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Have you lost a relative who had no will or trust?

If a parent or relative has recently passed away, you and your family could be overcome with emotion. Finding out that the deceased has left no will or trust can make this heartache even more painful.

It is estimated 60 percent of Americans do not have wills, according to a survey. Do not worry. You are not in a unique position. With the right advice, your family can tackle this difficult challenge.

Will the estate go through probate?

If the deceased relative has no will or trust -- meaning he or she has died intestate -- the estate will go through probate. Probate is a legal process overseen by a court. The court appoints an administrator who then:

  • Locates and determines the value of the decedent's assets
  • Pays the deceased's final taxes and any remaining debts
  • Distributes assets that remain to the heirs

In lieu of directions in a will, the remaining assets will be distributed according to state intestacy laws.

What about those left behind?

Under Ohio law, the remaining estate assets usually pass first to the deceased's surviving family. The court may prioritize a spouse, then direct descendants (children or grandchildren). If a spouse or descendants are not available, the assets could pass to grandparents, aunts or uncles, great aunts or uncles, cousins or family members of a predeceased spouse. If there is no surviving family at all, the estate assets may go to the state.

Dealing with the death of a family member and dividing their assets can be a lot to handle. Estate planning laws can be difficult to navigate when no clear will or trust has been left. However, you can make sure the family's wealth is passed on fairly, even in the absence of the deceased's instructions.

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