Wills and estates in Ohio

Estate planning isn't just for the wealthy. Planning what you want to happen to your property and money when you die can give anyone peace of mind. Read more to find out about wills, transfer on death and avoiding probate in Ohio. 

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Understanding the Basics

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Making plans for your property and loved ones after you die can feel intimidating. But it can be a huge help to your loved ones after you are gone. This page will walk you through some common estate planning tools and questions.


Most people are familiar with the idea of a will or the term "last will and testament." Wills can be powerful estate planning tools. In general, wills let you:

  • Name a guardian for minor children
  • Give specific property to specific people
  • Name your executor (the person who manages your estate)
  • Provide for charities or individuals outside of your immediate family
  • Make special provisions for specific property or people
  • Disinherit someone

If you have a will, the probate court will distribute your property based upon your wishes in your will.

Wills can be very personal and depend on your unique circumstances. For example, who will take care of your children if you were to die unexpectedly. Naming a guardian for your minor children is one of the most important things you will do as a parent. A lawyer can advise you on all the things that you should consider as you make this important decision.

We do not offer a will sample or template on Ohio Legal Help. That is because different people need different things from their wills. If you would like to make a will, you should think about consulting with a lawyer. You may even qualify for legal aid or pro bono help. A lawyer can make sure that your will does what you want it to. Open Legal Help and Lawyers to see legal resources in your area.

What happens if you die without a will?

You may be wondering, "What happens if I die without a will?" The legal term for dying without a will is "dying intestate."

If you die without a will your estate will need to go through probate court. A probate judge will decide how to divide up your property using Ohio law. How long the process takes depends on the size and complexity of your estate. A simple estate could take about six months, but a complicated estate could take years.

If you are the loved one of someone that dies without a will, you may want to consult with a lawyer. Some county probate courts also have help desks that provide limited support. Call the probate court in the county where the estate is to see if they have a help desk.

Summary release for small estates

There is a special process in Ohio called "summary release from administration" that allows certain small estates to skip the probate process. This can be used whether or not the deceased person has a will. 

Read more to learn about eligibility for summary release from administration.

Staying out of probate court

If you do the right planning and paperwork, you can transfer some things outside of probate court. This can save your loved ones time and money after you're gone. You can transfer your home and car after you die with a special form called a "Transfer on Death" affidavit. Learn how here:

Payable on Death for bank accounts

You can also transfer the money in your bank accounts without going through probate. You can add a "Payable on Death" (POD) beneficiary to any bank account for free. This person will be able to access the money in your account when you die. Call or visit your local bank branch to find out how to name a POD beneficiary.

401ks, investment accounts and retirement accounts

Like your bank accounts, any 401k, investment account or retirement account can transfer to your loved ones outside of probate by naming an account beneficiary. Usually, you name a beneficiary when you sign up for the account. Contact your account administrator to get copies of your beneficiary designations. Review and update them regularly. 

Tell your loved ones your plans

Communication is important when it comes to your financial plans. Make sure that your loved ones know your plans. It can feel uncomfortable to talk about money, but it will make things easier when you're gone. It's also a good idea to keep your important documents together in a safe place—that your loved ones can find.

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