Step-by-Step Guide to the Franklin County Probate Process

If the deceased was a resident of Franklin County, their estate will be “probated” by the Franklin County Probate Court, which is located at 373 South High Street, 22nd floor (462-3894). Probating an estate includes a series of legal procedures by which the probate court ensure that any debts, taxes, and expenses owed by the deceased’s estate are paid and that all remaining assets are distributed to their heirs and beneficiaries.

If you are named the Executor under a Will, or are appointed as the Administrator for someone who died without a Last Will and Testament, you will have the responsibility for settling that person’s estate. If you are the Executor or Administrator of the Estate of someone who dies in Franklin County, this article will help you to understand what steps must be taken to probate the estate and transfer other assets that the deceased owned before death.

Step-by-Step Guide to Navigating Franklin County Probate Court

Gather Documentation

An executor can’t jump right in and start passing along family heirlooms and inheritances. The first step is filing a petition with the probate court to open the process by providing a certificate of death, and “prove” the Will. Until that happens, they’re not allowed to distribute or discard any property. (Though they often can take steps to protect the property, like paying the utility bills, or to have the property winterized in the winter to ensure the pipes don’t freeze—but check with an attorney to make sure.)

The probate court’s role here is to verify that the Will is legally valid.

Someone might question the nature of the Will. Was it not properly executed? Was another Will submitted at the same time? Issues with witness signatures could present problems. So could accusations of undue influence or impaired mental capacity to sign the will, although this isn’t as common as TV might make it seem.

A. Certificates of Death
Certificates of death are needed to probate an estate, for insurance companies to pay out on policies, for a bank to release funds held in a “payable on death” or “P.O.D.” Account, and to transfer other property the deceased owned before death. One question the funeral director will ask you is “How many certificates of death do you want me to order?” In most cases five certificates are sufficient. They cost $7.00 each. Basically, a rule of thumb would be to order two plus one for every institution where the deceased had property before his death. For example, if the deceased had three life insurance policies with one company, only one certificate would be needed. A certificate will be needed to transfer each stock owned by the deceased; however, only one will usually be required to transfer all stocks if they are held in a brokerage account. If the deceased had three accounts at one bank, only one certificate of death would be needed. You generally will need a certificate of death to transfer title to a piece of real estate and to access a safe deposit box. If you would need more certificates later, you should either contact the funeral director or mail a request to the Bureau of Vital Statistics, Columbus Health Department., 181 Washington Blvd. 43215 (645-7331). State the name of the deceased, the date and location of death, and enclose a check payable to the Columbus City Treasurer and a self-ad dressed stamped envelope.

B. Locating the Will

Ninety percent of Franklin County residents who died in 1990, having an estate larger than $25,000, had a will. Thus, in most cases the deceased will have a Will. If you do not know where it is (or whether there is one), we recommend that you determine who the deceased’s attorney was as it will likely be stored at the attorney’s office. Alternatively it may be in a safe deposit box of the deceased, in the deceased’s personal papers, or may have been deposited with the Probate court, which for a $5.00 fee, will store your Will in a sealed envelope during your life until it is submitted for probate of your estate.

C. Obtaining a Guardian for Minor Children
If the death leaves any minor children (under 18 years old) without parents, then an application to have a guardian appointed must be filed in the Probate Court as soon as possible. If there is a Will, it will usually include the preferred guardian of the decedent. This provision is not binding on the Probate Court but will be strongly considered by the Court in deciding who the best guardian would be.

D. Gathering Records to Settle an Estate
You should obtain the following records, look in the following places, and contact the following individuals to find out what assets the deceased owned, and what claims their creditors may have:

  • Will
  • Trust Agreement
  • Death Certificate
  • Birth Certificate
  • Any bills owed
  • Funeral bill and receipt for payment
  • Automobile Titles
  • Banking records
  • Certificates of deposit
  • Income tax returns for last 3 years
  • All prior gift tax returns
  • Insurance policies and appraisals
  • Medicare and social security information
  • Salary and business records
  • Pension records
  • Credit card statements
  • Security brokers’ statements and stock certificates
  • Deeds and mortgages
  • Art and other collections
  • Incoming mail for last several months
  • Medical bills
  • Safe deposit box information
  • Attorney for deceased
  • Accountant

Most executors will hire an attorney to handle the legal aspects of settling an estate. However, if you obtain most of the information about assets and liabilities and organize that information before hiring an attorney, it should reduce the legal costs associated with settling the estate.

E. Social Security Benefits
The surviving spouse may be entitled to a lump sum death benefit of $255 and may become eligible for social security benefits at age 60. If there are children age 18 or younger, other benefits may be available. You should contact the closest social security office for additional information.

F. Life Insurance Policies
If you believe that the deceased may have a life insurance policy but cannot find any information, you can visit the National Association of Insurance Commissioners website and submit a request here, Or you can send a letter to the Policy Search Division of the American Council of Life Insurance, 1001 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W. Washington D.C. 20004, enclosing a self-addressed stamped envelope. You will be sent a form to complete. There is no cost. For additional information call 1-800-942-4242. The process takes 3 to 6 months for a search of its members’ files.

G. Transfer of Savings and Checking Accounts Held Jointly or Payable on Death.
The deceased will frequently have checking or saving accounts that are held jointly with another, or which are payable on death to another. If the surviving spouse is on such an account the bank will generally release 75% of the account or up to $5,000 (whichever is greater) if a Certificate of Death is presented. If another person is on the account, then the bank will release the greater of 75% or $2,500. In other cases a tax release form will have to be presented to release the entire amount in the account. Usually, this form is obtained, after the estate is filed in the Probate Court, by completing Ohio Estate Tax Forms 12 and 14 and presenting them to the Franklin County Auditor, 373 South High Street, 21st floor (462- 3235).

H. Transfer of Real Estate Owned Jointly with a Right of Survivorship
Although real estate held in survivorship transfers to the survivor automatically at death, an Affidavit of Title with a Certificate of Death must be filed in the Recorder’s Office, 373 South High Street, 18th floor (614-462-3930).
The affidavit must state the name and address of the survivor, the date of death of the deceased, a legal description of the property, and the deed book and page number of the deed to the property. DTE Form 100 must first be filed in the Auditor’s office on the 20th floor (462-3253) to obtain an exemption from a conveyance fee.


Will the Estate be Probated?

Even if the deceased owned all or almost all of your assets through a Living Trust or Jointly with Rights of Survivorship, your estate will likely be probated. The Probate Court must determine whether the deceased owned any assets in his or her own name, and whether there are any creditors (including the government for taxes due) that have claims against the estate.

That said, the only assets that will “go through Probate” are those owned by the deceased at death that are to be distributed by the Will (or by the Court if there is no Will). Below are examples of certain property interests that are distributed without “going through Probate”:

  • Joint Title with Rights of Survivorship
  • Payable on death accounts
  • Life Insurance Policies payable to beneficiaries
  • Annuity Policies payable to beneficiaries
  • IRAs with named beneficiaries
  • Assets titled in a Revocable Living Trust

Even though the above assets do not go through Probate and therefore are not listed in the Probate asset list, they must be listed on State and Federal Tax Returns so that the applicable State and Federal Taxes are paid. Thus, if you hire an attorney (which we would encourage you to do), you should prepare a detailed list of all assets, whether probate or nonprobate.

What Happens if there Isn’t a Will?

Your assets will be distributed to your heirs according to a specific schedule required by Ohio Law. Below is the order of priority that applies in most cases:

If your spouse survives you, but you have no children or grandchildren, your spouse inherits all.

If your spouse and more than one child are living, the spouse receives the first $60,000 (or $20,000 if the spouse is not the natural or adoptive parent of at least one child) and 1/3 of the balance. The remaining balance is divided equally among the children. If one of your children dies before you, leaving you with a grandchild or grandchildren, the grand children receive your deceased child’s share.

If your spouse and one child are living, then the spouse gets the first $60,000 (or $20,000 if the spouse is not the natural or adoptive parent of the child), and the balance is split between the spouse and child. (Same rule for grandchildren as above.)

If there is no surviving spouse, then the estate is distributed in equal shares to the children. (Same rule for grandchildren as above.)

If there is no spouse, children, or grandchildren, your estate is distributed to your parent(s).

If there is no spouse, children, grandchildren, or parent(s), then your estate is distributed to your brothers and sisters or their surviving children or grandchildren.

There are other possibilities that are extremely unlikely. If you would not like your assets to be distributed as above, then you should consider contacting an attorney to have a Will prepared for you.

Types of Probate Proceedings

There is a “Release from Administration” procedure for certain estates under $35,000 (or under $85,000 if the only beneficiary is the surviving spouse), and a “Full Administration” procedure for all other estates.

  1. Estates under $35,000
    If the Franklin County Probate Court is furnished satisfactory proof that the probate assets of an estate are less than $35,000 in value and that the creditors will not be harmed, then the Court will, after proper notices have been provided, order that the estate be relieved from administration and order delivery of personal property and transfer of real estate to the persons entitled to them. If the only beneficiary is the surviving spouse, the estate will be relieved from administration if the probate assets are less then $85,000. Under these circumstances there are forms that must be filed with the Court. If there is a surviving spouse and the probate assets are less than $7,200, or no surviving spouse and the probate assets are less than $2,200, there is a set of “short forms” that must be filed. There is a set of long forms for other estates under $85,000. These forms can be obtained from personnel at the no- administration desk at the Probate Court. The Court will not mail them to you.
  2. Estates over $35,000
    If the release from administration procedure is not appropriate, or if probate assets exceed $35,000, then there is a full administration procedure that requires additional documentation and time to settle the estate. Below are the essential steps that are taken in settling an estate where the person died with a Will:
    • Application to Probate Will
      An Application to Probate Will is filed with the Probate Court. The original Will is filed. Beneficiaries named in the Will, as well as those that would have been heirs if there had been no Will, must waive notice of the filing in writing, or must be notified by certified mail that the Will has been filed.
    • Appointment of Executor
      An application for authority to administer the Estate is filed. This application specifies who was named as Executor under the Will and states the estimated value of the Estate. The Probate Court will usually authorize the Executor named in the Will to administer the deceased’s estate. The Court issues Letters of Authority that appoint the Executor. These Letters are necessary for the Executor to transact business of the Estate.
    • IRS and Forwarding of Mail
      After appointment, the Executor should usually file Form SS-4 with the IRS to obtain a federal tax identification number for the Estate. If the Executor lives at a different address than the deceased, Form 56, Notice Concerning Fiduciary Relationship, should be filed so that tax notices will be sent to the Executor. If there is no surviving spouse, the Executor should consider having the deceased’s mail forwarded to him or her. The Executor must present Letters of Authority at the Post Office to have the mail forwarded.
    • Inventory and Appraisal
      Within 90 days of appointment, the Executor must file in the Probate Court an inventory of the real estate located in Ohio and personal property owned by the deceased. Only probate assets are listed on this inventory. If the value of any of the assets (such as real estate) is not readily known, an appraiser/Realtor may have to provide an opinion of value on the assets. A hearing will be scheduled not more than 30 days after the inventory is filed.
    • Distribute Assets
      From the assets of the Estate, The Executor must pay all valid debts and taxes owed by the estate and submit policy claims (such as filing with medical insurance or helping a beneficiary with a life insurance claim). This can also include making certain retirement and other accounts get closed. Creditors have up to one year after date of death to file claims against the estate. The Executor may have to file State and Federal Income Tax Returns for the deceased, State and Federal Income Tax Returns for the Estate, an Ohio Estate Tax Return, and if applicable, a Federal Estate Tax Return.
    • Final Accounting
      A final accounting of the estate’s assets and debts is filed after the payment of debts and taxes owed by the estate. The final accounting shows the value of all estate as sets, along with any income or interest earned, debts paid, money owed, and tax payments. It also shows the distribution of the assets to the beneficiaries named in the Will. The final accounting must be approved by the Court.
    • Closing the Estate
      Following the approval of the final Accounting, the Estate is Closed.

If you have questions about the Ohio probate process and require assistance valuing and/or selling any associated real estate and/or an attorney referral, contact us today. Call or text us at 614.332.6984, or send us an email at .