It's not easy to think about your own death, but most of us know that we want our passing to be as easy as possible on our children and other heirs. Unfortunately, many families have to endure a long probate process because of estate planning steps that were not taken by the decedent. A comprehensive estate plan created with the help of a lawyer can avoid many of these delays. But if you only have a will, your family could be subjected to a long, costly, and contentious process.
Typical Factors in Probate Delays
In our experience in Ohio, the following issues cause delays in the probate process for many families:
- Problems with wills. The original will—not a copy—must be presented to the probate court. If this cannot be located, or multiple documents turn up, probate will drag on as the problem is sorted out. In addition, not having a will at all slows down the process considerably.
- Missing contact information for heirs. The next of kin and all potential heirs will have to be informed of the person's death and notified about probate. Heirs have to sign off on assets in the estate and waive their right to a hearing. If they cannot be identified and located, the law requires that a public notice be run for six weeks in newspapers where heirs could potentially live.
- Uninformed estate administrator. If the executor of the will or administrator of the estate doesn't have intimate knowledge of the deceased's assets and liabilities, it will take time to discover all of the bank accounts, retirement funds, unpaid debts, and other obligations before the estate can be closed.
- No transfer-on-death designation. If assets with liens, such as a house or a car, do not have a transfer on death designation, you will not be able to transfer the asset without paying the creditor what they are owed. Claims for these debts will be filed against the estate and will take time to settle.
- Conflicts among heirs. If the heirs don't get along, they might file objections to the will and drag the process out. Before an estate can be settled, all heirs must sign a waiver. If there is disagreement among heirs, they often won't sign off to finalize the estate.
- Multi-state assets. If the decedent owned property—such as a vacation home—in another state, it will have to go through that state's probate process before the Ohio probate process can be completed.
- Taxes. If the estate owes personal income tax or is subject to capital gains tax, the taxes cannot be filed until the following year. The estate will have to be kept open until the taxes are paid, or refunds are issued.
Many of these potential issues can be avoided by using certain trust instruments that allow property and assets to pass directly to the named beneficiary without going through probate. Trusts often also allow the estate to avoid certain taxes. Call Littlejohn Law to discuss your options
You may have a will and think that's enough to protect your assets and pass them easily on to your heirs, but a simple will can result in many of these delays. When you work with our estate planning team to create a comprehensive asset protection plan, we can help you avoid these unnecessary costs and conflicts, as well as additional common mistakes. Fill out the contact form on this page to set up a telephone consultation to discuss your estate planning needs.