Allison Harrison
September 27, 2023

What is Probate?

In the adult world, when someone passes away, they often leave behind property, money, and other things. Firstly, these things need to be distributed or given out correctly. To clarify, the process that helps make sure everything goes to the right place and the right people is called "probate".

Understanding Probate

Essentially, Probate is a legal process that takes place after someone dies. For instance, in Ohio, each county has a dedicated Probate Court to handle this process for the County’s residence. Moreover, the Court oversees the process to make sure that the deceased person's belongings, like houses, cars, and money, are given to the right people and that any debts they had are paid off.

Interestingly, this court takes care of issues related to the things people leave behind when they pass away. They oversee the process and make sure the person charged with dividing the assets does so correctly. In case they falter, the Court can jump in. Think of the Probate Court as the Referee - the Court makes sure everyone plays by the rules and resolves it if the person doesn’t. 

So, how does the Probate process kick off?

To initiate the process, someone (often a family member) will provide the court with the deceased person's "will" if they had one. A will is like a set of instructions that tells everyone how the deceased wanted their things to be shared. If the will directs a specific person to be an Executor, the Court will appoint them. However, if no one is listed or there is no will, the court will then choose someone (called an “Administrator”)  to be in charge of making sure everything is done correctly.

Now what role does the Executor play?

Once the Executor or Administrator is appointed, they collect all the property, money, and other belongings of the deceased person. Occasionally, this is termed an “accouting.” The Executor or Administrator must tell to the Court what and where all the deceased persons assets are located. Before the assets are given out, the Executor/Administrator will use some of the deceased person's assets to pay off any debts. After debts are paid, the remaining assets are distributed according to the will, or if there isn't a will, according to the state's rules.

A common query is:

Do all assets go through Probate? Surprisingly, not all estates (the name for all the stuff someone leaves behind) or all assets go through probate. Some things, like life insurance payouts or certain types of joint bank accounts, skip this process. Whether an estate goes through probate can depend on the size of the estate, where the deceased lived, and the kinds of assets they had.

Is the Probate process easy?

On the surface, probate might seem simple. However, like any big project, there can be bumps in the road and moving parts. At times, relatives or friends disagree about the will or how things should be divided. This can make the process longer and more complicated. Given the technicalities involved in completing the probate process, it often requires a lawyer to assist the Executor/Administrator. Additionally, Probate is also not a fast process; it takes several months to complete a relatively simple estate.

How long after a loved one passes do I have to start the probate process?

Lastly, if a loved one passed away, there is no immediate need to rush into probate. For example, Ohio allows you up to 1 year after a person passes away to start probating the estate without incurring any penalties. Once you have had time to grieve, you can start to collect the information necessary to probate. While doing so, it's essential to be aware of potential issues, like disagreements or scams. Once you have the information you can either utilize the Court’s self-help resources or reach out to an attorney to assist you!