Laptop and notebook


Harry Bernstein Nov. 2, 2017

Hello, Ohio! Have you ever found yourself wondering “Why do I need a will?” Perhaps you don’t have much in the way of assets or property and believe wills are just for rich people. Or maybe you assume everything you have will simply pass to your children when you die. Or you find the idea of thinking about your death - even in the context of making a perfectly run-of-the-mill legal document - to be depressing or macabre. Whatever reason is making you question your need for a will or delay making one, I’m here to tell you that taking the time to make a concrete plan for your assets and successors is emphatically important. Let’s explore why.

What exactly is a will?

A will is a legally binding document that you can create with the assistance of your Ohio wills and trusts attorney. This document provides instructions for what should be done with any funds, property, or other assets you leave behind upon your death. It also protects your minor children, disabled dependents, or elderly family members under your care! Your will in Ohio identifies who will take care of your kids or other dependents, outlines how your possessions will be divided, and appoints who will settle your estate’s affairs. For very simple cases, you could make a will in Ohio with prefabricated forms or will-creation software. However, it’s generally better to consult with an Ohio wills and trusts attorney - after all, they have the experience and knowledge to ensure you think of everything and construct your will in such a way that all of your instructions must be carried out by law.

Note that a “living will” is an unrelated legal document that has nothing to do with instructions regarding your children or assets after your death. A living will states your wishes regarding life support, palliative care, and related medical care should you become unable to communicate your own decisions at the time due to injury or illness.

What happens if I don’t have a will in Ohio?

If you die without a will (which is known as dying intestate) in Ohio, the state gets to decide all those things I mentioned above. Do you have minor children? The state gets to decide who takes care of your kids. Do you have property? The state decides what happens to that, too - which often involves it being sold and then the sum total of your assets being divided among your surviving family members (for example, between your spouse, if you were married, and any children you may have). It also means that a court-appointed administrator is required to do those things your executor would have done, such as cash any checks that might arrive after your death - which makes that time shortly after your death even more difficult for your grieving loved ones who must contend with these legal hurdles. No one wants a lengthy probate, which can be a stressful process all around.

Without a will in Ohio, it’s possible that family members whom you did not want inheriting anything from your estate may be awarded a portion of your assets. Or your children may not be looked after by the person you felt best suited to take care of them; the court may instead put them with someone else. These things shouldn’t be left exclusively to the determination of the state.

What should a will include at minimum?

In its most basic form, depending on your specific situation, your will in Ohio should appoint an executor, identify who should have custody of your minor children (or how other dependents should be provided for), and lay out how and among who your assets should be divided.

The executor of your will in Ohio should be a responsible, organized person that you can trust to handle all those little details that must be attended to when you’re gone - they’ll ensure your debts are settled, creditors satisfied, accounts closed, checks cashed, and that your wishes regarding the distribution of your belongings, property, and other assets are followed. This person could be a family member, but that’s not required - in fact, designating someone outside the family, such as your Ohio wills and trusts attorney or your accountant, may be a kindness to your grieving family. In any case, beneficiaries of your will can still be the executor as well - so choose your spouse, sibling, a cousin, or whoever is best-suited. You can also choose multiple executors to work together.

Choosing the guardian for your minor children and naming that person in your will in Ohio goes a long way toward ensuring your children are taken care of by the person you believe will care for them best. You should understand, however, that the court will review your wishes and ultimately determine who will receive custody. If you have a dependent adult who requires your care, you should specify a guardian for them as well.

When putting together a list of your assets for your will, don’t forget to include any investments you’ve made (such as stocks or mutual funds), any retirement accounts or plans, life insurance policies, high-valued possessions (such as jewelry or artwork), and note any other items that might affect your estate - including mortgages, inheritances, prenuptial agreements, and more.

Do more with your will.

There’s no reason to stop with the basics when putting together your will in Ohio; in fact, it forms the backbone of your estate plan. You can use your will to make donations to charitable causes, which allows your values to shine even after you’re gone and lowers the taxes that will be levied on your estate. You can also make gifts to family members with similar results. Your will can also play a vital role in minimizing family conflict when it comes to inheritance by limiting causes for argument.

Protect your minor children and make a terrible time easier for your family by making a will today. If you have a will in Ohio but it’s outdated, there’s no time like the present to update it! Reach out to my office at 216-600-0124 for a consultation to discuss starting an estate plan and get your well-planned, legally-binding will drafted and witnessed. As your Ohio wills and trusts attorney, I’m ready to assist you in protecting your family’s future.