Daniel A Baron - Baron Law Cleveland

Dying Without A Will – A Mess for Your Family To Clean-up

Baron Law LLC, Cleveland, Ohio, offers information for you to reflect upon while you are setting out looking for an estate planning attorney to help protect as much of your assets as you can. For more comprehensive information contact Baron Law Cleveland to draft your comprehensive estate plan to endeavor to keep more of your assets for your heirs and not hand them over to the government by way of taxes.

No one likes it think about death, and even less people actively prepare for its inevitable occurrence. With everything that makes up life, job, family, recreation, there aren’t enough hours in the day to do what we need to do or want to do, let alone do what we despise. Thinking about death and how life will continue on regardless of whether we are here or not isn’t a fun concept people like to dwell on. Estate planning, or lack thereof, has tremendous consequences for surviving friends and family. A proper estate plan can mean the kids get to go college and the surviving spouse gets to stay in the house and doesn’t have to get a second job. No estate plan means the martial home gets sold to pay off debts and necessities or the surviving kids blow through an investment portfolio shrewdly managed for 25 years in 6 months. A local Cleveland estate planning attorney can create a customized estate plan with supporting documents to ensure that your friends and family are in the best position when your gone and avoid familial infighting and asset waste.  

Apart from the absolute chaos and/or squandering of a lifetime of assets which may result from a lack of estate planning, what are the practical consequences of not having a will?  When a decedent does not have a valid will in existence at the time of death, a decedent is deemed to have died intestate and Ohio intestacy laws govern how estate assets are managed and distributed. Ohio intestacy laws may be avoided altogether with proper estate planning. It is important, however, to be familiar with these laws because they may apply for a variety of reasons in a variety of situations. Sometimes intestacy laws will control even if a valid will is subject to probate administration. Conversely, sometimes Ohio intestacy laws may not apply even if a decedent died intestate. As such, since the controlling law for dying without a will can be flexible, an estate planning and/or probate lawyer is highly recommended.  

One example where intestacy laws are inapplicable even if decedent died without a valid will is where the estate assets in question would not have been part of the decedent’s probate estate if the decedent had a will. An example of this situation is property that is owned jointly with right of survivorship. This type of ownership will pass to the surviving joint owner by operation of law irrespective to the terms of the decedent’s will or intestacy statutes. The same is true for bank accounts or other assets with valid payable on death (POD) or transfer on death (TOD) designations. Property that the decedent transferred to a trust during life will not typically become part of the decedent’s probate or intestate estate.   

The most common situation where intestate law applies is when a will is declared invalid by a probate court because it was not executed in accordance with the requirements under Ohio law. The same holds true if a will is set aside for other reasons, such as fraud in the execution. Further, even if a decedent’s will is found valid and is not set aside, there can be many circumstances where intestacy laws still apply. One such circumstance is that a will fails to dispose of all of the decedent’s property because it does not have a residuary clause. This outsight is becoming more common with the use of services like Rocket Lawyer and LegalZoom. Ensuring that estate planning documents are properly executed, drafted, and filed is a major reason why estate planning attorneys are employed and retained. Doing it yourself may be cheaper in the short-term, but when it counts the most, self-drafted estate document all too often fail to make the grade.  

So, apart from not knowing whether intestacy laws will apply or not, what’s the big deal dying intestate?  

In a nutshell, dying intestate can have serious consequences for surviving friends and family and, most importantly, can affect the amount of  estate money and assets available, who those assets go to, and when those assets are distributed. First off, dying intestate means a decedent has very little, if any, direct control over who gets what and when. That is decided per the laws of intestacy. So, if you have two children, one is rich and doesn’t need any more money and the other has addiction issues and can’t be trusted, but you have a niece who just got accepted to Harvard but can’t afford it, too bad, you can’t help out your niece if you die intestate. Further, dying intestate means the court has to administrate the estate, which takse a lot longer than direct bequests in a will. Instead of potentially almost instantaneous transfer of money and assets, you likely have to wait at least six months to distribute estate assets. During this time, surviving friends and family are angry they haven’t gotten their share, the legal fees are running for the attorney, the fees are running for the estate administrator, and you’re paying taxes and upkeep on any estate assets that require such.  

Furthermore, subjecting an estate to intestate administration means creditors and litigants have almost free reign to bring claims against intestate assets. If an estate is properly planned and organized, there are ways to protect most if not all of an estate’s assets from these outside threats. As previously mentioned before, an intestate estate requires an administrator. This person is appointed by the probate court, it may be a family member, it may not be. Hopefully, they will be competent, responsible, and honest, but if an estate fiduciary isn’t proactively appointed, who know who’ll be appointed. Ohio law subjects estate fiduciaries to steep penalties for incompetence and misconduct, there is a reason for this. History is rife with examples of fiduciaries wasting or absconding with estate assets. After you’ve spent a lifetime working, saving, and building, why put it all in the hands of a strange or irresponsible or inexperienced family member. This is why Ohio estate attorneys exist, to help you protect a lifetime of labor and give to the people you love.  

Choosing to die intestate certainly is one way to do it but it is hardly the best way. Spending a little time to sit down with a probate attorney or estate planner will ensure that you’re proactively thinking about the future and putting your friends and family in the best possible situations and avoiding needless stress, confusion, and time waste. A last will and testament is the “core” of any estate plan. If you don’t have anything else, you must have a will. Simply put, its foolish not to even take this basic step.  

You don’t have to be rich to protect what you’ve spent a lifetime trying to build. To find out whether a trust is right for your family, take the one-minute questionnaire at www.DoIneedaTrust.com. There are a number of different trusts available and the choices are infinite. With every scenario, careful consideration of every trust planning strategy should be considered for the maximum asset protection and tax savings. For more information, you can contact Mike Benjamin of Baron Law LLC at 216-573-3723. Baron Law LLC is a Cleveland, Ohio area law firm focusing on estate planning and elder law. Mike can also be reached at mike@baronlawcleveland.com 

 Helping You And Your Loved Ones Plan For The Future

About the author: Mike E. Benjamin, Esq.  

Mike is a contracted attorney at Baron Law LLC who specializes in civil litigation, estate planning, and probate law. He is a member of the Westshore Bar Association, the Ohio State Bar Association, the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association, and the Federal Bar Association for the Northern District of Ohio. He can be reached at mike@baronlawcleveland.com.   


The information contained herein is general in nature, is provided for informational and educational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal or tax advice. The author nor Baron Law LLC cannot and does not guarantee that such information is accurate, complete, or timely. Laws of a particular state or laws that may be applicable in a given situation may impact the applicability, accuracy, or completeness of the preceding information. Further, federal and state laws and regulations are complex and subject to change. Changes in such laws often have material impact on estate planning and tax forecasts. As such, the author and Baron Law LLC make no warranties regarding the herein information or any results arising from its use. Furthermore, the author and Baron Law LLC disclaim any liability arising out of your use of, or any financial position taken in reliance on, such information. As always consult an attorney regarding your specific legal or tax situation.