Show the State the money: What happens when you die without a will in Ohio?

The importance of an estate plan was recently highlighted by a story out of New York when a 97 year-old man died without a will. The reason the man's story gained national attention: he was worth almost $40 million.

The millionaire was a successful real estate developer who owned multiple pieces of property, valuable pieces of furniture and jewelry. He was a Holocaust survivor who married a fellow survivor shortly after the war ended. Unfortunately, he and his wife, who was a rumored subject of experiments while held captive during the Holocaust that rendered her infertile, were unable to have children. With no children, no known relatives and no estate plan, the distribution of his estate is currently suspended.

He was known by his friends to be an intelligent man, yet dying without some form of an estate plan is an easily avoidable mistake. Without a plan and no living heirs, this man's well earned millions will likely go to the state.

Dying without a will in Ohio

A will is important because it governs how assets are distributed. Generally, a person who dies without a will is put at the will of the state. In Ohio, intestacy law is applied. Under intestacy law the property is generally distributed to family members based on a set formula. For example, if a person is married, the spouse would receive all the assets at death. If widowed and children are present, the estate would be divided among the children.

When a will is not present, the court appoints someone to manage all the assets. Generally, the court prefers to appoint a spouse or next of kin in this position if possible. This person is responsible for the inventory and valuation of all property and must pay all debts owed at the time of death with funds from the estate.

Drafting a will can help ensure that an estate is distributed according to your wishes. As a result, it is wise for everyone to have an estate plan regardless of their current net worth.

Putting together an estate plan can involve the use of various legal documents, such as a will, an arrangement of trusts, health care directives and a power of attorney. In order to better ensure your wishes are met, contact an experienced Ohio probate and estate planning lawyer to help develop an estate plan suitable for your unique needs.