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Probate Attorney

Top Reasons Why You Should Avoid Probate

Whether it was a gathering for a joyous wedding or the passing of a loved one, we’ve all heard about Probate Court at some point or another. We are going to dive into what probate is and why you want to avoid it when it comes to your estate, if you have no plan.

First, what is probate? Probate is the legal process of administering a person’s estate after their death. You’re probably wondering “OK, but what does that mean?” It means:

The court will determine your assets at the time of your death.

The court will determine the value of those assets.

The court will distribute the assets to those that are entitled to them by law.

Probate court, during the process will also appoint someone to supervise the administration of your estate.

Why would I want to avoid this process? The main reasons to avoid probate are the extensive timeline and astronomical expense that are both required for probate. The minimum amount of time that is required by probate court is 6 months, but in actuality this process takes 14 – 18 months on average. The reason for this extensive timeline is to give creditors a chance to make a claim on your estate, this in turn reduces the inheritance intended for your loved ones.

The probate process is very expensive. The average cost for probate court is between 5 – 10% of the estate’s total value. This means if your estate is valued at $500,000 you can expect an average cost of between $25,000 – $50,000.

The probate court appoints someone that they deem “suitable” to administer your estate, if you have no plan. This means that your wishes will not be heard and your assets, including your personal property and belongings will be distributed by the court to whom is legally entitled.

Lastly, probate court is public record. This means that all of your assets, your heirs, and your debts are available for anyone to see. Privacy is something that should be valued during this sensitive period of bereavement.

This costly and lengthy process can be avoided with a proper estate plan put in place. Your assets should be distributed according to your wishes, not to who is just legally entitled to them. Your heirs should have the ability to access the inheritance you intend on leaving them, and your loved ones deserve the privacy and time it takes to mourn your loss.

If you have not previously considered an estate plan or have questions about how to get started on planning, contact us at Baron Law today. You can go to our website for a free consultation to start planning for the future for yourself and your loved ones.

 Helping You And Your Loved Ones Plan For The Future

 

About the author: Kristy Gross

Kristy is a Legal Assistant at Baron Law LLC kristy@baronlawcleveland.com.

Trust Adminstrator

What is an Administrator of an Estate?

Managing the affairs and obligation of a recently departed is no easy task. That is why most people take the time to plan their estate. Estate planning, at its fundamental essence, is leaving a plan and instructions for those who survive you regarding what to do with the “stuff” you leave behind. People are living longer than ever before and, consequently, are leaving more behind. Often without a proper plan in place, the loved ones and family members left to organize and account all the leftover worldly possessions are hard pressed to do everything required from them by a probate court within the statutory time limits.

Dying without a will, only exacerbates this difficultly and lengthens the time it takes to administrator an estate. Bluntly, dying without a will, or dying with an invalid will, is never a preferential option. Most people already have a very limited understanding of the probate process, and if you throw intestate succession and administration, with all the accompanying issues and legal winkles, a difficult and trying process only becomes more so. As such, consult with an experienced Ohio estate planning attorney to either properly plan your estate so dying intestate doesn’t happen to you or, for those facing an instate administration, find out all the answers you need regarding what, how, and when to administrate an intestate estate.

What does dying intestate mean?

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. There are two primary situations when a person is deemed to have died intestate, 1) there was no last will and testament, or 2) they had a last will and testament, but for some reason or another, it was found invalid.

Ohio intestacy laws may be avoided altogether with proper estate planning, a major aim of which is to ensure you have a will and that it is valid. It is important to note, however, that sometimes intestacy laws will control even if a valid will is subject to probate administration, an experienced estate planning attorney can inform you of these circumstances. Conversely, sometimes Ohio intestacy laws may not apply even if a decedent died intestate. As such, since the controlling law for dying without a last will and testament can vary dependent on circumstance, meeting with an estate planning and/or probate lawyer is highly recommended.

What is an administrator?

In the context of intestate estate administration, an administrator is, for the most part, functionally identical to an executor. Executors, however, are appointed in the last will and testament by the decedent while administrators are appointed by the probate court in the absence of an executor appointment. Note, however, that Ohio has explicit Ohio residency requirements for intestate administrators. Thus, out-of-state residents can only be named executors and cannot serve as administrators.

Why is an administrator needed, what do they do?

The duties of an administrator aren’t easy. The duties of an administrator are specific to each particular estate, however, there is a “core” group of duties and tasks each one must fulfill. Every administrator must:

  • Conduct of thorough search of decedent’s personal papers and attempt to create a complete picture of their finances and family structure.

 

  • Take possession, catalogue, and value all estate property.

 

  • Maintain and protect estate assets for the duration of the probate proceedings.

 

  • Directly notify creditors, debtors, financial institutions, utilities, and government agencies of decedent’s death.

 

  • Publish notices of decedent’s death, usually a newspaper obituary, which serves as notice and starts the clock running on the statute of limitations for creditor claims on the estate.

 

  • Pay or satisfy any outstanding debts or obligations of decedent.

 

  • Represent decedent during probate court proceedings.

 

  • Locate heirs and named beneficiaries and distribute respective assets at the appropriate time.

These duties occur during the probate process, which is a major reason why probate takes many months to complete. Especially within the context of intestate probate administration, where no preplanning, accounting, or collection of information regarding the decedent’s estate was likely done.

Because intestate administration is such a time-intensive and laborious process, many people take the time to plan their estate and attempt to avoid probate entirely. Often trusts are a good option to avoid probate. With trusts, estate assets can be distributed right away, no executor or administrator is needed, and many mornings, which otherwise would be spent in probate court, are freed for personal enjoyment. Contact an Ohio trust attorney to see if avoiding probate through the use of trusts is right for you and your family.

Disclaimer:

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.

Helping You and Your Loved Ones Plan for the Future

Daniel A Baron - Estate Planning Lawyer

What is an Irrevocable Trust?

Cleveland, Ohio estate planning lawyer, Daniel A. Baron, offers the following information as to whether or not you should have an Irrevocable Trust as part of your comprehensive estate planning.

An Irrevocable Trust, by design cannot be modified in any fashion or terminated without the express written consent of the beneficiary or beneficiaries. Once the trust is created it stands AS IS and cannot be changed at all, notwithstanding a few exceptions.

  • Perhaps a beneficiary needs to be changed
  • Perhaps a financial institution may need clarification of a Trustees Identity
  • The beneficiary may need to terminate the trust early due to an immediate need for a large expense

Why would there exist a need for an Irrevocable Trust?

  • It protects your property held in Trust against creditors
  • It minimizes your estate tax liability
  • If you are looking to qualify for government assistance programs, i.e., Medicaid or Veterans Aid and Attendance benefits

There are three parties to a Trust:

First Party: The “Grantor” or “Settlor” who is the person or persons who establishes the trust. Keep in mind that when the Irrevocable Trust is established the “grantor” or “settlor” relinquishes all control of the assets held within the trust.

Second Party: The Trustee who are appointed by the “Grantor” or “Settlor” whose responsibilities include overseeing the assets, investments, etc., and to pay any expenses which benefits to beneficiary

Third Party:   The Beneficiary whose job it is, is to sit back relax and benefit from the income generated by the investments within the trust.

Let’s start the conversation to see if an Irrevocable Trust is the right tax planning strategy for you as part of your Comprehensive Estate Planning. For more information on reviewing your goals for your Comprehensive Estate Planning, contact Daniel A. Baron of Baron Law today at 216-573-3723.

Helping You and Your Loved Ones Plan for the Future

 

Daniel A Baron Estate Planning lawyer

What Is A Revocable Trust?

Cleveland, Ohio estate planning lawyer, Daniel A. Baron, offers the following information as to whether or not you should have a Revocable Trust as part of your comprehensive estate planning.

When you decide it is time to do your estate planning, one decision to make is: Do I Need A Trust? If the answer is yes, then the next question is whether or not a Revocable or Irrevocable Trust is the right tool to use in your Comprehensive Estate Planning.  Although both of these are created to avoid probate, there are differences between the two.

A Revocable Trust means you can change things at any time such as;

  • Beneficiaries
  • Add items of value to the trust or remove items from the trust and so on.
  • Changing Trustees
  • Change what funds the trust
  • Eliminate the trust
  • Change amounts to be funded
  • Add Trustees

With a Revocable Trust – the Grantor or Settlor creates the trust AND can also act as the Trustee AND can be named as the beneficiary.

An Irrevocable Trust means no changes can be made (with a few exceptions) once the trust is created.

An Irrevocable Trust has three parties to the Trust; the Grantor or Settlor, the Trustee(s), and the beneficiary or beneficiaries.

  1. The Grantor or Settlor is the person who funds or establishes the Trust
  2. The Trustee is the person who oversees the trust, and
  3. The beneficiary reaps the rewards of the income generated by the investments of the trust. Although the Grantor / Settlor and the beneficiary can be the same, they cannot act as the Trustee

With a Revocable Trust you must remember if you are looking to keep investments, bank accounts, property, and any other such asset as part of the trust, the accounts must be set up in the trusts name and property must be titled to the trust.  Failure to do this while you are still living means that the assets still in your personal name at the time of your death will be subject to probate and a larger amount of estate taxes.

If you are having difficulty determining whether your situation calls for a Revocable or Irrevocable Trust, seek the advice of an experienced Estate Planning Lawyer. For more information on reviewing your goals for your Comprehensive Estate Planning, contact Daniel A. Baron of Baron Law today at 216-573-3723.

Helping You and Your Loved Ones Plan for the Future

Baron Law Cleveland Ohio

I Have A 529 Plan, Am I Medicaid Eligible?

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 […]

Baron Law Elder Care Attorney

Trustees – Part II: Duty To Keep Adequate Records

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 […]

Baron Law LLC Cleveland Ohio

Why Avoid Probate: Asset Valuation Expense

Cleveland, Ohio, estate planning law firm, 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 […]

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.   

Disclaimer:

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.

 

Baron Law Cleveland Ohio

You Have Been Appointed Executor, What Do You Do?

Cleveland, Ohio, estate planning lawyer, Daniel A. Baron, Ohio, offers the following information on what your duties are as an executor of an estate.  Contact Daniel A. Baron of Baron Law to answer all your questions on what your duties are and to help guide you through the events that will be taking place and how to navigate through them.

An executor appointment is bittersweet. It is heartwarming that your recently deceased friend or loved one had faith enough in your abilities to trust you with the administration of their estate, however, fulfilling the duties of an executor is no simple matter. For the next six months, at minimum, you “stand in the shoes” of the dearly departed. You ensure their debts are paid, their affairs are closed in orderly fashion, and their final wishes are communicated to and followed by grieving friends, family, and business associates.  

Most individuals have little prior experience with executorships. Often people agree many years before the faithful day to be an executor and do little preparation or research for when the time arrives. Executor appointments are serious matters with serious consequences. A failure to perform the duties of an executor satisfactorily can result in estate assets being squandered, the infliction of additional stress and trauma upon grieving survivors, and, in extreme cases of misconduct or neglect, personal liability for the executor. Thankfully, executors have been a common reality in estate law for many centuries. As such, what you need to do, how to do it, and when you need to do it are all spelled out in the laws of Ohio. Naturally, the best adviser to seek out if one is appointed an executor is an Ohio estate planning attorney. A Cleveland estate attorney can walk you through the do’s and don’ts and ensure filings are proper in form and timely in submission.  

  1. Open the Estate

As an executor, the first thing you need to do is to open the estate. There is a myriad of probate proceedings available to open an estate, each with its own filing requirements and hurdles. Some may even be able to avoid probate all together, saving time and stress for an executor. Again, an estate attorney is in the best position to advise the best way to probate an estate, if there is a need at all.   

II.Inventory the Estate  

Once an estate has been opened, an inventory of the probate assets is required to be filed with the probate court within 3 months of the executor’s appointment. Only probate assets are inventoried. Non-probate assets pass to beneficiaries or owners outside of the will and, as such, are not considered a part of a decedent’s estate. Your estate attorney will know which estate assets are subject to probate. Practical tip, it is good practice for those with an estate plan to keep a comprehensive accounting of all assets in a centralized location to assist an executor in locating assets and keeping track of values and amounts of assets. Additionally, telling your executor that this accounting exists is just as important as doing it all. All too often executors are completely in the dark regarding the composition of an estate and the location of critical documents.     

To take the actual inventory of decedent’s estate, you will use the series “6” standardized forms from the Ohio Supreme Court website in conjunction with the relevant local probate court forms. There are 88 probate courts in Ohio, each with its own way of doing business, as such, each probate court has particular forms they prefer. Initially, use the local forms, when in doubt, the Ohio Supreme Court forms are always acceptable.  

An inventory itself is a detailed description of all probate estate assets along with their values. Detailed information regarding the assets, such as account numbers, serial numbers, stock certificate numbers, and book, plat, and parcel numbers for real estate are denoted in the inventory. The inventory, at the most basic level, consists of two forms: 1) the Inventory and Appraisal form and 2) the Schedule of Assets form. The Schedule of Assets contains the detailed information regarding the estate. Basically, a list of asset identifiers and information, i.e. the who, what, and where of assets. The Inventory and Appraisal form is the summary of the probate asset information that is detailed on the Schedule of Assets form. It recaps the values of the tangible and intangible personal property and real estate owned by the estate. During the drafting of these documents, appraisals and valuations of assets take place. Naturally, there are particularized rules and procedures for such, but that is a discussion for a later date.  

After all the assets are located and relevant investigations completed, the inventory is submitted to the court and a hearing date is set. Per the laws of Ohio, a probate court is required to set all inventories for hearing not less than 10 days and not more than 30 days after filing of the inventory. During this time notice is required to be sent to all interested parties of the estate, e.g. next of kin, devisees, legatees, and creditors of the estate. An inventory hearing cannot be undertaken unless receipt of formal notice for all interested parties is confirmed or waivers for those interested parties are signed and filed with the court. The notices themselves are standardized forms assessable via any probate court website.  

While waiting for the notice period to expire and for the hearing date to arrive, interested parties can file exceptions to the inventory. Exceptions, generally, are claims to particular estate assets and whether they have been properly included or excluded from an inventory. The important thing is filing of an exception to an inventory triggers an inventory exception hearing which, in turn, continues the inventory hearing. Thus, an inventory cannot be approved until the exceptions are addressed and the probate process stalls.   

If there are no exceptions filed, or the exceptions have been resolved, and after the notice period has been observed, the court will conduct an inventory hearing and enter an Entry Approving Inventory. This Entry, in essence, states going forward, the approved inventory will be the presumptive valuation and appraisal of estate assets. Thus, distributions of estate assets according to the laws of Ohio or the last will and testament of decedent can begin.  

At this point in the process, a significant part of the legwork for an executor is finished. The major hurdles remaining deal with will-contests, asset distribution, and closing of the estate. An upcoming article will flesh out the remainder of the duties and obligations of executors going forward past the inventory hearing and the probate court’s Entry Approving Inventory. If you’ve been appointed an as executor and have questions regarding what you need to do and when you need to do it, contact an Ohio estate planning attorney. Spending a little time now can save you a lot of time later.   

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.   

 

 

Baron Law Cleveland Estate Planning Attorney

Spousal Rights – Are You Forced To Take What Is Bequeathed?

Cleveland, Ohio, estate planning law firm, Baron Law LLC, Cleveland, Ohio, offers the following information on how to handle your spouses will after they pass.   Are you forced to take what is left to you?  Contact Baron Law Cleveland to answer this question and any other questions you may have on wills and probate.

 

Humans are material creatures, it’s just how we’re wired. We all like stuff, we all want stuff. The only difference between people is the target of that want and the severity of that desire. Though the passing of a friend, loved one, or spouse is a mournful event whose significance shouldn’t be understated. At the end of the day, the most common question I hear when a person comes into the office with a will of a recent decedent is, “what do I get?” More often than not, the next question after that is, “what else can I get?”  

Whether its due to genetics, environment, habits, or just dumb luck, women live, on average, seven years longer than men. So naturally, women are more often responsible for probating their husband’s will and receiving distributions under it. Regardless of sex, however, under Ohio law, surviving spouses are granted the ability to elect either 1) to receive the surviving spouse’s testamentary share as provided in the decedent’s will, “taking under a will;” or 2) to take against the will. This “taking against the will” is called an election to take under the law. Which option to take is a momentous decision that can affect the total windfall of the surviving spouse, the distributions to beneficiaries and heirs, and temperament of surviving friends and family. A local Cleveland estate attorney is in the best position to calculate the options and spell out the pros and cons of each.  

If the surviving spouse elects to take against the will, the surviving spouse receives either one-half or one-third of the decedent’s net estate. The surviving spouse receives one-half of the decedent’s net estate unless two or more of the decedent’s children or their lineal descendants survive the decedent, in which case the surviving spouse receives one-third.  

So how does one elect to “take against a will?” After the appointment of an executor or administrator, the probate court will issue a citation to the surviving spouse to elect whether to take under the will or against the will. This election must be made within the five-month statutory period or else be forever barred. If you chose to take against the will, you return the form attached to the notice and the court sets a hearing.   

At the hearing to elect to take against a will, the probate judge or deputy clerk, who acts as a referee, will explain the will, the rights under the will, and the rights, by law, in the event of a refusal to take under the will. If the surviving spouse is unable to make an election due to a legal disability, the court will appointment an appropriate proxy to determine if an election to take against the will is the best course of action for the surviving spouse and, if it’s the best course of action, make the actual election.  

Unless a will expressly states otherwise, an election against a will results in the balance of the net estate being disposed of as though the surviving spouse had predeceased the testator. Furthermore, unless a trust says otherwise, if a will transfers property to a trust created by the testator during the testator’s life, such as with a pour-over will, and the spouse elects against the will, then the surviving spouse is considered for purposes of the trust to have predeceased the testator, and there shall be an acceleration of remainder or other interests in all property bequeathed or devised to the trust by the will, in all property held by the trustee at the time of the death of the decedent, and in all property that comes into the possession or under the control of the trustee by reason of the death of the decedent. Again, an election to take against a will can have serious ramifications for a decedent’s estate plan. An Ohio estate planning attorney will be better able to spell out the consequences of such an election and track which estate assets may be effected by an election and in what ways. 

It is important to note, however, that an election to take against a will does not alter or destroy the will for other beneficiaries. Upon an election against a will, the administrator or executor of the estate must still attempt to follow the testator’s intent and final wishes to the best of the fiduciary’s ability as to all others in a will except the surviving spouse.   

The only real ways to waive or eliminate the statutory right of the surviving spouse to elect to take against a will is either a valid prenuptial agreement or antenuptial agreement. These agreements, however, are not guaranteed effective and are only valid if 1) they have been entered into freely without fraud, duress, coercion, or overreaching, 2) if there was a full disclosure, or full knowledge and understanding of the nature, value, and extent of the prospective spouse’s property, and 3) if the terms do not promote or encourage divorce or profiteering by divorce. With the recent rise of divorce rates in America nuptial agreements are steadily gaining in popularity and use. As such, consult an Ohio attorney to find out if nuptial agreements are right for you or if the nuptial agreements you already have are either valid or actually fulfilling their intended purpose.   

Spousal rights were created to ensure that surviving spouses aren’t maliciously or wrongfully cut out from a will. Improper disinheritance from a will can result in a surviving spouse falling into poverty, being kicked out of a lifelong martial home, or becoming a burden on friends and family. Though it may seem unseemly to focus on material possessions when a spouse passes, the responsibilities and burdens of day to day living still persist regardless. You still need food in the fridge and a roof over your head. After all, as Langston Hughes said, “life is for the living.”  

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.