Suppose that a beloved family member passed away. Before passing, this family member did not disclose to you or any other family member the existence of a will. This family member left a considerably-sized estate that was divided evenly between yourself and your two siblings. Months later, you and your siblings are cleaning out your loved one’s residence as you prepare to sell it. During your cleaning, you discover a will tucked away with other important documents in a closet. Although the will is from several years ago, it bears your loved one’s signature and appears to be valid. In the will, your loved one directs that you should receive the lion’s share of their estate. What do you do now?
Time to File a Will in Ohio
Ohio law requires that any beneficiary under a will, who knows of a will’s existence, to file the will within one year of the decedent’s death. A beneficiary under a will who intentionally conceals the will or does not file the will in this allotted time, absent a good justification for doing so, would risk losing their inheritance under the will. Suppose Benny is given 25 percent of his mother’s estate under the terms of the mother’s will, and Benny’s brother Freddy is to receive the remaining 75 percent. If Benny is upset that he receives less than his brother and decides to hide the will so that Freddy cannot probate the will, then Benny risks losing even the 25 percent that had been given to him.
What About a Newly-Discovered Lost Will?
This answer, though, does not adequately address the situation presented above. What if the decedent never informed anyone about the will, and no beneficiary of the will had any knowledge of it? The answer depends, in part, on where the decedent’s estate is at in the probate process:
- If no probate action has been filed, or if a probate action is ongoing, the will may be admitted into probate so long as it meets the statutory requirements of wills. If the original will itself is lost, the contents of the will may still be able to be admitted to probate and enforced just as if the original will had been probated. This is possible if evidence and testimony of witnesses establishes what the terms of the will were and that the original will complied with all applicable statutes concerning the formalities and requirements of a valid will.
- If probate of the decedent’s estate has ended, it will be a much more difficult and challenging to give effect to the will. Admitting a will into probate after the executor has already distributed property and paid claims is almost impossible absent evidence of fraud or bad conduct by some party.
In either event, it is imperative that the court be made aware of the discovery of the will as soon as possible. The longer one waits before seeking to admit the will, the less likely it is that the court will find sufficient evidence or grounds to admit the will.
Speak to an Experienced Estate Planning Attorney in Ohio Today
Of course, the better course of action is to notify trusted friends or family that you have created an estate plan, what that plan consists of, and where the original documents are being stored. When you take time to plan your estate with Dawes Legal, LLC, we will help you take the actions necessary to ensure your final wishes are carried out by your executor or administrator. Dial (614) 733-9999 to schedule a consultation with our Columbus estate planning attorneys today.