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What happens if someone dies without a will?

When a person dies with an estate plan that was well-drafted and kept up to date, the results are often uneventful and as the decedent wished. The property is transferred or if it is in a trust, the successor trustee takes over and handles the particulars of the operation of the trust. This all should proceed smoothly, allowing the family the time to grieve and minimizing the stress of dealing with the intricacies of probate law.

However, if there is no estate plan and no will, the situation is potentially more complex. In Ohio, the state's intestate law will govern the distribution of assets. During this type of probate administration, the rights of the heirs will be controlled by the distribution decided by the legislature.

The probate court will appoint an administrator, who will be responsible for collecting all of the assets of the estate, paying the estate's expenses, debts,  taxes, and then will distribute the assets. Intestate succession laws typically favor the family members most closely related to the decedent.

This means that typically the spouse would receive the majority of the estate. If the couple had children who are alive, the entire estate would go to the spouse, as the presumption is that they will inherit from that spouse when he or she dies. If the surviving spouse is not a parent to the children of the decedent, that spouse would receive the first $20,000 of the estate and then half of the remainder, with the rest going to the children.

Beyond this, the distribution under the statute becomes less obvious and more confusing, as the potential variations on combinations of children or grandchildren, their number, whether they are the biological children or adoptive, can all make determining who gets what very complex.

An estate plan with a will and/or trusts can avoid much of this uncertainty. 

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