If There Is No Will?

The probate laws in Ohio are the rules by which one actually transfers assets to the beneficiaries.

Probate is a court-supervised proceeding. It is held in the probate court of the county where the deceased lived.

The first step in the probate process is for the probate judge to appoint a person, the administrator, to manage the estate. Under Ohio law, the following order determines who shall be the administrator:

  1. The surviving spouse, if they are a resident of Ohio
  2. One of the deceased's next of kin if they are a resident of Ohio

The administrator has various duties and responsibilities, including:

  • Completing an inventory of the decedent's assets
  • Collecting income from the decedent's assets and depositing the income in an estate bank account
  • Settling the deceased's debts
  • Filing any necessary tax returns
  • Distributing the deceased's remaining assets to the beneficiaries, as determined by the intestacy laws, if there is no will

Who Typically Inherits Assets in Ohio If There Is No Will?

If there is no will in Ohio, the close family members described above - surviving spouse, children, grandchildren, parents, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and next of kin - typically inherit assets.

Ohio's intestacy laws designate these "default" beneficiaries based on two assumptions: First, that intestacy laws should designate the beneficiaries whom most people want to receive their assets on death. Second, that most people want their close family members to receive their assets upon death.

However, some Ohioans do not want these default people to inherit their assets. For example:

  • Example 1 - Bill dies, survived by his brother, David. Bill wants to transfer his assets to a charity but does not execute a valid will. Under Ohio's intestacy laws, all of Bill's assets transfer to David.
  • Example 2 - Oscar dies, survived by his wife, Elizabeth, and one child, Hayley (also a descendant of Elizabeth). Oscar wants to split his assets evenly between Elizabeth and Hayley but does not execute a valid will. Under Ohio's intestacy laws, Oscar's assets will all go to Elizabeth.
  • Example 3 - Mia dies, survived by her three children, Wanda, Margaret, and Jill. Mia wants to transfer her assets to her three children in three separate trusts, each with its own specific and different terms. Mia wants her sister, Amy, to be the trustee of the three trusts. Mia does not execute a valid will. Under Ohio's intestacy laws, Mia's assets would transfer "outright" (not in trust) in equal shares to Wanda, Margaret, and Jill.

Had Bill, Oscar, and Mia executed a valid will, their assets would have gone to the people they desired. Since they didn't, Ohio's intestacy laws stepped in to apply its default procedures.

Frequently Asked Questions: Dying Without a Will in Ohio

These are some of the frequently asked questions about what happens if you die without a will in Ohio:

What happens when your parent dies without a Will?

If your parent has a surviving spouse, and all of your parent's surviving children are also children of that surviving spouse, you are not a beneficiary.

If your parent has a surviving spouse, you are your parent's only child, and the surviving spouse is not your parent, the surviving spouse gets the first $20,000, plus one-half of the rest of your parent's assets, and you will receive the remaining assets.

If your parent leaves a surviving spouse, more than one surviving child or grandchildren by representation, and the surviving spouse is the parent of one, but not all, these children, then the surviving spouse gets the first $60,000, plus one-third of the remaining assets. You and the other surviving children, per stirpes, are beneficiaries of your parent's remaining assets.

Suppose your parent has a surviving spouse, more than one surviving child or other surviving descendants by representation, and the surviving spouse is not the parent of any of your parent's children. In that case, the surviving spouse gets the first $20,000 and one-third of your parent's assets. You and the surviving children, or grandchildren by representation, receive the rest of your parent's remaining assets per stirpes.

If your parent has no surviving spouse, you and any other surviving descendants, per stirpes, are beneficiaries of your parent's assets.

What are a surviving spouse's rights if there's no will?

If there are no surviving descendants, or if all of the surviving descendants are descendants of the surviving spouse, the surviving spouse is the sole beneficiary.

Suppose the deceased has one surviving child, or surviving descendants of one child, and the surviving spouse is not a child's parent. In that case, the surviving spouse gets the first $20,000, plus one-half of the remaining assets.

If the decedent has more than one surviving child or surviving descendants of more than one child, and the surviving spouse is the parent of one, but not all, of the children, the surviving spouse is the beneficiary of $60,000, plus 1/3 of the decedent's assets.

Suppose the decedent has more than one surviving child or surviving descendants by representation, and the surviving spouse is not the parent of any of these children. In that case, the surviving spouse gets the first $20,000, plus one-third of the remaining assets.

The surviving spouse has priority to be appointed administrator of the decedent's estate.

Are there any probate exemptions if you die without a will in Ohio?

The following are the common probate exemptions if you die without a will in Ohio:

  • If the estate is (i) worth no more than $45,000, and the surviving spouse is the sole beneficiary, or (ii) worth less than $5,000 or the total funeral expenses.
  • If the property has a named beneficiary, such as a life insurance policy.
  • If the property is owned as joint tenants with rights of survivorship.
  • If the property is held in trust.

Who is considered next of kin in Ohio?

The phrase "next of kin" is cited above under both Ohio's intestacy laws and Ohio's law concerning the appointment of an administrator. Generally, your closest living relative (by blood) is your next of kin in Ohio. The next of kin is determined by degrees of relationship computed by civil law rules.

Execute a Valid Will in Ohio to Transfer Your Assets As You Desire

While estate planning in Ohio may not be as much fun as an amusement park, it is essential to do so you don't leave your loved ones stressed out. It is not difficult to have a valid will in Ohio. You need to sign a written document in front of two independent witnesses.

Your death can be a difficult time for your family. Do not create a roller coaster's "topsy-turvy" turbulence by allowing intestacy to select "default" beneficiaries. Go to Cedar Point for some "topsy-turvy" excitement. Execute a valid will in Ohio to transfer your assets as you want, not as Ohio's intestacy laws dictate.  

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