The death of a loved one brings a variety of changes, including grief and the winding up of the deceased's estate. Normally, the decedent's will directs the distribution of assets and debts, but what happens when someone disputes the will itself? The result is a will contest, a challenge to the validity of the will. Contesting a will in Ohio requires a thorough understanding of estate planning and probate in Ohio.
Why You Need to Know about Contesting a Will in Ohio
Winding up a decedent's estate is necessary for both emotional and practical reasons. Loved ones need the closure gained through the wrap-up of the decedent's worldly affairs in order to move through the grieving process, but they also need to address the practical matters of dealing with the assets and obligations that survive the decedent. Probate provides for both, but a will contest can derail or at least delay the process.
Ohio law allows challenges to a will but within limits. Only certain persons have the right to challenge a will, and challenges must be timely filed. Failure to meet the requirements for standing for contesting a will in Ohio, the statutory deadlines for filing the challenge, or the burden of proving the basis for the challenge will result in the probate of the will "as is."
The Basics of Probate in Ohio
Probate is the court-supervised process of winding up a decedent's estate. If there is no valid will to disclose the decedent's wishes, the Ohio intestate succession laws dictate to whom the decedent's assets are distributed. But when the decedent has left a will, that document provides the instructions for distributing the decedent's assets and paying his or her remaining debts.
Probate in Ohio begins by the filing of an application for probate in the court that has jurisdiction over the decedent's estate. If the decedent left a will, the filing party also files the will with the court. From there the particular circumstances in the case determine whether the matter proceeds under court supervision or somewhat independently. In Ohio, probate courts have exclusive jurisdiction over the winding up of the decedent's affairs under a will or via intestate succession.
The complexity and cost of probate in Ohio varies by case. Uncontested cases involving simple estates require less time and expenses than cases with large or complicated estates or those with will contests.
Who Can Contest a Will?
Only persons with a financial interest in the decedent's estate have a legal right to contest the will. In Ohio, only the following persons are eligible to challenge a will:
- A legal heir who was omitted from the will; or
- An heir or beneficiary who was given a smaller share than what he or she believes to be due.
A person who falls in one of these categories has a legal right to contest a will, but he or she must still establish grounds for contesting a will in order to succeed in the claim.
Grounds for Contesting an Ohio Will
There are limited bases for contesting a will, all of which have to do with the process of making the will. The chief bases for a will contest are these:
- The decedent was not of sound mind at the time he or she executed the will.
- The will is the product of undue influence from another beneficiary.
- The will is invalid because of a procedural error in the creation or execution of the will.
The first two points attack the validity of the will. Under O.R.S. § 5817.10, a will is valid if it satisfies the following:
- The will was properly executed pursuant to O.R.S. § 2107.03.
- The testator had capacity to execute the will, was not the victim of undue influence, and was not under restraint or duress.
- The execution of the will was not the result of fraud or mistake.
A legal heir or beneficiary may contest the will if he or she believes the will is invalid because one of these circumstances exist. Under O.R.S. § 2107.76, the deadline for filing a will contest is three months after the person raising the challenge has received notice of probate of the estate.
Finding an Ohio Estate Planning Attorney for a Will Contest
Contesting a will in Ohio involves challenges for all parties involved. Whether you are the administrator of an estate or a beneficiary defending against a will contest or legal heir wishing to challenge the probate of a will, you need an experienced Ohio estate planning attorney like Anna M. Price at Jenkins Fenstermaker, PLLC to guide you through the process. For these or other Ohio estate planning matters, contact Anna by calling (866) 617-4736 toll-free or complete her online contact form.