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Estate Planning 101

What Does “Probate” Mean?

Probate is a term many people are already familiar with, but it is not exactly a concept that most folks encounter every day. Whether you are brand new to the estate planning process or you are trying to find out more about the specifics of probate law, you’ve come to the right place. Read on to learn about some of the foundations of the probate process.

A Very Basic Definition of Probate

At its core, “probate” is what we call the legal process for managing the property and assets of someone who has passed away. An individual who has died is known as the “decedent” and the probate process exists to ensure the proper management and distribution of the decedent’s remaining property. There is much more to probate than merely administering property, however. The probate process also ensures that property left behind from someone who has died gets distributed to whomever is entitled to receive it. In Ohio, there are special courts designated to handle probate proceedings for each county, known as probate courts.

What Does Probate Entail?

A key part of the concept of probate involves assigning authority to a specific individual to handle the assets of an estate. The person who manages an estate is either an executor or an administrator. An executor is someone appointed to manage an estate in a will; an administrator, on the other hand, is appointed by the probate court in the absence of an executor. (The executor or administrator might not be a single individual—a bank or trust company can also be appointed to manage an estate.)

Have questions about executors and administrators? We discuss the similarities and differences between an executor and an administrator, along with the responsibilities of each role, in a separate post available here.

The basic version is that the executor or administrator is responsible for carrying out duties related to the management of an estate, the payment of expenses and debts for the estate, and the proper distribution of assets for the estate to heirs or other beneficiaries—among other responsibilities.

Why Does Probate Matter?

Probate can play a number of different roles, but its most basic purpose is to ensure that estates are settled properly and without fraud. Keep in mind that in Ohio, not every estate needs to undergo the probate process, and not every asset is subject to probate. Nonetheless, for estates that do require probate, it is a very important process because it grants an executor or administrator the legal authority they need to manage, secure, and safeguard an estate’s assets and to ensure that the assets are distributed properly. Plus, probate provides a framework to ensure that an estate’s outstanding expenses—including taxes and other debts—are paid and that the remainder of the estate is distributed to the heirs and/or beneficiaries.

Want to Learn More?

This is an extremely simplified version of probate that is merely designed to provide a general introduction to help you start to get familiar with the idea of what probate is, what it involves, and why it exists in the first place. If you want more details, however, we recommend you read our additional posts, including our Glossary of Key Terms for Probate and Estate Planning in Ohio, 5 Things to Know About Probate Estate Land Sale Proceedings in Ohio, and more. Keep in mind that general information found online is never a replacement for direct legal counsel, however. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, have more questions, or want hands-on help with a probate case, we invite you to drop us a line or give us a call for an initial inquiry—free of charge.

Chris Gasper