Allison Harrison
June 27, 2024

What Do I Do After My Parent Dies, Without a Will?

Losing a parent can be incredibly difficult. The first step is to acknowledge the death and celebrate your parent’s life. Once you've had some time to process the death, you can start to handle all the debts and assets of your parent. The first step is to search all areas of the home, apartment, or care facility of your parent for their will. Not everyone leaves a will behind, but it's important to search for it in the event they do leave a will.

However, when a person passes away without a will, it's called dying "intestate." This means that state laws will decide how the person's assets (property, money, etc.) are distributed. It won't be the person's wishes. Distributing the assets of a person who has died without a will is called "probate." Here's what you can expect:

Probate Process

The probate court will appoint a person, called an "executor," to be in charge of managing your decadent’s estate. An “estate” may seem like a medieval fiefdom reserved for the wealthy, but actually, everyone has an “estate.”

An “estate” is compromised of the total assets and liabilities of a deceased person at the time of their death. It includes all property and interests owned by your parent, both real, personal, tangible, and intangible. Things that typically make up an “estate” are real estate, jewelry, motor vehicles, furniture, coin collections, bank accounts, investment accounts, stamp collections, business interests, and intellectual property. Only assets held in your parent’s name only are considered part of the “estate.” If an asset is held jointly (in the decedent’s name and the survivor's name), it becomes the survivor’s property right away. It is not part of the estate.

The Executor is responsible for identifying and gathering all of your parent's assets, paying any outstanding debts or taxes, and then distributing the remaining assets to the rightful heirs. The probate process typically takes 6-12 months to complete, depending on the complexity of the estate and any potential disputes that may arise.

What's Included in Probate

Any assets that were owned solely by your parent, such as bank accounts, real estate, vehicles, etc.

In Ohio, when a person dies without a will (intestate), the probate process is initiated to manage and distribute the decedent's assets according to state laws. The types of assets that are typically included in the probate process in Ohio are as follows:

  1. Real Property: Any real estate or land owned solely by the decedent at the time of death. The property must be held in the decedent’s name, not a trust or corporation. The property includes the primary residence, vacation homes, and investment property. If your parent was on the deed with another person as “joint tenants with rights of survivorship” then the property will pass outside of probate to the other person by filing an affidavit of survivorship.
  2. Personal Property: This includes tangible personal items such as vehicles, furniture, jewelry, artwork, and collectibles. It also includes intangible personal property like bank accounts, stocks, bonds, and other financial assets not designated to transfer upon death to a named beneficiary.
  3. Business Interests: If the decedent had any ownership interests in a business, such as shares in a corporation, membership interests in an LLC, or partnership interests, these are included in the probate estate.
  4. Intellectual Property: Patents, copyrights, trademarks, or other intellectual property rights owned by the decedent at the time of death are subject to probate.

What assets are excluded from probate

  1. Assets that have designated beneficiaries, such as life insurance policies or retirement accounts.
  2. Assets that are jointly owned with someone else, such as a house or bank account.
  3. Assets held in joint tenancy with the right of survivorship, which pass directly to the surviving joint owner(s) upon death.
  4. Assets held in a revocable living trust, which are distributed according to the terms of the trust rather than through probate.
  5. These are accounts where the decedent has designated a beneficiary. The beneficiary receives the assets when the decedent dies.

How Do You Find Assets and Liabilities?

Learning what assets and debts your parent had may seem overwhelming. You didn't live with them. This can be a challenge. However, one of the best ways to understand what constitutes your parent’s estate is through the mail. If you have access to your parent’s mail, you can typically identify a bank account or two. But, if you have no idea where to start, probate courts have a process. It lets attorneys find out information. For example, did the person have an account at the bank. While it will not provide complete insight into assets, it will provide a starting point.

Can I Probate My Parent’s Estate Myself?

The Probate Court’s provide several self-service options for very simple estates. However, navigating the probate process can be extremely overwhelming. There are a lot of forms that need to be completed in a specific sequence to ensure your parent’s estate is handled properly. You should consider, at a minimum, consulting with an attorney to understand if you can handle the process alone.