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Decedent's property is inherited, but not debts

After people lose a parent in Ohio, one of the many thoughts racing through their minds may be whether they are personally liable for any outstanding debts. Along with the emotional strain of the loss and the stress of planning a funeral, they do not need to add the worry of being responsible for paying a parent's bills. In Ohio, a person cannot inherit debt, and there is a system already in place for dealing with the estate and debt. It is known as probate.

Probate is the legal process that occurs upon a person's death. As defined by the online legal resource FindLaw, it is the means of paying debts and distributing inheritances. FindLaw explains that the estate must go through the probate process, which includes these steps:

  • The court determines if the will is valid and appoints an administrator if there is no executor.
  • The executor or administrator must notify all inheritors and relatives of the death, as well as any creditors.
  • Along with paying debt, money owed to decedents is collected. Payments can also be made for estate services, such as court costs, executor's services and attorney fees.
  • If the debt is greater than the estate, property in the decedent's name must be sold. This includes the home, vehicles and banking accounts not designated as inheritances.
  • Any remaining assets go to those named in the will or distributed according to Ohio law if there is no will.

The Ohio State Bar Association notes that some properties are excluded from probate and cannot be sold to pay creditors. These include insurance policies with named beneficiaries; retirement accounts; properties that are part of a trust; and property held jointly with another person with the right of survivorship. These properties pass directly to the inheritor upon death.

Smaller estates with no outstanding creditor issues and no need to file a federal estate tax are usually final after six months. That is the time allowed under Ohio law for creditors to make a claim against the estate. For larger estates and those with outstanding debt issues, the probate process can take up to a year or longer.

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