Facilitating the transfer of assets and planning for probate avoidance
When a loved one dies, it is in everyone’s best interest to settle the estate as quickly and cost-effectively as possible. An estate’s beneficiaries are often financially dependent on estate assets, so any delay is more than frustrating; it causes the estate to lose value, depriving the beneficiaries of wealth that is rightfully theirs. At Stubbins, Watson Bryan & Witucky Co., L.P.A., our attorneys assist in settling estates capably and in a timely manner through probate administration and trust administration. As estate planners, we also advise clients about strategies for avoiding probate altogether.
What is probate and how does it work?
Probate is the legal proceeding in the probate court of the county where the decedent lived that settles creditor claims against a decedent’s estate and then transfers the remaining assets to the decedent’s beneficiaries. If the decedent had a will or other estate plan structure, the assets pass according to the decedent’s intentions. Otherwise, the court distributes the property according to Ohio’s laws of inheritance.
The role of the administrator in Ohio probate proceedings
The probate court appoints either an executor if there is a will or an administrator if there is no will to oversee the settling of the estate. The executor or administrator is a fiduciary with a legal duty to preserve the value of the estate while managing several tasks:
- Caring for the property
- Collecting payments due to the estate, such as income and debts owed to the decedent
- Determining the identity of all heirs and beneficiaries
- Investigating all claims against the estate and paying true obligations
- Tax planning
- Fulfilling probate court instructions related to the distribution of the assets
When a trust is used to transfer assets, the role of the trust administrator is similar. The trust administrator is also a fiduciary and is charged with guarding the value of the trust’s assets and effecting a smooth transfer to the designated beneficiaries. When the trust is the beneficiary, the administrator maintains the assets for the use the trust’s grantor intended.
Bypassing probate and ensuring the quick, efficient transfer of wealth
A decedent’s estate may contain assets that transfer automatically upon death and are not subject to the probate court. This non-probate property includes:
- Property the decedent and another person held jointly
- Property held in a trust
- Accounts payable or transferable upon death to a named beneficiary
- Insurance benefits
- Retirement benefits payable to a named beneficiary
These types of transfers are the preferred means to bestow wealth, since there are no probate costs attached. As estate planning attorneys, we advise our clients to consider structuring their assets as non-probate property whenever feasible.