Who are my heirs?

Many clients seek our legal services to help them draft a last will and testament that disposes of their property after they pass away.  In some circumstances, however, we may recommend that the client not draft a will, and instead have the Probate Court dispose of the client’s property.  The reasons for this can be wide and varied, but most commonly involve an expectation that several disputes will arise after the client’s death regarding who is to receive the assets.  The Probate Court will become involved even if an individual had a will when the will did not entirely dispose of the deceased person’s property.

In either case, the client wants to know: if I don’t have a will, or if my will does not dispose of all of my property, where will my assets go?  How will the Probate Court dispose of my assets if I die intestate?  Another way of putting this is: how does Ohio identify my heirs?

Ohio, like all states, has a series of laws that direct the Probate Court’s distribution of a deceased person’s property.  These eleven provisions contemplate families of all shapes and sizes, and require the court to distribute the deceased person’s property in a specific order and to specific people.  Fortunately, the law is well-written and makes understanding the “pecking order” fairly easy to follow.

Ohio Revised Code 2105.06 provides:

A) If there is no surviving spouse, to the children of the intestate or their lineal descendants, per stirpes;

B) If there is a spouse and one or more children of the decedent or their lineal descendants surviving, and all of the decedent’s children who survive or have lineal descendants surviving also are children of the surviving spouse, then the whole to the surviving spouse;

C) If there is a spouse and one child of the decedent or the child’s lineal descendants surviving and the surviving spouse is not the natural or adoptive parent of the decedent’s child, the first twenty thousand dollars plus one-half of the balance of the intestate estate to the spouse and the remainder to the child or the child’s lineal descendants, per stirpes;

D) If there is a spouse and more than one child or their lineal descendants surviving, the first sixty thousand dollars if the spouse is the natural or adoptive parent of one, but not all, of the children, or the first twenty thousand dollars if the spouse is the natural or adoptive parent of none of the children, plus one-third of the balance of the intestate estate to the spouse and the remainder to the children equally, or to the lineal descendants of any deceased child, per stirpes;

E) If there are no children or their lineal descendants, then the whole to the surviving spouse;

F) If there is no spouse and no children or their lineal descendants, to the parents of the intestate equally, or to the surviving parent;

G) If there is no spouse, no children or their lineal descendants, and no parent surviving, to the brothers and sisters, whether of the whole or of the half blood of the intestate, or their lineal descendants, per stirpes;

H) If there are no brothers or sisters or their lineal descendants, one-half to the paternal grandparents of the intestate equally, or to the survivor of them, and one-half to the maternal grandparents of the intestate equally, or to the survivor of them;

I) If there is no paternal grandparent or no maternal grandparent, one-half to the lineal descendants of the deceased grandparents, per stirpes; if there are no such lineal descendants, then to the surviving grandparents or their lineal descendants, per stirpes; if there are no surviving grandparents or their lineal descendants, then to the next of kin of the intestate, provided there shall be no representation among the next of kin;

J) If there are no next of kin, to stepchildren or their lineal descendants, per stirpes;

K) If there are no stepchildren or their lineal descendants, escheat to the state.