Consider charitable contribution to honor man’s best friend

By Andrew Zashin*

Andrew Zashin and his best friend, Hugo

Man’s best friend. A part of the family. Every day, dogs demonstrate their love and loyalty to their owners, which has inspired owners to leave some – or even all – of their estates to their beloved companions to ensure that these animals are well cared for after the owner’s death.

This may sound ridiculous, but it is not. More and more estate planning attorneys are incorporating provisions for prized pups into wills and trusts, and are requiring owners to consider things like what assets owners wish to leave for the pet’s care and well-being; who will care for the pet; and, what happens to any remaining assets set aside for the pet’s care after the animal’s death. Family lawyers are routinely asked to fight dog custody cases and even put together “pet parenting plans.” Some states even have statutes dealing specifically with pet custody! Pet issues, therefore, are real and can be complicated.

The most famous example of a pet-focused estate plan belongs to Leona Helmsley, a billionaire real estate mogul and hotelier who left a $12 million trust fund for her beloved dog, a Maltese named Trouble, while leaving nothing to two of her grandchildren. A court found that this $12 million inheritance exceeded the amount required to care for Trouble during her expected lifetime and ultimately reduced the trust to $2 million. In her estate planning, Helmsley entrusted her brother with Trouble’s care, but when he decided that he did not want to care for Trouble, one of Helmsley’s longtime staff members stepped up and cared for the pooch. When Trouble died in 2010, the remainder of the money set aside for her care reverted to the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, which Helmsley intended to provide for the “care and welfare of dogs.” The Helmsley Charitable Trust’s mission has since shifted to non-animal related causes.

Other notable examples of pet-prioritized estates include that of Gail Posner, who left her $8.4 million Miami Beach mansion and a $3 million trust to her three pups, and fashion icon Karl Lagerfeld, who similarly left a portion of his estimated $300 million net worth to his Birman cat, Choupette. While it is unclear what Posner and Lagerfeld intended for the remainder of the assets left to their respective pets after the death of each animal, this is an important question for pet owners to consider.

If an owner does not name a person or an entity to receive the remainder of the assets left for the care of a pet, the assets may revert to the owner’s estate after the pet’s death. This leads some owners to name a specific individual, like the person who provided care for the pet after the owner’s death, to receive the remainder of the assets. Others, like Helmsley, choose to honor the memory of their cherished family members and direct that any remaining assets from those set aside for the care and well-being of their pets be donated to a pet-focused charitable organization.

There are many charitable organizations committed to helping rescue and improve the lives of dogs and other animals, both locally and nationwide. I encourage you to consider contributing to pet-focused organizations like the Cleveland Animal Protective League, the Sanctuary for Senior Dogs, and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, as well as to consider incorporating your pets and organizations like these into your estate planning. Man’s best friend will thank you for thinking of them.

This article originally appeared as a column for the Cleveland Jewish News.

Don’t overlook digital assets when protecting estate

By Andrew Zashin*

Now, more than ever, we regularly rely on our phones and other electronic devices to not only assist us in navigating our daily life, but also to also store information. This information and the devices which hold that information can range from important to some to invaluable to others. Therefore, have you ever considered what should happen to your possibly invaluable data and your essential devices upon your passing? If not, it may be worth revisiting your estate and probate documents to ensure that your digital asset directives are clear.

What are digital assets? Digital assets are anything from online accounts, including social media and emails, to photographs and documents that you store in your computer. Essentially, anything that’s not on paper and that you access with an electronic device is a digital asset including, but not limited to the following: online communication tools; social media accounts; shopping accounts; photo and video sharing accounts; video gaming accounts; online storage accounts; websites and blogs; and loyalty programs such as credit card, airline, car rental, hotel, etc., and any benefits that may have accrued over time.

In electing what happens to your digital assets upon death or incapacitation, it best practice to first identify your digital assets. In other words, inventory all your accounts, apps, programs and devices. This list should be kept in safe place but also somewhere where your fiduciary can get access. For instance, you can place the list in a safe deposit box or you can upload the information to an online storage site that allows you to give a trusted person access to the information.

Next step is creating or amending your estate documents to memorialize your digital asset directives. Fiduciaries and executors cannot demand access to your digital assets unless you specifically give them authority to do so. This may not matter so much if you wish for your Candy Crush Saga scores to die with you. On the other hand, without a written directive, your loved may not have the ability to access the hundreds of digital pictures on your phone or your iCloud.

In Ohio, you may authorize a fiduciary through a power of attorney, trust document, or will to have access or control over your digital assets following your death or possible incapacitation. Therefore, following your death or incapacitation, your fiduciary submits the pertinent document to the relevant online account manager to effectuate your directives.

However, it is important to note that some online accounts are governed by the “terms of service” or a “privacy policy” of that particular service, such as Facebook and Twitter, which wish for you to determine what should be done with your account after you die. For instance, Facebook offers a legacy contact and Google has an inactive account manager, which assumes that user will take the time to get their digital affairs in order in life.

If you are concerned about your loved ones having the ability to access accounts and other digital assets, you might want to consider giving your fiduciary the passwords to your digital assets and devices. This list should be kept in an extremely secure place and should be regularly updated as your passwords change. Further, if you are concerned about the managing of your digital assets following your death, it is best to speak with an estate planner to ensure that you have your bases covered.

This article originally appeared as a column for the Cleveland Jewish News.

I’m executor of loved one’s will – now what?

By Andrew Zashin*

If you’ve read a will or even if you’ve just seen a movie or television show involving an estate, you are probably familiar with an executor.

When a loved one passes away, the last thing you want to think about is dealing with an estate. But, unfortunately, very often some level of work is necessary to settle the deceased’s financial affairs. The executor or administrator will be the one to do that.

Most wills include a clause that names the executor and often a backup or successor executor. That is, the loved one names in a will the person to oversee the settlement of the estate. This should be someone who will fully and competently act out his or her wishes. Very often, it will be the closest living relative, although it doesn’t have to be. Sometimes, it will be the oldest adult child or the child with the most financial acumen. Or, it may be an attorney or an otherwise uninterested party with some expertise that makes them well-suited for the job.

But on the other hand, if the will doesn’t name an executor, if the named person can’t or won’t serve, or if the individual died without a will, an administrator will be appointed. Any interested person could ask the court for authority to administer the estate. For obviously reasons, this will generally be done by someone who stands to inherit from the estate, although that is not a requirement.

Executors and administrators have the same function. Both are obligated to settle a deceased’s estate for the benefit of heirs. The only difference is the method of appointment. This individual, or fiduciary, will have to sign paperwork in probate court to accept the responsibility and he or she may have to post a bond to give the heirs insurance against misconduct.

The fiduciary has the obligation to timely complete and file all forms required. The fiduciary will have to identify assets and liabilities of the deceased. This may involve appraisals, sales of real property and vehicles, and the liquidation of other personal property. Starting with funeral expenses, he or she will have to see all bills are paid or settled. A common misperception is that a deceased’s bills disappear upon death. While it is true surviving family members would not generally be liable for debts, if there is money in the estate, a bank account, or equity in real property, those assets will be expected to go toward the deceased’s creditors before heirs.

Executors and administrators typically put in significant amounts of work to settle estates. Under Ohio law, they are entitled to be compensated for the work. A will may specify the executor is not to be paid for services, but that most often happens when the executor is an heir and will already be receiving funds. In most cases, the executor or administrator will be paid and that payment is computed as a percentage of the total value of the estate. This may be in addition to attorney fees.

After all necessary filings in the probate court and all debts are handled, the final and primary obligation of the fiduciary is to distribute any residual money or other property according to the instructions in the will. If there is no will, the administrator will have to distribute the estate assets according to the laws of intestacy. Generally speaking, Ohio’s intestacy laws, via what is called the descent and distribution statute, provide an estate goes to a surviving spouse. If there is no surviving spouse, the estate goes equally to the deceased’s children. If the deceased never had children, it goes to the deceased’s parents. If their parents are not living, it goes to the deceased’s siblings, so on.

But as family situations become more complicated, the division likewise becomes more complicated, which is why attorneys are often retained in all but the simplest matters.

This article originally appeared as a column for the Cleveland Jewish News.

2023-11-10T13:38:10-05:00March 12th, 2019|Wills / Living Wills|

A helpful blueprint to your last will and testament

By Andrew Zashin*

Less than half of the population has a last will and testament. Ohio law provides a way to divide the property, or “estate,” left behind when a person dies without a will.

Generally speaking, your estate will go to your spouse. Or, if you have no spouse, your estate will go to your children. If you have no children and no spouse, your estate will go to your parents, or your siblings, or their descendants, in that order.

In many cases, the intestacy laws may provide what you would like to see happen anyway. But so you may want to select the person who will be responsible for administering your estate. You may want to provide that the administrator be paid (or not paid) for his or her services.

And, if you are divorced and remarried, if you have children from different relationships, if you want certain people to receive specific heirlooms, accounts, or assets, or, really, if your situation is anything other than wanting to simply leave your estate to your spouse or children, it is so important to put your wishes formally in writing.

Here are some questions you will want to consider:

What assets are in your estate?

Many assets, such as accounts that are “payable on death” or jointly held, retirement accounts on which a beneficiary is named, life insurance policies, real property that is jointly held or else subject to a “transfer on death” designation, or assets held in a trust, will not be divided by the probate court (or by will.) Instead, those things will transfer to the joint account holder, beneficiary, or other payee. Anything otherwise in your name or owned by you is probably an estate asset.

What debts are in your estate?

You may have heard your debts do not survive you, and they usually go away upon death. It is true that loved ones will not generally be responsible for the debts of a deceased relative. However, it is important to note that the debtors – a mortgage holder, a credit card company, etc. – will have a claim against the estate and that debt will likely need to be repaid from the estate before your heirs will receive any inheritance.

Who do you want to inherit from your estate, and how?

An heir could be a person or an organization, and of course provisions are occasionally made for beloved pets. Keep in mind it is not really possible to completely write a spouse out of a will in the state of Ohio. A surviving spouse, by law, has the right to certain assets, despite what a will provides. You should clearly articulate all individuals you are intending to include, and any you may be intending to exclude, otherwise the probate court may incorrectly presume what you intended. In addition, you should think about what you want to see happen if one of your heirs predeceases you. Do their descendants inherit their share or something different?

Who do you trust to appropriately administer your estate, ethically and accurately handle funds, and enact your wishes?

Keep in mind that individual would have to ultimately accept the appointment. Typically, that individual would be paid for their services, usually proportionate to the size of the estate, but you may make some alternate request known if you feel it is appropriate.

If you have minor children you may specify your intention as to responsibility for their care. A court could ultimately decide that a different arrangement is more appropriate, but your wishes would doubtless be considered.

You are not required to hire an attorney to draft your will. But it is important to understand that certain formalities must be observed. For example, it must be signed by you and witnessed by at least two individuals who do not stand to benefit from the estate. And, more complex situations can get tricky, and you may find it useful to at least consult a will drafting software package, book, the Ohio Revised Code, or other how-to resources to be certain you are saying what you think you are.

This article originally appeared as a column for the Cleveland Jewish News.

Should you draft your own will and the risks of using software

By Andrew Zashin*

This article originally appeared as a column for the Cleveland Jewish News.

The more technology advances, the more we rely on it in our everyday lives. Where we once called first to our family doctor, we may now look first to the internet to research our symptoms. DIY is easier than ever with YouTube tutorials.

Who needs an accountant when you have tax preparation software available for a quarter of the price. And, for a fraction of the cost of attorney time, we can access software to help us self-prepare a litany of legal documents, including a last will and testament. Sounds good, right? With all the resources readily available to do it yourself on the cheap, why not?

Not so fast. Television and movies present a dramatic picture of the probate process. Family, loved ones, and others just hoping for a windfall, all assemble in an attorney’s office for the “reading of the will.” Inevitably, in a dramatic reveal that may or may not involve tears and fainting, a widow learns that her deceased husband left their entire marital estate to his mistress, or the estranged children who paid little attention to their elderly mother in her old age discover they have been written out of her will in favor of her trusted housekeeper. In real life, probate matters are significantly less dramatic, and infinitely more tedious.

In will drafting, formalities must be observed. Those formalities vary from state to state, and a software program may not necessarily alert you to these intricacies. Something as seemingly simple as not having the proper number of witnesses to the signing may make it invalid. And, the fact that you know what you mean does not prevent heirs and potential heirs from interpreting it quite differently. If a term is accidently left out, or if you fall back on language like “according to law,” you may end up with a result you never intended.

There is an old joke involving a plumber who marks an “X” on the pipe that needs tightened and then charges $500 for the work. When questioned on the seemingly outrageous cost for such a small amount of effort, he sends an itemized statement showing a charge of $5 for marking the “X” and $495 for knowing where to put it. The occupation, service and costs in this joke vary widely from telling to telling, but the point is that expertise is invaluable.

If you want to draft a simple document that leaves everything to your spouse, and then equally divides everything among your adult children if your spouse predeceases you, a simple software program could probably cut it for you.

If you want to write someone out of your will, divide assets in unequal measures, if you have minor children or may have more children after you draft it, if you have children from prior relationships, or want to include step-children, you could likely benefit from speaking with a professional. If you have some assets that get passed through other means, such as jointly titled real property, life insurance, or retirement assets, if your situation is anything but the most uncomplicated, or if you are doing more complex estate planning involving trusts and Medicaid planning, you are similarly better served to work with a knowledgeable attorney.

Ultimately, “knowing where to put the ‘X’” – or, in this case, knowing what questions to ask and how to properly reflect the answers in a valid will – may mean the difference between a relatively clean estate settlement and a bitter will contest.

2023-11-10T13:38:12-05:00June 21st, 2017|Estate Planning, Trusts, Wills / Living Wills|

Make pre-need funeral contract part of estate plan

By Andrew Zashin*

This article originally appeared as a column for the Cleveland Jewish News.

In thinking of an estate plan, most people think first of a will. You may think next of things like joint and survivorship deeds, life insurance, or payable on death, or POD accounts. Perhaps you have gone so far as to create a trust. Hopefully, you have double-checked the beneficiaries of your retirement accounts and you may even have long-term care insurance. But did you know that you can preplan and prepay your own funeral?

Ohio law specifically provides for something called a “preneed funeral contract.” Generally speaking, the consumer of this type of plan will work with a funeral director to do everything from selecting a coffin to making service and burial arrangements, and that consumer will have the opportunity to select all goods and services related to his or her own funeral. And, those goods and services can very often be purchased at today’s rates, even if they are not needed for years.

If you think that this type of plan may be for you, a reputable funeral home should:

  • Provide detail and pricing for all goods and services offered, and provide an itemized statement outlining your ultimate selections and the costs of each; and
  • Provide a written preneed funeral contract outlining your rights and obligations.

The written contract should address:

  • What happens if the selected goods or services are no longer available at the time they are needed?
  • Can the contract be canceled and under what circumstances?
  • Where are the prepaid funds deposited? Typically these would get invested in a vehicle like an insurance policy or an annuity, so that any increase in expense is covered without further cost to the family.
  • What happens if the price of the prepaid goods/services changes before those goods/services are needed? Are prices guaranteed?
  • If any income or interest is generated from the prepaid funds, how is that treated for tax purposes?
  • What are the geographical boundaries of the contract, and what are the options if you move (or die) outside of that geographical area?

Obviously this is an uncomfortable topic. No one wants to think about planning a funeral. Not only does this task come at a time of sorrow, but the planning is daunting in and of itself. There are so many questions to answer and decisions to make regarding how best to offer a final fitting tribute to a loved one.

There may even be disagreements between surviving family members about what should be done. And, then, there is the cost to consider. Even the simplest of arrangements can total many thousands of dollars. While it may be uncomfortable to think about, preplanning can remove that burden – both financial and emotional – from your loved ones, and can also give you more control over the execution of your last wishes.

*Andrew Zashin writes about law for the Cleveland Jewish News. He is a co-managing partner with Zashin & Rich, with offices in Cleveland and Columbus.

2023-11-10T13:38:13-05:00March 15th, 2017|Estate Planning, Funeral, Wills / Living Wills|

Life care planning – think of where to live, too

By Andrew Zashin*

This article originally appeared as a column for the Cleveland Jewish News.

When we think about life care planning, we think about many aspects of aging. Obviously, financial planning is important. A retirement plan will help to ensure income into the future. A will can ensure that your estate is passed to your heirs in the way you want it to be and a living will can ensure that your family and medical providers know and honor your wishes on dicey topics such as life supporting measures.

We think about insurance policies to provide for our loved ones. We think about our health. But living arrangements sometimes aren’t considered until someone else is faced with making the decision for us. In this area, we can plan better.

Our population is aging. Birth rates have declined even as medical advances have increased the average life expectancy. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that around 15 percent of the population is over age 65. That number is expected to increase to about 22 percent by 2040.

Unsurprisingly, options for elder care are increasing and improving as a result. Even as prior generations thought about individuals either living at home or going into a “rest home,” thankfully the options are now much broader and can be tailored to meet the care needs of the individual.

At its most basic, elder care can be divided into two major categories: skilled care and custodial care. Skilled care is provided by trained and licensed medical personnel. Custodial care involves assistance with normal living activities such as dressing and bathing, and sometimes household tasks such as food preparation and laundry. Both types of care may be used either at the individual’s home, or in a nursing, assisted living, rehabilitation or other facility.

Home care can include one or more skilled professionals, providing a wide array of medical assistance. However, most often it involves little to no medical training requirements. A home health care provider may check an individual’s vitals and assist with in-home medical equipment and much more, but most of the provided help consists of personal care and help with errands, transportation to doctor appointments, administration of already prescribed medications and the like.

Adult day care options can be helpful to keep a loved one with family while allowing a primary caregiver to work outside the home during the day. Adult day care options typically include meals and a wide range of activities. Medical services often include a variety of therapies, and are often as robust as a nursing home facility.

Of course, live-in options can range anywhere from independent living facilities (that may provide security, transportation and recreational opportunities, but no care) to assisted living arrangements (that provide assistance with daily living tasks, recreational activities, as well as some basic health services), to facilities that offer 24/7 care, depending on how independent the individual may be. More recently, a range of continuing care communities have developed, allowing individuals to remain in a single location even as health and autonomy declines.

The options are varied. The problem is that we talk little about them until they become a necessity. But maybe these conversations should happen earlier. Whether we are talking with our parents about what they want for their golden years, or talking with our children about what we want for ours, communication and planning is important. Cases quickly can become very time consuming, expensive and contentious when loved ones disagree on a course of care. Doing as much of your life care planning as possible and encouraging your loved ones to do the same will go a long way toward preventing family arguments and allowing everyone to keep the focus on living the best life possible.

*Andrew Zashin writes about law for the Cleveland Jewish News. He is a co-managing partner with Zashin & Rich, with offices in Cleveland and Columbus.

2023-11-10T13:38:13-05:00December 15th, 2016|Elder Care, Life Care Planning, Wills / Living Wills|

Living will, health care power of attorney key documents

By Andrew Zashin*

This article originally appeared as a column for the Cleveland Jewish News.

The health care power of attorney and living will are two of the most important documents you could have in your life care plan. The former names a trusted loved one who would make medical decisions on your behalf in the event you were no longer able to make your own decisions. The latter specifies your wishes on a number of end stage issues, including palliative care and resuscitation.

A health care power of attorney document gives you wide flexibility to specify what powers you do and do not want your proxy, or “agent,” to have. For example, you can specify whether or not your agent can consent to disclosure of your confidential health information, to select and admit you to any medical or health care facility, or to complete a do not resuscitate order on your behalf. Of course, in a true emergency situation know that you will receive care, and health care personnel are able to see that you get treatment irrespective of the existence of this document. But this document does allow you to give your agent all or some authority to make the same health care decisions that you could.

Keep in mind that your agent won’t actually be able to make these decisions for you unless and until you should become incapacitated and cannot make decisions on your own behalf. When selecting your agent the most important consideration is whether you feel that you can trust him or her, not only make sound decisions on your behalf, but to make those decisions in keeping with your faith and values. And, of course, it is extremely important that you make your agent aware of your wishes.

The second important document in your life care plan – aside, of course, from an actual will – is a living will. A living will specifies whether you would or would not like certain types of life-saving efforts. For example, you can state that CPR is acceptable, but artificially supplied nutrition or hydration is not. A living will document does not remove health care providers’ responsibility to provide care to make you more comfortable. But, instead, it deals directly with the sort of life supporting care that would be intended to postpone death.

Both health care power of attorney and living will forms are widely available online and from health care providers. You will want to be certain that you’ve selected an Ohio-specific form as certain formalities must be observed. The commonly available form – which was prepared as a joint effort of the Ohio Bar Association and a number of medical associations – combines both documents into one, and was specifically created to meet all requirements, no attorney necessary.

*Andrew Zashin writes about law for the Cleveland Jewish News. He is a co-managing partner with Zashin & Rich, with offices in Cleveland and Columbus.

Failing to plan creates big headache for your heirs

By Andrew Zashin*

This article originally appeared as a column for the Cleveland Jewish News.

Death – right up there with taxes – is one of the few certainties, yet estate planning is something that many fail to consider until it is too late. Rather than leaving it to your spouse, your children, or worse, the state, to figure out, your best bet is to make your wishes are known while you are still healthy and of clear mind.

The last will and testament, often just called a “will,” is the estate-planning vehicle with which most individuals are familiar. A will specifies how you want your property to be divided. You can divide your estate by percentages, for example, in equal parts to your children. You can designate that certain things go to certain people (your grandmother’s diamond ring to your niece, for example). You can make provisions for the care of pets, and, more importantly, you can make provisions for the care of minor children, including naming the person you would want to become your child’s guardian if you died. You have the ability to be very flexible in creating a will that meets your needs. You don’t even need an attorney to create one for you, though that is certainly preferable; very specific requirements must be met to make sure it is valid.

Of course, there is a variety of types of trusts that you may wish to create. A trust is, generally speaking, a financial agreement that allows a third party “trustee” to hold assets on behalf of one or more beneficiaries. Very often that agreement will include specific instructions about how and when the beneficiaries can get and use those assets. For example, a trustee might be instructed to pay the beneficiary a monthly stipend from the trust. Whether you are wanting to protect your estate from lawsuits, to provide ongoing support for your child until he or she is responsible enough to be trusted with a larger sum of money, to ensure family wealth lasts for generations, to provide for a charity, or for some other purpose, trusts can be an important part of your estate planning.

A financial power of attorney can be created to allow your designated agent – usually a spouse or other trusted loved one – to handle your financial affairs in the event you can no longer do so yourself. A medical power of attorney is similar, but for medical decisions. Living wills specify your thoughts and wishes on the types of life-saving procedures you consent to being used on you and under what circumstances. Organ donation is often a polarizing topic and, if you wish to be an organ donor upon your death, you must enroll in the Ohio Organ Donor Registry and clearly specify which organs you are willing to donate and for what purpose.

Of course, if you don’t take steps to plan, these decisions will be left to your heirs, or possibly even the state. While estate planning is not a pleasant task, it is an important one, and a little planning will both ensure your wishes are followed and save your heirs from a big headache down the road.

*Andrew Zashin writes about law for the Cleveland Jewish News. He is a co-managing partner with Zashin & Rich, with offices in Cleveland and Columbus.

Can a child, spouse or other family member be ‘disinherited’?

By Andrew Zashin*

This article originally appeared as a column for the Cleveland Jewish News.

Inheritances – or, more precisely, who gets them – serve as the plot device for many a movie. Imagine, if you will, two hopeful heirs to a large family fortune. One heir coerces the elderly, not altogether there, relative to revise his will in order to disinherit the competition.

Or, an heir hatches an elaborate plot to get her rival out of the picture through more nefarious means. Perhaps a wealthy childless aunt is fed up with the lack of attention she received from her nieces and nephews throughout the years and leaves her entire fortune to her beloved cat. Can these things actually happen in real life? Sure they can. And, though they are relatively uncommon, sure they do.

While the term “disinheritance” probably brings to mind all sorts of terrible images of family fights and strife, all leading up to a climactic moment where the testator proclaims loudly that he is taking you out of his will, that is most often not how it plays out in the real world. More typically, rather than being accomplished with a dramatic flourish, a disinherited family member is simply omitted from the will.

And, the nieces and nephews who ignored their aunt all those years will probably only discover after their aunt’s passing that they are out of luck, even as Fluffy continues to live a life of luxury lapping up fresh cream and dining on sushi grade tuna.

On the other hand, when children are disinherited from a will, probate courts generally prefer to see that the will contains specific language indicating the disinheritance. Without specific language, there is a concern that the omission was accidental.

In cases where the language of the document very clearly states that someone has been disinherited and is to receive nothing from the estate, it will probably be followed. There are, of course, some exceptions that might lead the disinherited to reasonably challenge the will. For example, the will could be deemed invalid if it was not in writing, was not signed, or was not appropriately witnessed. It could also be challenged if it the writer was coerced or was not of sound mind to make important estate planning decisions at the time he signed it.

Spouses, however, enjoy a different status, in Ohio and in most states. Even if a will indicates that a spouse is intentionally disinherited, he or she really cannot be. Irrespective of what the will says, the widow (or widower) can instead opt to take a part of the estate. For example, she may still keep the marital home and all of its contents. She may be able to keep up to two automobiles. And she may be entitled to cash or other assets totaling up to half of the estate (though note that this amount may decrease if the testator has living children.)

Finally, it is important to understand that some assets are transferred on death with no regard to a will at all. For example, life insurance policies and retirement accounts have beneficiaries named, and the proceeds will be distributed accordingly. If there are any assets held in a trust, they will be distributed per the provisions of that trust. And, assets like bank accounts and real property that are held with payable-on-death or transfer-on-death provisions will be distributed accordingly.

The bottom line is that if you have been disinherited, or if you are seeking to leave a family member out of your will, it is important to talk to a legal professional. Probate laws are rather nuanced, and, while there are an infinite number of will templates and legal information available in books, software, and on the Internet, it is most prudent to seek professional advice that is specific to your case. After all, wouldn’t you rather get it right the first time?

Oh yes, and lest I forget about that would-be heir who tried to poison her brother to get the entire inheritance for herself, she will almost certainly go to prison with no inheritance at all.

*Andrew Zashin writes about law for the Cleveland Jewish News. He is a co-managing partner with Zashin & Rich, with offices in Cleveland and Columbus.

2023-11-10T13:38:15-05:00September 24th, 2014|Inheritance / Disinheritance, Wills / Living Wills|
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